Sets and Overpairs Poker Strategy
"Again he hits his set when I have Aces"
I've decided to start this one off with a quite, one that many of you will have heard more than once. Maybe not as often as "Again KK vs AA!!!". These statements depict the powerlessness that players often think to have in these situations. It is especially these kinds of situations where you can make the difference and become a winning player. If you are able to lay down your aces when an opponent has a set, but he can't when the roles are reversed, your profits will skyrocket. These are the key moments in your game.
Everybody knows the feeling; you glance at your screen and reluctantly press the call button. F*ck, that donkey did have a set, what a lucky fish!". Sound familiar? I still encounter these situations on a daily basis. The funny thing is that you often already know what's going on. You might say: "Why do you call then?" One reason for this is that many players seem to adopt an anti-Ace-fold policy. Another reason is to prove to yourself that you are running bad. In the above situation, how many players have you heard say something along the lines of; WANNA BET HE HAS A SET??!!?" and they call. As soon as their opponent flips over his set you hear "YOU SEE! That's how bad I'm running". I have caught myself saying exactly those lines often enough. People don't look at the pot itself anymore and only think about the fact that they just lost with Aces. This is completely secondary to HOW you lost with them. Get rid of the tilt-feeling and think about these pots. Listen to your gut, because often you just know. Do you have a bad feeling and do you recognise the thoughts above; learn to listen to them.
The problem with playing overpairs well and profitable is that you often pick up the small pots and lose the big ones. It is also not always easy to play for stacks on semi-scary boards like JT47Q with AA. One piece of advice I can give here is; stay calm when playing Aces. The pot doesn't need to get out of hand. The fact that you're playing No-Limit doesn't mean that we have no influence on the pot. We decide how big the pot is going to be. Lets say you raised preflop with AA and the flop comes J62 and your c-bet gets called. The turn shows a King and you just don't have a good feeling about it. There is no shame in checking the turn behind to see what happens on the river. If he checks again, then you can place a valuebet. If he bets, you will have to rely on your read. The problem with checking the turn is that you will often be confronted with a river bet. But is that really a disadvantage?
If you don't raise the turn, many players might think their Jx is good and will place a valuebet on the river, and if not they will still call a valuebet from you, while they will often fold the hand if you fire out again on the turn. Therefore, by applying pot control, you often end up winning more against weaker hands. If they do have a set and valuebet on the river you can choose to just call. In this situation you lose less against a better hand. By playing your hand this way you get the best of both worlds. Lose less against stronger hands and win more against weaker hands. Doesn't sound to bad right? This way you won't be forced to end up going all-in every time you have an overpair. Pick the right spots to go at it with your overpair and also know when to slow down a little.
Take a good look at the texture of the board. A flop like 2-6-K rainbow is about as perfect as it gets when you have Aces, while 567 with two diamonds looks like hell when holding an overpair. With a flop like the latter one I have often enough check/folded my Aces. If, for example, four players call your UTG preflop raise and a flop like that appears. The big blind bets out the pot and you still have three sharks sitting behind you. In a situation like that I'm outta here. It's not your board. How often have you called in these situations just to see a player behind you raise, followed by an all-in from the player in the big blind? These are not the kind of boards you want to play back on with simply a pair. Take a good look at the flop, how many players are in the pot and the action that is taking place. Imagine the 'prefect' flop K62 comes down when holding AA, but this time we're playing at a 9-max table and get called by four players. You are playing $2/$4 NL and you now bet $80 into a $106 pot. Everyone in the hand has at least $400 in front of them and the player directly to your left raises to $200. Now you are in an even worse situation. What you need to understand is that this player did not only raise the preflop raiser, but is also raising into three other preflop callers. These situations practically have set written all over them. Learn to observe these kinds of things. It isn't only about your hand and the board. Even players who fold are giving you information. Check out your position, who is calling, what the board looks like and what action is taking place. Make sure to keep on raising strongly preflop with high pairs. Don't try luring people into the pot because you want to get paid off. If you raise strong it will also be easier to put other players on a range.
In all these examples we are assuming that there was a 2-bet preflop and some callers. You make the raise and determine the action on the flop. But what about a preflop re-raise? As soon as there is a re-raise preflop, there is no way I am laying down my overpair. What's important here is that you re-raise strong. With a strong overpair I will always re-raise here, which would come down to about 3.5x his raise. If I'm sitting at a $2/$4 table and re-raise his $16 to $56 preflop, there is no way I'm going to lay down my Kings on a T56 flop. As a result of the preflop re-raise and the subsequent call, his range becomes so small that it is –EV to fold your overpair in these situations. Pots that are re-raised preflop are often already decided in that sense. I'm pretty much indicating already that I'm not planning on folding my hand anymore. When holding KK/QQ and the flop is Axx, this is, of course, a completely different situation. In this case you will have to slow down a little, and if your opponents are being too aggressive, you will just have to lay down your KK/QQ. Not your hand, not your board, just look for a better spot.
During this last paragraph it might sound like I contradicted everything I said about laying down overpairs in the beginning of the article. In this last example you will always see a flop with fewer players and the range of these opponents is also a lot smaller. It is therefore a lot safer to go all the way with your overpair as your opponents will be holding a set less often.
What you do need to watch out for in these situations is that you don't always run into a higher pocket pair, when for example you keep betting out with your QQ and all your opponent has to do is call with his AA. Where you sometimes feel that it would be a good idea to just call with AA after being re-raised preflop instead of going all-in, your opponent could be doing the same thing. Some players already get scared if their KK gets re-raised. These are all things you need to think about in your final conclusion. Then you are back to valuebetting. In this case it's a little easier because the range of your opponent is relatively small. You are in control of the pot if you raised preflop. Make sure to stay in control and don't become a disbeliever because you have an overpair. You don't always need to risk it all, as that is surely not profitable. Listen to your gut and don't be ashamed to turbo-muck your Aces on a bad flop. Learn from the times when they did have a set and don't just complain about your misfortune. Learn to recognise the betting patterns. People often do the same thing over and over again. When I was still playing $0.50/$1, I would always minraise my sets on the turn. You will find trends of how people play their sets on every limit, so look out for them and listen to your gut feeling. I can't emphasize this enough.
Folding overpairs preflop is tough. Not so much for QQ and JJ, as with these hands you quickly know where you stand. With AA and KK I always play for stacks preflop if that is necessary. I will only fold KK against an extremely tight opponent or if I have that gut feeling. It's just really tough. I think when it comes to folding Kings it's more about 'talent' and having the right mindset for poker. You simply cannot learn it.
I hope that you understand that these articles are becoming more complicated and 'vague'. The strategy is, naturally, becoming more and more detailed and advanced. This also makes it more difficult to come up with a formula for success, but I don't feel like doing that anyway, because a formula for success will only work for a certain period of time. If you learn the game the right way, you can adjust this formula for success yourself whenever needed. In my opinion this is worth a lot more. Otherwise you will have to read a new article every six month telling you how to play and what to watch out for. I hope that you still enjoy reading them and that you are still learning something, as it is not always easy for me to write down my thoughts on these matters in an orderly structure. The fact that I work more with thinking-patterns rather than concrete examples also doesn't exactly make things any clearer.