Poker Trouble Spots: Way Ahead or Way Behind Part 2


In the first part of this article, we looked at what a way ahead or way behind situation typically looks like.

Part two here will explore how to play these hands, focusing on the importance of pot control.

If you missed it, catch up with Part 1 here.

Pot Control Examples

The simplest way to explain the idea of pot control and playing a way ahead or way behind hand is to try some scenarios and figure out how to make the best of them.

In this example of a way ahead/way behind hand, we're going to evaluate the two betting extremes - moving all-in on the flop and folding on the flop.

This example is purely meant to give you an idea of the return you can generally expect on making these moves with such a hand.

Your hand:    

The Flop:      

Moving All-In

If you move all in on the flop, the only hands that will reasonably call you will be pocket kings or pocket fours.

We can safely assume that the amount of money won from fours will be exactly equal to the amount of money lost to kings over the long run.

The remainder of possible hands to this flop will fold to your bet.

This means you will make a small profit from the times you pick up the pot of preflop money.

Josh Field
Any constant loss is a leak in your game.

This is a very small long-term win with a large amount of short-term variance.


If you automatically fold every single time you're in this situation, you'll lose every pot obviously.

The amount you lose will only be equal to that of your preflop contributions. This is a small loss, but a guaranteed one nonetheless.

Any constant loss is a leak in your game; too many leaks and you'll cease to float.

The Lesson Lies in the Middle

What we learned from the two extremes is that we're either losing money or winning an insignificant amount of money from picking up preflop pots.

Middle set is an extremely strong hand. A hand as strong as this should yield an expected return much greater than what the extremes offer.

This means the proper way to play the hand has to lie somewhere in the middle

How to Play It

Before you can decide how to play the hand, you have to figure out which opposing hands are good for it and which hands are bad for it.

Next, you have to figure out how likely it is for your opponents to have what hands.

In this scenario, the only hand bad for yours is a set of kings. That and the hand best for you (a set of fours) are both very unlikely.

David Paredes
Figure out how likely it is your opponent has each hand.

Hands That Are Good For You

There are a large number of hands that are good for you, but are not very strong in comparison to your hand.

These include:

A-K, K-Q, K-J, K-T, K-9, AA, QQ, JJ

All of these hands are either strong preflop hands or have connected with the flop.

All players (other than extremely bad ones) will fold these hands to a sign of extreme strength (such as moving all-in), but they have enough equity that most players will be willing to see some more cards.

Because all of these hands are worth calling marginal bets with, it makes sense to be making these bets with this hand.

You're betting for value and building a pot.

Give Attractive Odds

The idea is you want to give people with hands such as these attractive odds.

If they're getting 3-1 on their money, it can be easy to build a nice pot slowly.

The other hands that have completely missed the board will fold to any bet, so they are no longer a concern.

Your idea with a hand as big as middle set is to build a very large pot in such a way that smaller hands can feel comfortable getting involved.

Top Pair, Weak Kicker

Erica Schoenberg
Give attractive odds.

The most common way ahead/way behind situation to be in is holding top pair, weak kicker:

Your Hand:    

The Flop:      

In this situation, there are a lot of hands that beat you but also a lot of hands that you're ahead of.

You're behind: A3, A7-AK, AA, QQ, 33, Q3

You're ahead of: A2, A4, A5, KK, K-Q, Q-J, Q-T

As you can see, there are only a few more hands you're behind than hands you're ahead of.

This puts you almost right in the middle.

Every other hand is either way ahead of you - you're lucky if you have three outs - or way behind you (they have a maximum of five outs).

If you were to play a perfectly middle game, you would lose money because the majority of hands have you beat. But your hand holds enough equity to be worth playing.

Depending on the player, most if not all of the hands you beat will be willing to call or make small- to medium-sized bets.

The players with a hand better than yours will want to extract maximum value from their hands as well.

Keep it Small By Betting and Checking

Oftentimes, unless you can discern a very good reason to do otherwise, you want to control the pot and keep it small by betting and checking.

Players are less inclined to bluff at a small pot, helping to eliminate the risk of the worse hands stealing the pot away from you.

It also allows you to make bluffs and moves for less risk.

The smaller the pot is, the less money it takes to make a bluff at it.

Mark Newhouse
Extract max value.

Your Goal: Extract as Much As Possible

Your goal is to extract as much, if not more, value from the hands you beat as you give to the hands that beat you.

The times you successfully bluff a stronger hand into folding should be enough to render your hand profitable.

The most important concept to remember with a way ahead/way behind hand is that the only players willing to call a large bet will be players who have you beat.

For this reason you want to avoid large bets and large pots.

Control the action, control the pot and wait for your spots to punish your opponents.

Find the Perfect Situation for the Big Move

This advice applies more generally too. For every one action hand you see the pros play on TV, they've played 30 or more small, low-key pots such as this.

The goal in poker is not to turn every hand into a large win but to keep turning a small profit until you're in the perfect situation to make the big move.

For the most part, poker is not an adrenaline-crazed action game. It's a patience game.

The players who are can control the pots are the ones who still have chips left when the perfect situation arises.

Play strong, play smart and when that perfect hand is dealt, milk it for all it's worth. 

Related strategy articles:

  • Poker Trouble Spots: Way Ahead or Way Behind Part 1
  • Don't Limit Yourself: Choose Your Plays Wisely
  • Poker Books: Putting Their Advice to Use
  • Changing Gears Keeps Your Opponents Guessing
  • Best Poker Sites - Editor`s Pick

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