Poker Lesson 13

Advice concerning other starting hands
In my analysis of and comments on different starting hands, I have so far only dealt with what is commonly referred to as high starting hands ("premium hands"): the pairs A-A down to 8-8, and A-K and A-Q suited (= both cards of the same suit, for example hearts). But there are other categories of playable starting hands, depending on the circumstances, and with which I shall deal eventually – and right now, here is some initial advice on how to deal with them during the first betting round:

Medium and low pairs
These hands consist of the pairs 7-7 and on down to 2-2. From middle position, and occasionally from early position, you may consider raising with 7-7 and 6-6 if no other player has entered the pot before you. If you are on the button or on the position immediately before the button, and everybody has folded around to you, you should usually raise even with the lowest of these pairs. If someone before you has already raised, you sometimes fold the hand and sometimes call, hoping to hit trips or better on the flop. If you call and the flop does not help you, you must be prepared to fold your medium or low pair against significant action (betting) from another player – and especially from two or three others!

Ace with a kicker ("A-x")
With an Ace in hand you fairly often (but far from always!) have a playable hand from middle or late position. If no other player has entered the pot before you, consider taking the lead with a raise. From early position, however, and with only a medium or low kicker to your Ace, consider folding as your chief option: A-7 for example is a weaker hand than you think. (See a previous lesson!) With a strong kicker to your Ace, such as A-J or A-10 and especially if they are of the same suit, you should occasionally raise or even re-raise pre-flop, even from an early position. Just be wary of the main trap connected with a hand such as A-x, those times when you hit another Ace on the flop: you run the risk of being "outkicked", losing the pot to another player who has also hit the Ace but with a higher kicker than you have, or now even has two pairs! If an Ace hits on the board (= is one of the five cards on the table), and you have A-10 but the other player has A-Q, you will lose the pot.

Two high cards
Two high cards means K-Q, K-J or Q-J. These three starting hands are all however classical "trouble hands", and require either hitting or good bluffing nerves to push on with after the flop. Before the flop, they require excellent judgement: if another player raises from an early position, consider folding this type of hand when it is your turn to act. From late position, however, if no other player has yet entered the pot, try raising in order to get the blinds to fold and win the pot uncontested. With cards like these, you would rather win a small pot than risk losing a big one. And do not get over-optimistic those times when your two high cards are suited: it improves your hand a little, but not much! There are many players who have hit a flush with their K-Q of spades, only to lose a giant pot against A-9 of spades in the hand of another player. Remember, they are trouble hands, although with a certain potential that will sometimes make them playable.

Suited connectors
Such hands consist of J-10, 10-9, 9-8, 8-7, 7-6 and maybe even 6-5 of the same suit. What you chiefly hope for with such a hand is to flop an "unexpected" straight, hopefully even a straight flush, or two pairs or a full house. If you do not hit the flop well, folding the hand should be your chief option. The ideal situation when holding suited connectors is to be in late position, against several opponents, and get away with a cheap call in the first betting round. Against a raise before you, suited connectors go down heavily in value; and against a raise and a re-raise, they are worthless. And think carefully before you even consider playing such a hand from early or middle position!

Trash hands
Almost all other hands, and which I have not listed above, you should think of as worthless trash. Do you pick up your two starting cards and look down at Q-5, 9-3, 8-4 or J-2? Fold them, ninety-five times out of a hundred, unless your name is Daniel Negreanu, Annie Duke or Phil Ivey, and you are skilled at outplaying others after the flop.

The ONLY starting hand you can always enter a pot with before the flop, under ANY circumstances even if it takes your entire stack of chips, is A-A: no other player can have a better hand. All other hands you may at one time or another be forced to fold, if the raises and re-raises before the flop have been many and massive enough. And not even A-A is an invulnerable hand: before the flop it is no more favourite than 4 to 1, against hands such as a lower pair and even J-10 suited.