Calling with bottom pair

Lately, it seems I like to get into games with players who will slow, passive play with bottom pair.


I’ll be late to act in the hand, with some high cards that I opened with. The flop will miss me, but the action will come around and no one will have bet. I’ll try to steal the pot, with a half- or pot-sized bet. Everyone folds but one player, who invariably hit bottom pair on the flop. Of course I never hit anything on the turn or river, either, and either I’ll have to slow down and they’ll sense weakness and bet me off the pot, or I’ll continue betting and they’ll keep on calling all the way to the river, all-in if they have to, just to prove that their bottom pair was the best hand there ever was.

Am I wearing mirrored sunglasses, or should I be overbetting the pot, or quit playing?

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Stop c-betting so large, and with such a high frequency.

In general, you need to have a plan when you bet the flop. If someone calls you, which turns will you continue to barrel? Is there anything in your turn check-call range? What about your turn check-raise range? Which rivers will see a third bullet if you fire on the turn, or a second if you check on the turn?

That’s a lot to unpack. Much of it starts with the decision to stop trying to buy the pot when you have air. One you do that, you’ll stop way over-bluffing… and giving players incentives to use their range advantage against you, calling even when they have a relatively weak hand like bottom pair, medium kicker on a dry board.

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Another way to think about this:

Any time you bet, ask yourself what hands you want your opponents to fold, call, or raise. If you have complete air, then you’re relying solely on fold equity in that particular spot. Not a good situation.

However, if you have strong draws, like four cards to a nut flush, or an OESD to the nuts on both ends, or a combo draw, you’ll want to keep some players (anyone who hit a pair, maybe even sets) in the mix and build a pot. Should you hit your draw, you can barrel for value, or check to feign weakness and induce a bluff from your opponents. If you miss it, then you can barrel as a bluff.

You could also have a decent “made” hand in your flop-bet range. Some sets and single-pair hands on dry boards make good flop bets; on wet boards, you’ll want to bet more of your stronger made hands to deny draws’ equity and extract value when those draws don’t come in. Top two pair on an A-9-4 rainbow board is probably a bad flop bet because you block a lot of the weaker hands that you want opponents to call. On the other hand, if you have top two pair on a Jh-Th-3s board, any heart could bring a flush, and any A, K, Q, 9, 8, or 7 could bring a straight. That’s a lot of outs to dodge, so betting a larger size (80% pot, say) should fold out the weaker flush draws and lower gutshots. You’ll still see a lot of calls though - QJ and QT, particularly the combos with Qh; all straight draws with both overcards, since they’ll make the nuts or top pair; NFDs; and overpairs could be reasonable calls. Sets and combo draws should raise you for the same reason you’re betting - gain value from your weaker hands while folding off draws that could crush them. In this scenario, since there are so many hands that will call or raise you, c-betting with air (or low pocket pairs, which are a bluff in this spot) is suicidal.

Again, that’s a lot to unpack. Ultimately it comes down to reading a board. Is this a flop with a lot of draws? Shift your betting range to value and strong draws, and use a larger bet size. On drier boards with few draws, you can bluff more, but use a smaller size. Your opponents who call shouldn’t have many draws that you could get them to fold on later streets, and you don’t want to over-expose yourself by committing too much of your stack when you do bluff.

Much to consider… Hope it was helpful.


It is a very common scenario. Someone limps from early position, you raise with AK or AQ, the blinds fold, the limper calls, the flop comes low. If the limper has a small pocket pair and does not make a set on the flop, he is going to hope that you had two overcards and that if he stays it he will hit paydirt by making a set or full house, or maybe a straight.

In the lower level games a lot of players will pay over the odds, not even considering that you may have a higher pocket pair than they.

This is why you have to mix your hands up. If you only raise with AK and AQ, opponents will soon get your number.

Sometimes it is better to limp in with these hands, because it saves you chips if the flop misses. In the middle stages of a tournament you can easily cripple yourself by calling off, say, 25% of your stack on a hand like that.

Sometimes you can play it like this:

This was probably the pivotal hand in my tournament, which I didn’t win, but still picked up more than half a million chips profit from the final table. Before this hand I was close to the bottom of the leader board with a rising tide of blinds threatening to wash away my stack.

vewy vewy sneaky :smile:

Yes, I guess so. But why did opponent shove the river? He is ranked about 1100 on the site, so not a complete donkey.

He calls a pot size bet on the flop, so it looks like he might have a King. If he has a King, then he does not have a diamond flush draw. Probably with 88 or 44 he would have raised me on the flop, but he could be slow playing. On the turn the 9 of spades falls, giving opponent the benefit of a spade flush draw. I bet half the pot and he flat calls again. It does not look to me like he is slow playing, because surely with a set or two pairs here he will raise here and try to take the pot. So probably he has a king and possibly two pair or a back door spade flush draw.

The river comes with the Ace, giving me top two pairs, and there is no straight or flush in play. I check the river hoping that he will make a bet. He shoves.

What is the purpose of this shove?

