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Playing a pair plus open-ended straight draw out of position

This is a Tournament hand with blinds at 200/400 and ante of 40.

  • UTG (12000 - 30BB ) 
  • UTG+1 (16000 - 40BB)
  • LJ (8000 - 20BB)
  • HJ ( 10000 - 25BB)
  • CO (8000 - 20BB)
  • BU (14000 - 35BB)
  • SB (8000 - 20BB)
  • BB (12000 - 30BB)

Preflop: Villain is on the BU. Folded to him. He raises to 850. Hero is in the BB with 9h6h and makes the call

Flop (Pot size 2220): 8c7s6d

Hero checks. BU checks.

Turn (Pot size 2220): Kh

Hero checks. BU bets 900. Hero calls.

River (Pot size 4020): Jd

Hero checks. Villain checks.

Villain shows AhJh and wins the pot.


Preflop is standard. In tournaments, the big blind needs to defend widely because there is a lot of money already in the pot. So, the odds that the BB gets are good enough to justify a call with a wide variety of hands. And especially against a raise by the button who will open widely. 96s is a hand that has decent playability; if it was offsuit, a fold isn't too bad.

The first point to note comes when the button checks back on the flop. It tells us that the button doesn't have too many nutted hands. Surely, we can expect him to bet all his straights, sets, two pairs, and overpairs on a board which is so coordinated. Villain can also be expected to bet his draws or pair+draws with some frequency. What we can infer from this is that the villain has some kind of a hand which has showdown value (some weak pairs or Ace highs or some King highs) that he doesn't want to play a big pot with or he is giving up. We don't expect him to slowplay his strong hands too often on this board.

The second point to note is on the turn. Hero decides to check-call. Checking is fine because Hero has showdown value with his pair and open ender. Also, the K favors the Button's range much more than it does Hero's. When the villain bets, just calling the villain's bet is a little dicey. We are essentially in a bluff catch mode while hoping to make a straight on the river. But what happens if the river is a brick, say 2d, and the villain bets again? We can't profitably call with our 4th pair and bad kicker. This is also a spot where the villain can put a lot of pressure on us because he has a lot of K with good kicker kind of hands which decided to check back the flop. By check calling we also allow the villain to realise his equity when he has two broadway cards without a K (AJ, AQ, QJ, JT, etc), which is what happened in this case. So, what's the better play here?

Consider check-raising the turn. The flop is the kind of board which hits your range very hard. And when the villain checks back, he doesn't have too many strong hands. So, when he bets the turn, he is saying that he essentially has a K or nothing. When we decide to check-raise, we can represent a wide variety of value hands that beat his range. We have all the straights (9T, 95s, 45s), two pairs and sets. By taking this aggressive line, we not only deny equity to villain's broadway hands with no pair, we also put a K into a tough spot. If villain calls, we can reevaluate and choose which river we want to bluff on and on which cards do we want to shutdown and check with our showdown value. A hand like 96s is especially good because we block some of the straight draws villain might call with; we can decide to bluff/value bet on a lot of different river cards.

In most cases in poker, the better way to play is an aggressive rather than a passive style. By doing this, we allow ourselves to win the pot without showdown and not just rely on hitting our cards to win.



Prashaste Sinha

Prashaste lives to eat and write. She's our very own homegrown poker sceptic who's gone on to enjoy her stint with poker and loves writing and interviewing people who are passionate about poker and life.