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How to Play Top Pair Top Kicker in Cash Games

When you have Top Pair Top Kicker, you should expect to make a decent amount of money on average.

But you have to avoid overvaluing or undervaluing the hand. Those mistakes can cost you a lot of money in the long run.

By the time you finish this article, you’ll be less likely to make those mistakes better results in your poker sessions will follow. I’ll start by going over flop strategies, then move on to playing the turn.

Before diving into the strategy, let’s make sure everyone is on the same page and define the term Top Pair Top Kicker.

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What is Top Pair Top Kicker?

Top Pair Top Kicker is a one pair poker hand with the highest-ranking card on the board, accompanied by the best possible side card.

For example, if you hold A♣ J and the flop comes J♣ 3♠ 2, you have Top Pair Top Kicker (a pair of Jacks and an Ace kicker). These hands are very valuable because they “out kick” all other top pairs. So, if your opponent was holding K♠ J♠ versus your A♣ J on that J♣ 3♠ 2 flop, you’re in a good position to win a lot of chips.

Top Pair Top Kicker is sometimes abbreviated to TPTK among regular poker players.

Playing Top Pair Top Kicker on the Flop (As the Preflop Raiser)

Playing Top Pair Top Kicker on the flop is straightforward in the vast majority of scenarios.

You should usually bet to increase the size of the pot (that you are very likely to win). You will usually have between 70 and 80% equity against the range of hands with which your opponent calls.

If your opponent has a one pair hand of his own, he’s very likely to call. But there’s another reason why betting is great…

By betting, you make a lot of money against draws. And oftentimes, depending on the specific flop, there are a lot of draws in your opponent’s range. There are actually two ways you make money from these draws:

  • The stronger draws have to pay to see the turn
  • The weaker draws are forced to fold when they otherwise would have had a chance to beat you

I want to expand on that second point because it’s an interesting and important one.

Should you miss the bet with your TPTK, there will be many more turn cards that improve your opponent’s range. This is because your opponent will have all of those weak draws in his range that would have folded versus a bet.

To exemplify this, suppose you raise before the flop from the Button and the Big Blind calls. The flop comes T 9 3♣ and you’re holding A T♣.

If you make a big bet like 75% pot, your opponent will likely fold a number of weak gutshot straight draws like 7-6 and J-7. But if you check, those hands get a free chance to hit a straight on the turn. You’re much better off making them pay for (or fold away) that chance.

The Exceptions

Remember, I said almost always bet Top Pair Top Kicker. There are a few exceptions.

Exception #1: When the flop has a straight already possible, it greatly lowers the value of your hand.

7-6-4 flop

Here are some hard numbers from PioSolver (the pot in both sims was 60 chips):

  • The expected value (EV) of Ace-Ten on a flop T-9-3 rainbow is 67.8 chips (it’s higher than the current pot size due to future street value).
  • Comparatively, the expected value of Ace-Ten on T-9-8 rainbow is only 37.9 chips — i.e. its value is almost cut in half when a straight is possible. 

On flops like T-9-8, Q-J-9, or 7-6-4, you should check with your TPTK at least half the time at equilibrium. You can adjust that to either bet more or less often if you have a good reason to do so (e.g. you can bet more often if your opponent is a big-time calling station).

Exception #2: When you’re out of position on low flops, you should play more defensively.

When you’ve raised preflop and a player who has position on you calls, they will usually be doing so with a strong and condensed range of hands. This calls for a defensive strategy on certain flops.

Specifically, I recommend checking sometimes with TPTK whenever the flop is 9-high and lower. For example, suppose you raise from the Cutoff and the Button calls. If the flop comes 8-3-2, a hand like A♠ 8♠ should sometimes be checked in order to protect the rest of your range.

(Once again, you can adjust to bet more or less often if you have a reason to do so.)

Exception #3: Multiway pots

Multiway pots are a different animal, which is why we’ve written not one, not two, not three, but four articles about playing them.

This is a complicated topic, but I’ll try to sum it up a simplified but effective strategy in a couple of sentences.

When three or more players reach the flop and you are out of position against at least one of them, you should usually bet small with Top Pair Top Kicker.

When three or more players reach the flop and you are in position against all of them, you can consider betting a more middling size with Top Pair Top Kicker, but a small bet is fine too.

(One last reminder: you can adjust your bet size and/or frequency if you have a reason to do so.)

Final Thoughts on Flop Play

There are two more ideas that I want to add here:

  1. The same rules apply in 3-bet pots as well.
  2. When you’re the preflop caller, lean towards just calling versus a bet in most* situations.

*An exception is on low boards when your opponent bets small. In that case, you should raise with your top pair top kicker for value and protection from all the overcards.

Playing Top Pair Top Kicker on the Turn

The optimal turn strategy depends heavily on the turn card itself interacts with your opponent’s range (as well as your own range).

Some cards are more interactive, some are less.

While TPTK is very strong on almost every flop, the turn can make or break the value of the hand. If the turn is marginally interactive with your opponent’s range, then your hand is still very strong and you should continue value betting. But if it smacks their range, your TPTK can shrivel up quite a bit.

Example Turns

Suppose you raise preflop from the Button with A♠ T♠ and your opponent calls in the Big Blind.

The flop comes T 9♣ 3♠. You bet 75% pot on the flop and got called.

Let’s consider a couple of different turns and how each interacts with the ranges at play.

Turn #1: The 5♣

The 5♣ is an awesome card for your range and also for your specific hand. Besides Pocket Fives, specifically, none of your opponents hands have caught up. Your TPTK is still ahead of almost all of his made hands and all of his draws.

You should fire a very big bet (ideally an overbet) to put maximum pressure on your opponent and extract maximum value when called.

Turn #2: The 8

If the turn card is an 8, for example, then Ace-Ten drops in value. There are so many hands that have taken the lead over your TPTK (T8s, 98s, Pocket Eights, J7s, and QJ).

You can still go for a medium bet and expect to get called by over 50% worse hands. That being said, when you take into account the frequency at which you will get check-raised and forced to fold the best hand, checking back is usually the best way to go.

Exceptions for the Turn

In 3-bet pots, the situation is a bit different. Because the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) is so small, you don’t have to fear getting check-raised on the turn because any check-raise will usually be all-in. So, there are no future street implications, and you will usually be able to call off with your top pair top kicker.

Now, take what I said there with a grain of salt. There will be a minority of spots where so many draws are complete that you should still check with your top pair top kicker. Think about a Small Blind vs Button 3-bet pot scenario on J-T-6-9 with a flush completing turn. You should check and even think about check-folding in this scenario.

Final Thoughts

You now have a synopsis of how to play Top Pair Top Kicker on the flop and turn. I hope it helps you in your next session.

That’s all for this article! If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in the comment section down below.

Until next time, good luck grinders!

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