Hand 11. Pocket Pair below Top Pair – Hero OOP/With or Without the Lead/Dry Board vs Loose-Passive Villain. – Exploitative Poker

Hero is Out of Position/With or Without the Lead/Dry Board

In this hand, hero raised 3BB from the cut-off with 9♥9♠.  A loose-passive player on the button called the bet.  The flop comes up K♥8♦2♠.  Therefore, the loose passive player has the lead in the hand and hero is in position.

I’ve titled this “with or without the lead” because it doesn’t make a difference to how you should play the hand. 

This may seem like an awkward hand to play in or out of position, especially against an opponent who will not fold on the flop easily.  The reason that it is difficult is because we don’t always realise our equity when we are out of position with a showdown value hand.  This is because it is easy for the in-position player to bluff us into folding.

However, once you consider all of the possibilities, it should become easier.

Strategy #1:  c-Bet or Donk Bet the Pot

As I have explained in previous articles in this series, you can bet close to the size of the pot on the flop and make money against a wide range. 

If we assume that villain plays a 30% starting hand range or wider and the flop is dry, we find that more than 50% of his hands miss the flop or hit it too weakly to call a pot-sized bet. 

Range 1:  9♥9♠ Versus The 30% Range

If villain folds all hands weaker than a pair of 9s, he will fold 70.4% of combos.  If he calls with middle pair, he will fold 63.4% of his combos.  If he calls with middle pair and weak pairs, he will fold 52.9% of his combos.

Therefore, a pot-sized bet will be profitable against this range.  You do have to be quite big against this type of player to get him to fold the weak hands.

If villain calls with middle pairs, weak pairs and backdoor draws, he will only fold 36.9% of his combos. 

Table 1:  The Percentage of Combos that Villain Folds

In the unlikely event that you are up against a player, who will call a pot-sized bet with middle pairs, weak pairs and backdoor draws, you can take advantage of that with your stronger hands. 

You might be wondering why you might be concerned that villain calls your flop bet with weaker hands.  This is because your opponent might bet on the river.

The betting might go as follows:


Hero: Bets pot

Villain: Calls


Hero:  Checks

Villain: Checks


Hero:  Checks

Villain:  Bets

Hero:  ?

The problem is that loose-passive players are not always the most sophisticated thinkers.  He will see he has a weak hand on the river and he knows that you have checked twice.  He may have called on the pot to draw to 2 or 5 outs, with a weak pair and middle pair, respectively.  If he missed his outs, 2 checks in a row, may encourage him to bet.

On the other hand, he may be thinking.  If he has a pocket pair below top pair, he might figure that he has the better hand.  He might even play this way with Kx, with a weak kicker.  He will know that we would have bet a king on the turn or river. 

From our point of view, we have to fold.  Here is the problem with betting on the flop.

Once villain calls a bet, we have usually narrowed his range.  However, we don’t know how much we have narrowed his range.

By betting on the flop, it is possible that we never get called by a weaker hand than 99.  If that is the case, we are never winning on the river unless our hand improves.

Summary of Strategy #1: Betting the Flop

In general, betting on the flop does have an advantage of getting enough folds on the flop to make a profit. 

However, it has the disadvantage that extra money only goes into the pot, when you lose.

The other disadvantage is that a player could float every flop and take the pot off you later in the hand.  He could do this with any 2 cards.  It isn’t likely that a weak player would think of doing this.  However, some calling stations will call a flop bet, simply because they don’t like folding.

Let’s look at checking on the flop.

Strategy #2:  Checking on the Flop

If you have seen the loose-passive opponent co-operate with his opponent and check a hand to showdown, you should try and replicate the betting pattern.  For example, if you have seen this player check a losing hand to showdown, you should try and check the your showdown value hand to showdown.

If you have seen this player call min-bets on 3 streets, you can min-bet on the flop, turn and river.  For some reason, min-bets can stop some weak players from bluffing.  It may look fishy to min-bet.  However, if it gets the job done, that’s all that matters.  It only looks fishy because the gurus have told you not to min-bet.  They tell you this because it is exploitable apparently.  However, if your opponent isn’t exploiting this play, it doesn’t matter if the play is exploitable.  In addition, making yourself look fishy is a good thing. 

Let’s look at the scenarios that can occur, when you check on the flop.  I will identify the problems and then, I will explain how you can overcome them.

