Hand 18. How to Play Top Pair Top Kicker – Hero IP/Without the Lead – Exploitative Poker

How Should You Play Top Pair/Top Kicker at Microstakes when You are In Position with the Lead in the Hand?

The line that you take should depend on the playing style of your opponent.  We want to maximise profits, while minimising losses against villain’s hands that are 2 pair or better. 

While this may seem obvious, many microstakes players fail to have a clear strategy.  They see top pair top kicker and they just bet it, without thinking about how bets affects their opponent’s range and how their bets will be interpreted by their opponent.

In this article, I will be looking at how to play top pair, when you have the lead and are in position and the flop is dry.

In this hand example, villain raised from the cut-off.  Hero just called on the button with A♣K♦.  The blinds folded.  Therefore, 2 players saw the flop, which came up K♥8♦2♠. 

How this Hand Could Occur

Usually, you would 3-bet with AKo.  However, I am just trying to cover all permutations of hero being in position, out of position, with and without the lead and on dry and wet flops.  This hand example may seem to be an unrealistic situation. 

There is a scenario where this could occur.  Let’s say that one of the blinds is a total squeeze monkey.  You might consider calling with AK on the button in this situation. 

The situation is a perfect set-up for a squeeze monkey.  There is a raiser in the cut-off.  This could be a steal attempt.  Then, there is a caller on the button.  This represents a weak hand, since the button didn’t 3-bet.  Therefore

Hero might have been hoping that the squeeze monkey would see 2 weak hands and 3-bet.  Then, hero could 4-bet with his AKo and usually win the pot.  The alternative of hero just 3-betting in this position, would usually only win the blinds and the cut-off’s stake.

I will look at how you might play this hand against:

Tight microstakes regulars

Loose-passive players.

I will look at the following 2 situations on the Flop:

1.  Villain c-Bets

2.  Villain Checks the Lead Away 

A. Flop:  Villain c-Bets

At microstakes, passive villains give off bet size tells.  If the bet is less than the pot, you should call.  If he bets the size of the pot, he is definitely trying to get the money in and you should fold.  This may seem weak.  However, a pot-size bet from a player like this means AA, AK or a set.  At best, you are splitting the pot.  If he bets ¾ of the pot or less, you can call. 

If villain bets, you need to look at his c-bet%.  A player with a high c-bet% will have a different range from a player with a low c-bet%.

1.  Tight Player – High c-bet%

Range 1 is a reasonable range to give a tight player from the cut-off. 

If your opponent has a high c-bet%, it probably means that he is betting his whole range in a heads-up pot. 

Range 1:  Tight Villain c-Bets his Whole Range

Let’s look at the pros and cons of raising here, rather than just calling.  Villain has 7 categories of hands in his range. 

Table 1:  The 7 Categories of Hands in Villain’s Range

Hand StrengthHole CardsNumber of Combos

SetsKK, 88, 229


Tied HandsAK6

Top Pair Worse KickerKQ8

Showdown Value HandsQQ-9924

Weak Pocket Pairs77-3330

Unpaired HandsAQ, AJ, ATs27

If we min-raise on the flop, most players will call with top pair.  We want to get an extra bet from villain’s showdown value hands.  Most players will call a flop min-raise with a showdown value hand. 

Calling the min-raise is cheap.  Villain will just have to put 5BB into a 12.5BB pot. 

Some players will call this bet with an overcard.  Once players have bet on a street, some are committed psychologically to seeing the next card.  Of course, seeing the next card shouldn’t be too expensive.  Everyone has their price.

There are 3 potential ways of getting an extra bet from showdown value hands after villain has bet on the flop. 

Betting Line 1: Min-Raise the Flop


Villain: Bets 5BB

Hero:  Raises 10BB

Pot = 7.5BB

This is a standard c-bet of 2/3 pot.

The min-raise says I have a good hand but I might be kidding.  If you have a set, I would like you to raise now and save me money.

I will call and see if he is kidding on the turn

After this, you have 2 choices of how to continue on the turn.  I will call the first choice “Betting Line 1a” and the second choice “Betting Line 1b”.

Betting Line 1a: Bet Turn and River

Hero:  Bets 13.75BB (½ pot)

I’m not kidding.  I have top pair at least.