Ah, he sees me bet a large chunk of my stack on two streets and then check when an Ace falls on the river. He thinks I fear the Ace, but he also fears that I have something like KQ or KJ or another KT, so he figures that if he shoves, I cannot call the bet without an Ace. If I had AK, surely I would have raised preflop, so he shoves and takes down a nice pot with the bluff. With K8, or K9 I would probably have bet the river. K anything else is less likely, so he is not too worried about K4.

No idea why he played it the way he did…I was just admiring the way you played it :slightly_smiling_face:

Thanks for the advice. It does seem obvious that c-betting with nothing is hurting me in these hands, and I should cut down on the frequency of doing so.

But I still want to know how these opponents are able to call a large c-bet with only bottom pair. How are they sensing bluff?

There almost seems to be an assumption that the last to act never really has anything if they bet in response to no action. If 4-5 players check, and the button bets the pot, then they must be stealing, so calling with bottom pair is solid. And if the button checks the next street, or bets softly, then you can jam when it’s your turn. This strategy relies on an assumption that overcards never pair late, which is apparently works very well when I’m the one holding them.

The other play I’ve noticed is as situation where I get into a hand with, like, AK-AK, or KQ, QJ. Solid faces but not a pair. I’ll raise 6-10BB, and get called by Ace-rag. The rag hits the flop, and they’ll stay in it no matter what, trusting that they have top kicker on the rag pair, and might possibly improve if they pair their Ace.

I’d like to get into the heads of these opponents in order to understand their thinking, and to see if there is some level of bet that could possibly get them to fold an under pair.

So far, I’ve seen that even if the board is threatening a straight or flush, the players are willing to pay off if you fill your draw, or are so confident that you missed that they don’t mind calling. I mean, one hand the board had four to the straight, I overbet the pot on the river, and they still held onto an underpair. I don’t think anyone can do that profitably unless they have superior reads on what I’m playing. Normally I’d just rely on the odds to pay off when eventually I do make a hand, but I had particularly bad outcomes with this yesterday, and when I did hit the flop, then opponents knew to fold somehow. Maybe they just didn’t have any pair then.

AK missing the board feels like a 80% probability somedays here. If you don’t flop aces or kings, you can almost rely on the turn and river being dry as well.

Maybe you should look at your open sizing if you are getting so many callers in the first place.

If it’s usually the same player(s) at a given table who are calling with bottom pair, what do they do if they miss the flop? If they fold, c-bet smaller and don’t continue unless you hit on the turn or river.

If you only open with big cards, it’s easy to see where you miss. Limp now and then and open small pairs and medium suited connectors more often.

Pay attention to your table image. If they see you always c bet with air, why would they fold when they hit any pair? Maybe you are just playing too many hands.

If they are calling you down light, you should be able to get rich off of them, not the other way around. Pay attention to what your opponents are doing and exploit their weaknesses!


Let’s imagine your open range is something like all pocket pairs, 98s, T9s, and all suited and unsuited broadways. That’s a total of 242 combos, or 18% of your potential hands.

On a board like 49Q rainbow, how many of your hands beat 45s? You’ll have 7 sets in your range, plus 7*6 + 3 pairs that missed the flop but are higher than 4s, plus 3 combos of 98s and 3 combos of T9s, plus (3 queens) * (16 tens, jacks, kings, or aces) = 7 + 45 + 3 + 3 + 48 = 106 hands.

In addition, you’re basically looking at a coin flip if you have JTs with a backdoor flush draw (3 combos). Anything else and you’re drawing to less than 50%.

Excluding the coin flips, if you c-bet 100% of your range on this flop, then 45s is only losing to 106 / 239 = 44.3% of your hands.

You can bump this up a bit by knocking hands like JTo, KTo, and KJo out of your open range… but if you also drop 98s and T9s out of your open range, then you’re looking at 200 hands that aren’t coin flips, of which exactly 100 (50%) are beating bottom pair with a weak kicker. Considering a caller needs just 33% equity facing a large, pot-sized continuation bet, if he’s appropriately pegged your open and c-betting ranges, then your opponent can profitably call at least one street here.

[Edit: Feel free to check my math on any of these. If you don’t know how I came up with the figures, just ask.]

Good point. It’s a tricky thing. I vary my opens a big depending on the situation. Mostly that has to do with my position, stack size, and the size the the blinds, and not the cards I’m holding.

I’ve found that the difference between getting 4-5 calls and getting zero can be 1BB, so sizing bets to isolate one player is kindof frustrating to me. If I’m consistently getting 4-5 calls at a given open size, I can see that as a sign that I need to increase my bet. If I do, though, I find that even a 1BB difference can just get the whole table to fold. I win the hand, which I don’t mind, but I only steal the blinds, which is usually not “enough” value for the cards I was betting. So… it can be tough for me to get the right bet in.

As well, if I am at a table where I know the right size to bet to induce one player or maybe two to call to see the flop, then that amount might already be too big for me, in that it tends to hurt too much to lay down if the flop is bad for me, and I feel that I have to win the hand or else I’m going to be in deep trouble for what’s left of this game. That’s a really bad feeling for me to have, because when I feel that way, I tend to try to force things, and that seldom goes my way.