Hero Checks on the Flop and Villain Bets

Let’s say that you call the flop bet.  Then, you check again on the turn and fold if villain bets.  I would assume that a loose-passive player is not going to bluff the flop and the turn.

If villain checks on the turn, I would check again on the river.  If villain bets on the river, I have a difficult decision.  So, the line goes:


Hero: Checks

Villain: Bets

Hero: Calls


Hero:  Checks

Villain: Checks


Hero:  Checks

Villain:  Bets

Hero:  ?

Although I don’t think a loose-passive player would bluff on the flop and the turn, he may bluff on the flop and the river.  The river is the last street and one bet can win the pot.  This induces many villains to bluff. 

I also consider villain bluffing on the flop and river more likely than him bluffing on the turn and river.

This is because, when you check the turn and river, you have checked twice.  This would lead many villains to have a shot at the pot. 

We have another problem here.  That is, villain has a good read on our hand range.  He must figure that we have a made hand because we called on a dry flop.  However, he probably knows that we don’t have a king because we played the hand so passively.

So, the main problem here is that you could face a bluff on the river, and you won’t know what to do.

Hero Checks the Flop and Villain Checks Back

On a dry flop, you don’t get much information when your opponent checks back the flop.  He could still have top pair, a better showdown value hand or a monster hand.  Villain doesn’t have any reason to protect his hand on this flop.

As I have said in previous articles, one characteristic of calling stations, is that they like to wait until the river to show their strength when they have a strong hand.

So, the flop checks through.  The turn card will usually put a draw on the board, even if it’s a possible gutshot.  If you bet and villain calls, you will have a problem on the river.  This is because, if you check on the river and villain bets, it will be difficult to call with a pair of 9s.

If you check on the turn and villain bets, you can call.  Most poker players will have a bet when their opponent checks twice.  Now, you check on the river.  You’ll get your hand to showdown for one bet if villain checks on the river. 

If you win or lose the hand, you have gained valuable information.  If villain shows up with a showdown value hand, such as QQ-99, you know that he will bet once with these hands.  This doesn’t tell you what types of hands that he would bet on the turn and river with.  Obviously, he would do this with strong hands.  However, he might also do this with bluff hands that have no chance of winning.  We need this information. 

If villain shows up with a total bluff on the river, this is even better.  You now know that this particular villain will take one stab at the pot on the turn and give up on his bluff on the river.  This means, that in future hands, you can check the flop and turn.  If villain bets on the turn and river, you will know that he has a strong hand.

However, let’s say that you haven’t got this information yet.  In the above hand, if villain bets on the river, instead of checking, you have a decision.

So, the line is:


Hero: Checks

Villain: Checks


Hero:  Checks

Villain: Bets

Hero:  Calls


Hero:  Checks

Villain:  Bets

Hero:  ?

If this is the first time that I have had a hand like this against this villain, I would fold.  It is possible that I am getting bluffed and I don’t get to see his hand.  Therefore, I didn’t get the information that I would have liked. 

Therefore, the main problem with checking, is that you can end up facing a river bet that could be a bluff.

The Solution is to Play Strong Hands Passively

I’m only suggesting playing strong hands passively temporarily. This is just to obtain reads that will help you play your showdown value hands well.

If I get into a situation, where I have AK on an ace- or king-high dry flop, I try to re-create the check-calling line against a loose villain. 

The idea is to play AK on a dry flop in the same way that you would play a pocket pair below top pair.  This way, you pick up reads on villain’s betting patterns, while having the protection of a strong hand.

If you look at the above hand, all I have done is replace our pair of 9s with AKo. 

Most gurus would say play this hand aggressively.  I want to address this.

The gurus would say that this is a strong hand and you should play it aggressively for value.

This is wrong.  Before I explain why this is wrong, I want to tell you about the guru videos that used to be around probably from the early 2000s until around 2015. 

They would show a hand just like the one above.  The guru would bet ¾ of the pot on the flop, turn and river.  The calling station would call all 3 bets and turn up with something like a pair of 4s.  By the time the hand got to the river, there would be at least 4 overcards to the 4s.  They would show such hands for stakes up to 200NL.  Of course, this appeared to look like great value betting.

I was playing at stakes from 10 – 100NL during those years.  I can tell you, you would almost never find players, who would call ¾ pot bets on the flop, turn and river, with such weak hands.  You might find some in freeroll tournaments and $5 tournaments.  However, in cash games, these types of players were extremely rare.

