Big Hand, Small Pot Part 2: The Middle Hand


If some amateurs believe small pots are won with big hands, it only makes sense they would believe big pots are won by small hands.

Their reasoning goes something like:

"Players only raise, and call raises, with big cards, so there's a better chance these small ones will hit the flop and crush the big-card hands."

Although such logic revolves around half-truth to the extent that it's ridiculous, the general idea behind small hand, big pot isn't very far-fetched. In fact, there are scenarios where the idea is exactly the truth.

Hoyt Corkins
Big hat, big pot?

Small Hand, Big Pot

An amateur player prone to getting married to their hand will rarely get married to anything less than top pair.

By playing hands such as 7-9 off-suit you're putting yourself at minimal risk of flopping anything worth getting wrongfully married to.

At the same time, when you hit the miracle flop 6-8-5, you look like a hero against AA to win a huge pot. You win big pots when you hit, and you don't get married into losing big pots when you miss.

I'm going to be honest: there is nothing wrong with this philosophy. In fact, I'll endorse it.

Although you will never have the equity with hands like this to have pot odds, you will have implied odds. In cash games, played correctly, these can be big money-making hands.

If we change our criteria for a small hand to higher marginal hands such as J-Q, K-Q, K-J and so forth, our perfectly robust theory goes out the window.

These hands are easily dominated by any and all of the premium hands. Anyone willing to put large money into the pot against you when you flop top pair with K-J probably has you beat.

The theory of small hand, big pot only applies to sub-marginal hands.

Never Bet the Middle Hand!

Big hands - Make good money.

Marginal hands - Make small money, or break even.

Small Hands - Make good money.

This coincides with the accepted theory that you should never bet the middle hand. This poker theory is not mine; it has been published elsewhere. I'm not trying to take credit for, just share it.

Imagine a card game with two players. The game only contains three cards: One ace, one king and one queen.

Both players are dealt one card before a betting round. When the betting round ends, the cards are turned over, with the winner winning the pot.

In this scenario you would always bet with the ace (big hand). Having the nuts, you'll never lose, and you can get a call from a king, hoping you have a queen and are bluffing.

If you have the queen (small hand) it makes sense to bet, hoping to make a king lay-down thinking you have an ace.

If you have the king (marginal hand), it never makes sense to bet. A queen will never call, and the ace will never fold.

You have the possibility to make money betting the small and the big hand, but never with the middle hand.

There is No One Correct Way to Play Poker

How-to-play edicts that center on pot size versus hand size, like the majority of poker strategy, are context-dependent.

There is no one correct style to play in poker. Every situation is open to interpretation and debate. So it's no surprise that both this article and "Big Hand, Big Pot..." can be correct, while seeming contradictory.

With big hands, you should always be playing for stacks or big pots, even thought it will seem as if you'll be winning mostly small ones. With the marginal hands, you should be playing for small pots.

Finally, with the small hands, you have the ability to win very large pots without risking large losses yourself. This is one of the reasons you will see hands such as this being played into raises by the professionals at high-stakes poker.

The middle hand example is designed to make you aware of poorly placed bets and dark tunnel bluffs. These are the types of concepts that allow you to be a strong, consistent player while playing in an aggressive style.

Every action you make in poker needs to be done for a reason. You bet to accomplish a goal, not just for the sake of betting.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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Sean Lind 2010-01-11 19:37:36


Betting the middle hand isn't always bad, just almost always.

If you're up against a player who will never call with a worse hand, but will always call with a better hand, then you should never bet.

If you're up against a player who will bluff or call off with a worse hand, then you should be betting.

Basically, it's situation and player dependent. In general, if you have no specific read on the player or situation, betting with the middle hand is a mistake.

When you're heads up, every hand becomes stronger than at a full table. This means a hand which may be a middle hand a full table can be considered extremely valuable heads up. You should be more willing to bet with middle hands heads up, just beware when someone plays back at you.

Paul 2010-01-11 02:49:23

Great article; quick question, though:

Is betting with middle pair/hand always bad, or are there some situations where it is okay? heads up sit n go, cash game on the flop or turn, etc...

Thanks for all your knowledge. It is much easier to read you and Daniel's articles and apply them to my game than it is to just learn everything through trial and error. Also, the articles on post-flop play are amazing.


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