Trigger Happy

Playing under the gun without a premium hand is an entirely feasible situation to be in

When you have decided to get aggressive under the gun, the aggression will usually continue throughout the hand

Last time I discussed the subject of playing creatively under the gun – however, given the trickiness of playing from this position it is necessary to expand on some of the concepts I flagged up. In this article I have set out three examples which I have experienced time and time again and which you are likely to run into – if you have not done so already. In all three situations, you will notice that my starting cards are suited connectors, thereby adhering to an important mantra of mine which is: if you are going to push from under the gun, at least do it with a hand that has a chance of winning.

You may be tempted to try and play with seemingly solid holdings like K-Q and Q-J, but I can’t emphasise enough the need to avoid these types of hands in such an early position because they have a tendency to get you into serious trouble. Needless to say, playing absolute junk from under the gun is not a strategy I would readily prescribe. The only types of hands that will most likely call a large bet from a tight player leading out under the gun are premium hands.

Rating the table

Let’s take a step back for a moment and define our situation. We are under the gun and have decided to enter the pot from this disadvantageous position with a mediocre hand – playing the hand aggressively. We initially fired out a pre-flop raise of four times the big blind and we got two callers – one from late position and the big blind. Now we need to begin to assess our situation the same, as we would do in any other hand.

Firstly, let’s rate the players in the hand with us. Are they loose, aggressive, skilled or a novice? Assuming we could identify the competition, our next step is always to try to put them on a particular hand. What type of hands have they shown down before? What type of hand would they simply call a raise – from under the gun – with? This information is more important then our starting hand or the flop itself. The best post flop strategy is to play based on your opponent’s hand – not your own. Being that most flops will miss a player three out of four times, it is critical to be able to assess rather quickly if that particular flop has improved your opponent’s hand.

Scenario 1

Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that you are up against two tight players who have been extremely cautious throughout and usually play solid hands. You would most likely assess they are playing high-suited connectors or high pairs (8-8 to J-J). I usually would not give them credit for Kings or Aces, as they would almost always have re-raised in an attempt to isolate one player pre-flop.

You are playing 8-9. The flop is A-J-6 so you have picked up a flush draw. This is potentially a very dangerous flop for you as it may have hit one or even both of your opponents. Conventional wisdom tells us to simply check at the flop and fold to any serious bet, cutting our losses in the hand. Well, if we wanted to ascribe to conventional wisdom, we would not have chosen to raise from under the gun with 8-9 suited. So let’s get a little creative here. I would put out a small bet of no more than half the pot to see where I stood in the hand. As important as it is to put your opponent on a hand, it is equally important to assess what hand they have put you on. You are the one who raised under the gun and you have a solid table presence. As far as they are concerned, you are holding a monster. Betting out here will also negate your positional disadvantage in this hand and allow you to gather valuable information.

The big blind checks and you bet out. The player from late position folds (he was playing A-Q. Even though he hit top pair he quickly realised there are several other hands that can beat him and the flush draw on the board only increased the danger). The big blind calls and the turn is a K. The big blind checks and you bet out with the big blind immediately coming over the top with a pot-sized raise.

This was a very bad card for you. The big blind could have been playing a variety of hands that had you beat: A-K, K-K Q-10. With one card to come, you are not getting appropriate odds to call and draw to your flush. Consider this the appropriate time to fold.

Scenario 2

Okay, it’s the same situation as in scenario one and the same two players call. Your hand this time is 10-9. The Flop is J-10-8. This is a pretty good flop (mid-pair and open-ended straight draw) for you even though it could pose some danger because if a Queen was to come down on the turn – giving you a straight – it could very easily give a player with A-K the nut straight and cost you a lot of chips. The big blind leads out with a bet of about half the pot. I would simply call here. Mid pair is good enough to justify the call and the straight draw gives us ample odds to continue in the hand.

The turn is a 7. This is the best card you could have landed. Even though you now have the nuts you do not want to slow play this hand as that can change quickly. Simply be aggressive and take it down now. The big blind bets out, you raise the pot and both players fold.

Scenario 3

Again, it’s the same situation as in scenario one with the same two players calling. Your hand this time is 9-8. The Flop is A-9-9. You have flopped a monster. I would not be in too big a hurry to lead out in this hand as you are almost guaranteed that one, if not both, of your opponents have an Ace and will do the bidding for you. The likelihood that you are facing pocket Aces is very slim as is the likelihood that one of the other two players in the hand entered the pot with A-9, so it’s pretty safe to assume that you have the best hand in his scenario.

The big blind checks as do you. The last player to act puts out a bet of three-quarters the pot and the big blind calls. You raise and the original raiser calls the raise and the big blind is forced into folding. The turn card is a K. Even though there are two diamonds on the board it is very unlikely your opponent has one as the A is also on the board and we have put your opponent on an Ace. You initiate the betting this time and your opponent chooses to raise.

There are four possible hands that can beat you: A-A, K-K, A-9, K-9. We have already ruled out A-A, especially since the player did not re-raise pre-flop and attempt to isolate a player. A-9 and K-9 are extremely unlikely from this type of player. K-K is likely, but would he have called after the flop with an Ace on the board when he was check raised? If he is a tight player, this is unlikely. What is very likely is that the player is on A-K and just hit top two. I would nonetheless err on the side of caution and simply call the raise.

The River is a 3. You put out a value bet with a flush on the board and your opponent calls. He reveals A-K and you win the pot.


As you can see from the above examples; when you have decided to get aggressive under the gun, the aggression will usually continue throughout the hand. Or, at least, until such time as you have determined that you are beat and no matter how aggressively you play out the remainder of the hand, you are not going to get your opponents off of their hand.

When you ascribe to this type of play, it is necessary to mix it up quite a bit. The beauty of playing aggressive under the gun and winning a pot with a hand like 8-9 is that – when you finally pick up Aces and raise out – you are almost guaranteed to get paid off.

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