So the “right size” open would ideally be something that I can fold if I really don’t like the flop, and yet something big enough that it gets enough people to fold preflop that I’m not facing 4-5 players in a pot. What size is that?

I also would like to size my open bet properly so that I have enough in my stack left to make future bets on upcoming streets. Those bets should be able to be sized such that they can (if I want) make an opponent think very hard about whether they want to continue in the hand.

This all gets much, much easier after I’ve won a few hands and have the big stack at the table. If it’s still early enough that my stack is roughly even to most of the other players, it’s quite a bit more challenging. (Which, I suppose, is obvious, elementary NLHE fundamentals, but it bears repeating).

Quite a bit of the time, I find in a 9-seat SNG game, I’ll enter into several hands that I feel are promising, losing them when they don’t pan out my way, until I’m down to a number of chips that I’ll call my desperation shove size. When I get to this point, I look for an opportunity to play a hand, shove all-in preflop with it, and hope that I get called, and that I’ll double (or more) up. My stack will be small enough that it will be fairly likely to get called when I do shove, and because I know this I guess I’m tightening up my range a bit more than previously. If I end up getting the right cards, and if I prevail, then I might end up making a decent run at the table and even get a win out of it. Going from 1200-1800 chips to 3600-5400 in one hand has a way of turning the tables in a way that going from 2500 to 5400 over numerous smaller hands doesn’t. The other way it can go, at desperation shove time, is that no one wants to call, I pocket a small pot that is still a decent percentage of my overall stack, and I may end up doing it 3-4 times, until suddenly I’ve essentially bullied the table with my back against the wall up to a healthy and even respectable position, where suddenly my aggression is feared, and by that time the blinds are usually up to 150/300 or so, we’re down from 9 players to 5-6, and 3-4BB raises tends to fold enough players so that I’m only facing down one.

This is where I feel the most comfortable and in-control. Maybe this means I should be playing 6-seater games, instead of 9. But I think what it really means is that I need to re-evaluate my early gameplan for a 9-seat game and close up some holes, and figure out how to play a stronger game early. Maybe it’s just a matter of tightening up my range, opening bigger to compensate, and staying out of most hands until 1-3 players have been eliminated.

I’ll have to experiment and see.

Well, I just won my first 9-seater played after thinking through the above. I tightened up my opening range for the early part of the game. I don’t know if I did this perfectly, but I didn’t lose nearly as many chips early on, and didn’t play as many hands. This game was a little atypical for what I ususally see, in that a half hour into the game, no one had been eliminated yet; usually I see 1-3 gone by the half hour mark. I missed a big pot when I failed to play Q-rag, and would have ended up with QQQ, but I made a great play with 76 flopping 2 pair, and taking AK who bet big with top pair, top kicker.

I was doing OK for a while, but ended up losing most of my gains, getting back down to my starting stack size at one point, but played very well toward the end, when the table shrank to 4-5 players. I think my current game is very strong with this number of players left, or fewer, which is why I did so well when it got to this stage.

I did get lucky on a couple of hands, when I eliminated the 3rd place finisher, and when I took most of the chips away from the 2nd place finisher, a hand after they took a very big pot from me when I made the mistake of slow playing two pair and let them make a straight. I came back with a straight of my own, and they had a lesser straight, which got all the chips in the middle and I came out of it the better for it. I need to continue working on my early stage game, but I think once I get that fully worked out I will have taken my game up a level.

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For every “big pot” that you “missed” by folding off bad hands preflop, you saved yourself probably twice as many chips. Either you would have pissed away too many blinds by buying into flops that you had no business seeing, or you would have overvalued the strength of a weak hand postflop and gotten yourself in bigger trouble.

Take that Q-rag hand. I’m assuming you would have limped. What if someone else had limped QJo? Would you have been on the losing end of that big pot? Think you would have been able to bluff them off the hand? Are you capable of pot control in those spots to keep yourself from committing your stack when someone has stronger trips?

Success in poker comes from NOT being results-oriented, but making the correct decisions. Think about the full range of hands you could potentially have in a given spot, and make sure the decisions you’re making optimize the value you earn with your range, whether from convincing better hands to fold when you bluff, getting weaker hands to call your strong hands, or recognizing your equity when you’re somewhere in the middle.

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Yeah, I had no regrets about not limping in with the Q-rag hand. It turned out no one else had a Q, but there was TT and JJ in this hand. If I did stay in I would have taken out two opponents, and won a huge pot, but I still don’t regret the decision to fold. If you could go back and change your mind after seeing what the cards were going to be, that’d be a different matter. But of course, you can’t.

It may help to remember WHERE you are… This is a FREE SITE with all sorts of people from all over the world, and who have all sorts of ‘approaches’ to ‘why they are here’, and what they intend to do with their time (and chips) today - Expecting Quality Poker Here, is your first mistake… Adapt, Overcome or get run over… Life gives you choices, so does poker…


Winston::: Hey I highly resemble that LOL

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