Laying Down Top Pair, Top Kicker in No-Limit Hold’em

by Lou on September 13, 2008

Still the most common error I see players making in no-limit hold’em cash games is a willingness to go all-in with top pair, top kicker. Even though this error occurs for the most part in no-limit hold’em games with a restricted buy in, it’s often still a bad decision.
Unless your opponent is a gutsy player with a terrific read on you, most players who push all-in under conditions other than being very short-stacked and an all-in bet does not really represent a lot of money, that opponent usually has a hand that beats top pair.

If it’s frequently wrong to call an all-in bet with top pair, top kicker in a restricted buy in game, imagine how big an error it is when a player calls off all his money in a game where there’s no restriction on the size of the buy-in, and both players are fairly deep stacked. While you will get bluffed with top pair, top kicker every now and then, most of the time you call a very big bet you are second best with little hope, or in a situation where you are drawing and the pot odds don’t compensate for the odds against completing your hand—thus making this play a long-term loser.

I guess the overriding truth of this situation—and all of poker—is that you have to be willing to err at the extremes, to be sure you are making the right play most of the time in the more commonly encountered situations. In other words, you have to be willing to lay down top pair even though you know your opponent will bluff you out of some hands every now and then.

If you need some rationale for doing so besides the old pot odds versus odds-against-making-your-hand mathematical logic, the very fact that you will lay down good hands makes your opponent more willing to make plays at you, and when you are the Big Kahuna—as you most assuredly will be—then you can come over the top with almost complete assurance that you’ll take all of his chips.

Taking your opponent’s entire stack—especially when it’s a big one—more than overcomes a whole host of occasions when you lay down top pair, top kicker (or even two pair) to a big raise. In no-limit you don’t have to win many hands to be a winner. You just have to win the big ones.

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