Top pair can be a strong and effective hand, especially when it is backed up by an ace-kicker. It is important, however, to be well studied in playing top pair when facing aggression from an opponent. Position is your friend when strong hands get even stronger with turned draws, recognizing the value of your hand and protecting it is critical to seeing profit.
Scenario: You are six-handed late in a $1,000 buy-in poker tournament. You have 1,300,000 chips with the blinds at 15,000-30,000 when it folds to you in the hijack seat with A♥-10♥.
Playing Preflop With Ace-Ten Suited
Raising Every Time With Your Best Suited Aces
Your A♥-10♥ should be raised every time. While a 90,000 raise is permissible, a smaller raise with a short stack is usually ideal for numerous reasons, such as letting your opponents call with far inferior hands while also giving you better odds to steal the blinds when you happen to have a weaker hand.
Action: You raise to 70,000 and only the small blind calls. The flop comes 10♠-9♦-8♥ and the small blind checks.
Playing The Flop With Top Pair
The Pot: 200,000
The Board: 10♠-9♦-8♥
Effective Stack: 41 Big Blinds Effective
Betting Your Best Made Hands On Coordinated Boards
You should mostly bet with your best made hands and draws on coordinated boards that connect well with your opponent’s range, so you have to figure out if this is one of your best made hands. While you will be in a difficult spot if you bet and get raised due to the small blind’s range likely containing many premium hands, a bet can be called by many inferior hands. On coordinated boards, you should usually use a decently large size, but non-gigantic bet size, in this case, 140,000.
Action: You bet 140,000 and your opponent calls. The turn is the 6♥ and your opponent leads into you for 85,000, 42% pot.
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Facing A Turn Bet With Top Pair And A Flush Draw
The Pot: 480,000
The Board: 10♠-9♦-8♥-6♥
Effective Stack: 36 Big Blinds Effective
Avoid Raising Your Top Pair And New Flush Draw
When the turn completes numerous draws for your opponent, leading with a wide range of premium hands, marginal but likely best hands, and draws becomes a viable strategy. Unless your opponent is leading with only the nuts, you should continue a decent amount of the time due to your pot odds. With your top pair and flush draw, folding is out of the question. Raising does not make sense because it may result in your opponent re-raising, putting you in a tough spot. When you have a clear marginal made hand and an excellent draw, call and continue to the river
Action: You call and the river is the 2♣. Your opponent checks.
Playing The River With Top Pair
The Pot: 650,000
The Board: 10♠-9♦-8♥-6♥-2♣
Effective Stack: 33 Big Blinds Effective
Checking To Preserve A Winning Hand
This is an intriguing spot as you likely have the best hand. The problem though is sometimes your opponent will show up with two pair or better that will call almost any bet. Against a strong player, it is wise to check behind when you do not have a good read on what they may have. When facing weak, straightforward players who will almost never have a straight, perhaps making a small value bet has a little merit as long as they can call with many worse made hands. In this spot though, most players will fold one pair hands, so checking behind is ideal.
Result: You check and your opponents reveals K♣-Q♣, awarding you a nice pot.
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