Poker Trouble Spots: Way Ahead or Way Behind Part 1

Thomas Ross

Knowing when you're either way ahead or way behind in a hand is absolutely crucial to achieving positive long-term results.

The concept is nothing new, but as far as critical poker concepts go, it's among the least understood.

Many players play the game stuck in the "old school" or bullheaded style of betting out with hands of value.

They don't give any thought to their other options or to the return on such a bet.

In a previous article, we looked at why you should never bet the middle hand. The exercise in that article is a simple way to understand the way ahead/way behind concept.

In this two-part article, we'll get further into its theoretical and practical implications.

Way Ahead or Way Behind?

In the simplest sense, a way ahead/way behind hand is any hand in which your opponent will either have a hand too weak to call any of your bets or a hand so strong that your own chances of winning the pot are almost nil.

If you make a bet while you're way ahead, your opponent folds.

If you make a bet while you're way behind, you lose money.

Here's a straightforward example:

Patrik Antonius
Antonius is always way ahead.

Your Hand:    

The Flop:      

You've flopped middle set on a board with no legitimate draws.

Your opponent's hand can only fall into either the way ahead or way behind column.

If he holds pocket kings, you're drawing to one out to win the pot and you're way behind.

If he holds absolutely anything else, including the third nuts, he's way behind.

This situation seems depressing in that when it comes to betting, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

You almost always lose money against better hands and you almost never make money against worse hands.

Unfortunately, a very large number of the hands you will play in poker will have you in a variation of this very situation.

The idea is to play every hand in this situation with pot control in mind.

How to Control the Pot in Poker

Matt Stout
Controlling the pot is key.

Controlling the size of the pot in your favor is crucial to your success as a poker player.

The theory is simple: reduce your losses to a minimum and increase your winnings to a maximum.

When you have hands on the extreme ends of the scale, putting this theory into practice is fairly easy.

If you have the nuts, you pump the pot; if you have rags, you fold.

Once you get into the world of middle hands which, depending on your personal style of play, may make up the vast majority of hands you will play, the theory becomes more difficult to put into action.

Here's an example of a common way ahead/way behind situation you'll find yourself in:

Your Hand:    

The Flop:      

This situation has you holding a weak top pair. Any pair lower than yours is way behind you while any ace with a higher kicker or a better hand is way ahead.

What do you do?

It's Worth Playing Way Ahead, Way Behind Hands

For beginners, this concept commonly brings up two questions:

1) Should you even play these middle hands?

The answer is a definite yes, but we're not talking about the validity of playing hands such as ace-six preflop

A yes here means once you find yourself on the flop with a way ahead/way behind hand such as this, it's absolutely worth playing.

The reason for this is your hand does hold a lot of value.

Maria Ho
Know when to build the pot.

The vast majority of hands your opponents will have been dealt will be in the "way behind" category against you with your pair of aces.

According to the theory of pot control, you should be working to maximize your profit in this situation.

Only a few of the possible starting hands will have your hand dominated here.

Although this is absolutely true, it's not totally accurate once we get to the flop.

The majority of the preflop hands dealt that are beat by your ace-six will be folded preflop.

2) OK; so, how do you know if and when to build a pot?

The true number of possible hands heading to the flop depends on the players and playing styles at your table.

The idea is to play the hands in a style that will (let's hope) allow you to maximize your winnings and limit your losses without having full knowledge of what your opponent is holding.

In part two of this article we'll look at the best practices for playing way ahead/way behind hands.

Related strategy articles:

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Jul 2013-11-08 07:25:27

The example is terrible. Yeah technically hitting middle set in a dry board is a WAWB situation, but there is no way should you apply "pot control" here (you could argue to check your hand simply to slow play / fake weakness, NOT to pot control). You should actually aim to play for stack with a hand this strong in a safe board. Your hand is way too strong for "pot control", and there are plenty of worse hands that would call your bet (TPGK, 2 pairs, bottom set, some pocket pairs, the case 9, some float or gut shot draw). The chance of getting set over set is < 1%. You lose out on too much value by mindlessly applying "pot control" in WAWB situations.

Cal 2010-07-08 01:55:46


Very informative article, but I have one gripe.

The example you give of flopping the set of nines on the K-9-3 rainbow flop, while it does illustrate the concept of "way ahead/way behind" is a problematic hand to use.

This is because the nature of (online) games today means that people will call big bets, sometimes over 3 streets, with worse than KKK here.

Most online players would treat their 999 as the stone nuts and try to play a big pot, and would only apply any kind of pot control on this flop in a small number of cases.

These cases might be:
1)an extremely tight passive player reraised before the flop and we called the reraise, and
2) an extremely tight player raised preflop from under the gun.



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