Why would the gurus lie?  Because it is an easy lesson.  By telling beginners to bet big on 3 streets, there is no analysis.  They get a video together in no time at all. 

The gurus just see people like us as another angle that they can exploit.

So, let’s credit our opponent with some sense.  He isn’t going to call three ¾ pot bets without a king. 

Let’s say that we check on the flop and villain has a king.  Don’t you think that he will bet this?  If we check on the turn, he may or may not bet his king.  Most players go for 2 streets of value with top pair.  They usually bet flop and turn or flop and river. 

Therefore, if we check all 3 pot-flop streets, we might lose a street of value.  However, the information, that we obtain, is worth the money.

Once villain bets on the flop and turn, we know villain has, at least a king.  Therefore, in this case, we could bet on the river.  If villain raises this bet, we need to fold.  A raise on the river means that villain has 2 pair or better.  If villain calls our river bet, we see his hand.  If villain folds to a river bet, we don’t see his hand.  We could assume that he doesn’t have a king in this case. 

However, it may still be best to check on the river.  When we check on the river, we always get to see his hand.  This enables us to get a read on villain’s betting pattern. 

Getting the Reads on Villain’s Bluffs

Most of the time villain will miss the flop or hit it weakly.  At best, we would only get a flop bet from him in this situation. 

Now, if we check the hand on the flop, turn and river and only call bets, we will always see villain’s hand.  We will discover which hands villain bluffs with and which streets villain bluffs on.  His range remains wide until the end of the hand.  This is because we never bet and made him fold.

This is how we get the reads that we can use for showdown value hands.

For example, if villain checks all 3 post-flop streets and our AK wins against QQ, we know that villain doesn’t bet his showdown value hands.  If he turns up an air hand, we know that he doesn’t bluff.  In this case, we know that when we try to check a showdown value hand post-flop, we have to fold to villain’s bets. 

Another situation that can occur, is that villain takes one stab at the pot on one of the post-flop streets against our top pair/top kicker.  If he shows up with an air hand, we know that we have to call one bet when have a showdown value hand.  We also know which street villain is most likely to bluff on.  In addition, we know that if villain bets twice, when we check a showdown value hand, it means that he has a real hand and we have to fold.


I could go on listing the possible reads that we can get.  However, I’m sure you get the idea.  Each of villain’s betting lines represents a range of hands.  Once you can nail how he bets each group of hands in his range, you should be able to fold your showdown value hand at the right time and bluff-catch at the right time.

Unless villain has a bet size tell, you may still end up in situations on the river not knowing whether he is bluffing or betting for value.  However, as long as you know that your opponent bluffs in this spot, you should be able to call.  Against a wide range, he will have more bluffs than value hands in his range.  It is unlikely that this type of player is balancing his range so that he has a few bluffs and more value hands.  If he bluffs in a spot, a player like this will probably always bluff when he has an air hand in the same spot.


When you use top pair to get reads, you can lose some value by checking top pair when you don’t get paid by villain’s showdown hands.  However, once you have your reads, you can play top pair aggressively.  Your paying a small price initially in order to be able to play your own showdown value hands well.

I use this method against both loose-passive and loose-aggressive players.  Although loose-aggressive players usually play with a range below 30%, both types of players play with wide ranges and both often miss the flop.  Loose-passive players generally take longer to adjust compared to loose-aggressive players. 

When a loose-aggressive player sees that he has bet 2 or 3 streets into top pair top kicker, he’ll usually stop barrelling you immediately.  This means that you can get your showdown value hands to showdown cheaply.  However, this will only work temporarily.  If he starts seeing you consistently turn up QQ and JJ on an ace- or king-high flop, he will revert back to barrelling.  How to deal with this, is the subject for another article.

Loose-passive players take longer to adjust.  Therefore, once you get the reads that you need, you can play your showdown value hands well.  You can use your showdown value hands to catch bluffs, while dodging strong hands.

The reason most players don’t improve their poker skills, is because they want to take the easiest path.  That is, the path of less risk.  Therefore, they just bet on the flop, in an attempt to end the hand in these situations.

The way to improve at poker is to work out how to play those situations that seem murky and uncertain. 

Taking the safe route is a trap.  You have to take the road of uncertainty to improve your poker.  If you are comfortable on this road and learn how to deal with it, you have an advantage over most microstakes poker players. 

Author: Jeremy Torres