Lesson 4 covered the vast majority of hands you will play, but it covered only the minority of hands you will be dealt. Many of the hands you get will be so horrible that they present no problems; you already know not to play 83 or J2 or 94. Several others will be hands you can play under very controlled circumstances, but you may be seduced by boredom, optimism, or lack of knowledge into playing inappropriately. This lesson covers several of these types of hands and offers some tips on when and how you can play them.
Keep in mind that the important questions to be asking yourself when you look at a hand are:
“What sort of hand am I hoping to make?”
“What circumstances do I need for this to become profitable?”
“How likely are these circumstances to exist?”
With the hands in Lesson 4 (most of the big cards) you were trying to make one pair with a big kicker. The large pairs you were hoping to make an overpair, and with the smaller pairs you were hoping to make a set.
In general, with these hands you are hoping to flop draws. That means they almost always need a large field, and a small entry price (one bet). Only if both conditions are met can you actually play these hands. We examine specifics below:
- Ace-x: AT can be played in late position against one or two limpers, and you should raise with it if you think you can eliminate the other players. Against more players, or for any raise, you should fold it. A9 can be played in late position against one player, and you should raise with it. A8-A2 should not be played unless you are the cut-off or the button, and no one else has called the blind. In this case, raise if the blinds are somewhat likely to fold, and call otherwise. In all other circumstances fold these hands without a thought. More money has been lost playing A-rag than probably any other hand because so many people play it when they shouldn’t. It only makes top-pair-bad-kicker or bad-pair-top-kicker. If there is any action, either one is a loser.
- Ace-x suited: This hand is considerably better because of the nut-flush possibilities. You are trying to flop a flush draw and make it. You might win with the ace, of course, but that is not the objective. However, you need to either get in cheaply or have many opponents. In loose games, you can play this hand in any position. In tight games, only play it in middle or late position, and only against three or more limpers. Otherwise, follow the guidelines for Ax.
- K-x suited or not: Forget it. I see lots of people playing Kxs, and they are almost always wrong. None of the hands you are trying to make are particularly good (non-nut flush, pair of kings with a bad kicker). In particular, lots of players seem to think KT is a good hand in some spots. It isn’t. More on this below.
- Connectors: Connectors are two cards together, like 98 or 54. We covered AK, KQ, and QJ in the last lesson, so here we are looking at JT – 32. Let’s start from the bottom to make this quick. Never play 65, 54, 43, and 32. Play 76 and 87 on the button for one bet. That leaves us with JT and T9. I am very partial to JT because it makes a maximum number of straights, and every straight it makes is the nuts. It also has some chance of making top pair, although that is not the true value of the hand. Both JT and T9 need a lot of company, since you are aiming to flop a straight draw and want good pot odds to make it, and to be paid off if you make the hand. In loose games you can play these hands in middle or late position for one bet. In tight games, they are rarely playable at all.
- Suited connectors: Having your connectors in the same suit adds a lot of value to your pre-flop hand, as there are more good flops. Nevertheless, they are still not premium hands and need good circumstances to play. Never call a raise cold with any of them. Again from the bottom, never play 32s, 43, and 54s. I know they are fun to play, and a lot of laughs when you win with them, but you are playing for money, not laughs. (If you are playing for laughs, 32s is a great hand to raise with. On the very rare occasion when you win with it, you can turn it over and get a day’s worth of chuckles!) Play 65s, 76s, and 87s in middle position or late position for one bet as long as two or more players are already in. Play JTs and T9s in any position in a loose passive game. In an aggressive game, these hands lose a lot a value, and can only be played in late position for one bet. In a tight game, you can still play JTs for one bet in middle or late position if there are two or more players.
- One-gap hands: One-gap hands are like connectors with a one-card hole in the middle. We covered AQ and KJ in Lesson 4. Now we can look at QT through 42. It is a lot harder to flop a straight draw with one-gap hands than it is with connectors, and they are therefore less valuable. Since connectors have little value as we have seen, imagine what we should think of one-gapers. In general, never play 42, 53, 64, 75, and 86. If the game is loose, and the players are poor, you can play 97 and T8 on the button for one bet if three or more players are already in. Otherwise, fold. With three or more and no raise play J9 or QT in the last two positions for one bet.
- Suited one-gap hands: You can add one position to off-suit connectors to get a reasonable position to play suited one-gappers. You can begin with 86s and 75s on the button for one bet with several players in. You still can never play 64s, 53sand 42s. On the high end, QTs and J9s can be played in middle position in a loose game with a couple of players already in. All of these hands still play for one (initial) bet only. Never call a raise cold with any suited one-gap hand below AQs.
- Bigger Gaps: KT is the largest two-gap hand, and it really is not playable. Many players enter pots with it, and call raises with it, but you really do not want to have this hand in a multi-way pot. Any two-gap hand below that is even worse, as are three-gap hands. Suited, in late position, for a single bet, you can play KTs and Q9s, but be very careful. The only two straights you can make with Q9, for example, are with boards containing JT8 or KJT. In the latter case, AQ is the nuts and could easily be out against you. With J8 or below, suited or not, you are best off mucking and waiting for a better opportunity.
Playing this style makes you play very tight up front, and fairly tight in later position. In tight games, you cannot play many hands at all, and in aggressive games, you can play still fewer. If you find yourself putting two bets in on mediocre hands fairly often, you need to tighten up your play. [Note: My recommendations are a bit tighter than some noted authorities, including our own Lou Krieger. I recommend you play tighter with AT, Kxs and low suited connectors than most others do. I play every day, and I see people losing money with these hands. I also see everyone play looser than “the books” say. If I tell you to play very tight, and you loosen up a bit, you will get to where the others tell you to be. But be careful about loosening up at all unless you are clearly beating the game, and you are sure you are one of the top two players at he table.
Poker is a game that rewards the player with patience, who can wait for premium hands or good value with position, then exploit the edge it gives them. Strive to be that player, and you will gain those rewards.
In the next lesson, the final one on pre-flop play, we will look at special situations, including button play, and blind play.
Lesson created by Barry Tanenbaum.
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