Villain:  Calls 13.75BB (½ pot)

I will only call this bet with top pair or better.

Villain:  Checks

Hero: ?

Once villain calls the turn bet, hero can’t feel too comfortable about his top pair hand.  A smart villain could be waiting to check-raise on the river.  Even if villain called the turn bet with a showdown value hand, he will not call a river bet.

Betting Line 1b: Check Turn and Bet River

Villain:  Checks

I will trick villain into thinking that my flop min-raise was a bluff.

Hero:  Bets 13.75BB (½ pot)

I hope villain has enough doubt to call with hands like QQ-TT

Villain:  Calls 13.75BB (½ pot)

It looks like he was bluffing on the flop.  I have to make sure.

The pot in the first case ends up bigger.  However, each line is telling villain a different story.  Let’s look at floating.

Betting Line 2:  [Floating] Calling the flop bet and betting the turn after villain checks

Villain: Bets 5BB

Villain knows I have something on a dry board, but he is guessing about my hand strength.

If he bets, I will fold my showdown value hand. 

Hero: Bets 8.75BB (½ pot)

Villain:  Calls 8.75BB

When villain calls on the turn, hero has to be asking himself what villain has.  If villain checks on the river, he either has Kx or a stronger hand that he intends to raise.

Of the 3 lines, the min-raise on the flop followed by a check on the turn (Betting Line 1b), represents the weakest hand.  It also puts doubt in villain’s mind about the strength of your hand.  This means that you may get river calls from QQ – TT.

The other point about Betting Line 1a and b, is that it gives villain a chance to make a mistake with his strong hands.  You want him to raise early in the hand when he has a set.  The min-raise may get your opponent to do just that.

The turn bet in the other 2 lines makes villain believe that you have a strong hand.  Let’s look at one more line.

Betting Line 3:  Calling the flop bet; checking the turn back if villain checks; betting the river

Villain: Bets 5BB

Villain knows I have something on a dry board, but he is guessing about my hand strength.

Villain:  Checks

Now, villain probably thinks I have a showdown value hand.

Villain: Checks

Hero: Bets 8.75BB (½ pot)

I’m sure villain has a showdown value hand.

Against some villain’s hero could bet ¾ of the pot on the river.  This is a reasonable line because you can get 2 bets from villain’s showdown value range.  Villain gets through to the turn with his whole range.  This means that, if an ace comes on the turn, villain will hit top pair with some of his combos, while we will have 2 pair.

I prefer Betting Line 1b (the min-raise on the flop) because you get a bit of extra money in on the flop. 

The turn and river cards may scare villain and you might never get a call on the river.

On the betting lines, where you check the turn and bet the river, there are alternative lines.  For example, you can bet ¼ pot on both the turn and river.  This will make it difficult for villain to fold.  This strategy is probably the best if the turn card is scary.  For example, if the board pairs, villain won’t call any big bets with a pair below top pair.

2.  Tight Player – Low c-bet%

If a tight villain has a low c-bet% and he bets, you have to be careful.  You don’t see many players, who never bluff.  However, there are some.  Usually, a low c-bet% from a tight player represents top pair and better hands.  He will usually bet his showdown value hands in order to end the pot now if he can.

You might have top pair top kicker.  However, when a supertight player c-bets, he also has, at least top pair.  You will have to call the flop c-bet.

Now, if villain bets ¾ pot on the turn, you have to fold.  At best, you have a tie. 

If a tight player had any bluffs in his range, he would not double barrel.  If he had a showdown value hand and he bet the flop to try and end the hand, he would check the turn.  That leaves Kx and better.

Most tight players will pot control with top pair.  They usually do this by checking on the turn.  They would almost always check the turn if they had top pair without the best kicker.  Therefore, the turn bet is an easy fold.

If villain bets the flop and checks the turn, he is representing top pair top kicker and worse hands.  You have to look at the turn card before deciding how to continue with the hand.

If the turn card is low, villain’s showdown value hands will still be pairs below top pair.  In this case, you should target this range with a small bet on the turn.

If the river card is low, you can bet small again. 

