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Big Pair in a Tournament: To Trap or Not to Trap

It’s an exciting feeling: you’re in a multi-table tournament and you pick up pocket Aces or pocket Kings. A player in front of you raises the pot to 3 big blinds. Now… what do you do?

In this situation, you have two choices, call or re-raise. In this article, I’m going to go over some of the things that should determine your decision. Consider the following to be something of a textual flow chart:

1. How Big is Your Stack?

A. 15 big blinds or less. With this short of a stack, I don’t think you can make much of an argument to flat-call the raise. Since your stack is so short, you’ll get called a pretty large percentage of the time when you re-raise all-in since your opponent will feel he has the pot odds to make the call. Additionally, you completely mask the strength of your hand by re-raising all-in, whereas a flat-call will look really powerful to anyone with a knack for tournaments.

B. 50 big blinds or more. With a larger stack, I like making a re-raise with your big pocket pair. When the stacks are somewhat deep, players will three-bet with a wider range of hands which means the strength of your hand will still be fairly well concealed notwithstanding your raise. An instance where a flat-call might be better than a raise is if your table is really crazy and you’re confident the pot will be re-raised by someone yet to act. However, I would want to be fairly sure this will happen before just smooth calling.

C. 20 to 45 big blinds. If your stack size falls into this range, proceed to the next step.

2. What Position Are You In?

A. Early Position. This is the most favorable scenario in which to consider just flat-calling the raise. Since someone in early position raised the pot, that’s probably going to look fairly strong to most players. By re-raising, you’re effectively announcing that you have a very big hand. After all, who is re-raising an early position raisor from early position with a marginal holding? Flat-call and hope to see something favorable to happen like a shorter stack who moves all-in thinking they might pick up an already nice sized pot before the flop.

B. Middle Position. I believe this is the trickiest position at the table to determine what to do. Proceed to the next step.

C. Late Postion/Blinds. A re-raise is a favorable move from late position or the blinds, but for different reasons. You can re-raise in late position since players typically will do so with a somewhat wider range of hands which thereby conceals your hand strength a little. In the blinds, I like a re-raise to simplify your decision-making for the remainder of the hand. Since you’re out of position, it’s a good idea to take control of the hand and get as many chips into the pot as possible to prevent having to make complicated post-flop decisions. However, a call can be an interesting play from the blinds since your hand strength is concealed incredibly well.

3. What Are Some Table Dynamics?

If you’ve made it past question #1 and question #2 and still don’t have a good idea one way or the other as to whether you should flat-call or re-raise, you’re going to have to examine some more subtle factors to make a confident decision. Here are some things to look for:

What are the stacks like behind you? If everyone yet to act has a lot of chips in front of them, it would make me inclined to re-raise. However, if there are a couple of short-stacks, a flat-call becomes more appealing. The reason is, when a short stack sees a raise and a call in front of them, they might be inclined to gamble and shove all-in with a fairly weak hand hoping both players fold. This move has additional value since the original raisor might call the all-in allowing you to shove over the top and either a.) double-up to a very big stack or b.) induce a fold leaving a ton of dead money in the pot.

What are the players like behind you? What’s your feeling on the players yet to act in the pot? Are there any crazy-aggressive players or is there anyone on tilt? If so, this would make me more likely to flat-call the raise in hopes that the crazy player traps himself by making a re-raise. Conversely, if the players behind you are tight and playing pretty straightforward, it would make me lean towards a re-raise since I’m not expecting to see any action induced from a flat-call.

Of course if you’re still not sure what to do after progressing through these questions, you can always let random chance determine your course of action. Flip a coin or let the second-hand on your timepiece determine your move!


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