If the turn card is a Q, you won’t be getting any bets called by JJ-99.  However, the rest of villain’s range will have got stronger.  For example, QQ will have made a set and KQ will have hit 2 pair.  Therefore, you shouldn’t bet on the turn or river.  You will have to fold to a bet on the river unless you believe that villain would bluff on the river with JJ-99.

If the turn card is a J, JJ has made a set and you won’t get any more bets out of TT-99.  However, QQ is still a pair below top pair and KQ is a pair with a worse kicker.

In this case, you can bet ½ pot on the turn.  The idea of a ½ pot bet is to incentivise villain to raise now if he has you beaten.  If the river card isn’t a Q, you can bet ¾ of pot on the river. 

The only hands that villain would have played this way are AK, KQ and possibly, AA.  I would think it unlikely that villain would play AA in this way.  I would expect him to barrel all 3 post-flop streets with this hand. 

Loose-Passive Players

If a loose-passive player c-bets, you don’t need to be concerned about his c-bet%.  If he c-bets routinely, he will have a lot of junk in his range.  If he doesn’t c-bet often, he will have a lot of Kx in his range.  As we have the best kicker, our AK should be beating most of villain’s range.

Range 2 shows the stronger part of villain’s 30% range.  If he folds every combo apart from Kx and better

Range 2:  The Kx+ Portion of Villain’s 30% Range

We should min-raise his bet on the flop and bet the turn and river.  If villain shows any aggression back, we will fold.  A passive player will only re-raise our flop bet or raise our turn and river bet if he has 2 pair or better. 

So, the betting line would look as follows:

Betting Line 4:  Min-Raise Flop; Bet Turn and River

Villain: Bets 5BB (2/3 pot)

The min-raise says I have a good hand but I might be kidding.  If you have a set, I would like you to raise now and save me money.

I don’t care what you’ve got.  I’ve got a K and I ain’t folding.

Villain:  Checks

Hero:  Bets 20.6BB (¾ pot)

I’m not kidding.  I have top pair at least.

Villain:  Calls 20.6BB (¾ pot) 

I will only call this bet with top pair or better.

Villain:  Checks

Hero:  Bets 51.56BB

Villain: Calls 51.56BB

You could bet a bit less on the river eg ½ pot . You will have most of your stack in with the ¾ pot bets . The problem with having almost all of your stack in on the river, is that you won’t be able to fold to a raise. In addition, if villain senses that stacks are going in, he may slowplay big hands. You have to give your opponent a reason to raise big hands when you have top pair. Otherwise, it is too easy for opponents to slowplay big hands.

The idea is that when he calls our min-raise on the flop, we know that our AKo is ahead most of the time.  There aren’t many loose-passive players, who would slowplay a monster hand when you raise the flop.

B. Villain Checks

We’ve looked at what we should do if villain bets on the flop.  Now, we will examine what we should do if villain checks away the lead on the flop? 

Usually, this means that villain has air, a showdown value hand or he is trying to trick us with a monster.

We are going to check back the flop.  We want villain to believe that our hand is weak as well.

1. Villain Checks the Turn

If villain checks, we will bet on the turn and river.  In villain’s mind, he will suspect that our turn and river bets are bluffs.  This is because we planted the seed in his mind that our hand is weak by checking back the flop.

I would bet small on the river against a tight player.  He won’t call a big turn and river bet with a showdown value hand.  For example, I would bet ¾ pot on the turn and 1/3 of the pot on the river.

Against a loose-passive player, I would bet ¾ of the pot on the turn and river.

If any of our bets are raised, we should fold.

2. Villain Bets on the Turn

What you need to understand is that, at microstakes, if a passive player makes a weak action and suddenly acts strong, this means that he has a hand that is 2 pair or better.

We know that raising is an example of villain acting strong after representing weakness. 

Another way that villain can represent strength is by betting big on both the turn and river.  If he does this, we fold.  A passive player may take one stab at the pot on the turn.  They do not usually barrel twice as a bluff.

We will call a turn bet.  If villain checks on the river, we will bet.  Again, size your river bet to get calls from showdown value hands.  So, this would be around 1/3 of the pot against tight players and ¾ of the pot against loose players.


On dry flops, it is usually best to raise on the flop against passive players.  How you play the turn and river depends on whether your opponent is tight-passive or loose-passive.

Author: Jeremy Torres