How to Play High Marginal Hands in Poker Part 2

$50k pot scooped by Mark Newhouse

In the first part of this series we went over the statistics to keep in mind when playing high marginal hands. In part two we'll look at some examples and ideas on how to play them.

What Are You Hoping to Hit?

Every time you play a hand pre-flop, you're doing so with a hope of flopping something large. Ideally you want to flop a flush, straight, two pair, trips or even top pair.

A full house is nice, but can be hard to make any money off of. Even so, these are what you're hoping to hit on the flop.

When you're playing these high marginal hands, what you're hoping for can be a disaster. Some of these hopeful flops will cost you a significant amount of money. You don't want to hit the flop you were hoping for, only to lose your entire stack.

The problem with these high marginal hands is that the top pair, two-pair trips and straight options may be disastrous. Flopping top two versus a set or middle two versus top two will lose you a hefty pot. Flopping two pair against a straight will do the same.

All of these high marginal hands share the same cards as the premium hands. This makes your opponents' "hitting range" the same if they're holding premium hands.

When you hit your hand, they will hit their hands. Because their hands started out much stronger, they have a much better chance at hitting a larger piece of the flop than you.

Daniel Negreanu
There's a reason the pros call these hands "sucker hands."

Using K Q again as our example, let's lay out a few flops and decide whether they're good or bad for our hand.

How to Play High Marginal Hands

Flop 1:      

You've flopped an open-ended straight draw, along with top pair, second nut kicker. On paper this looks like a great flop for you. If you don't spend any time thinking about it, it would seem that this hand is worth getting invested into a very large pot with.

Unfortunately, this is a very connected board. Connected boards mean two things:

  1. Players will have hit big hands.
  2. Players will assume others have hit big hands.

Out of all the hands that will call a bet on this flop, you can only beat K-J and A-Q. Every other possible hand that can call a bet has you beaten, or outright crushed.

If the pot was raised pre-flop, you have to worry about a player holding A-K, having already flopped the nuts. This flop is bad for you.

Flop 2:      

You've just entered a world of pain. Every beginner gets themselves in a twist over flopping two pair. Unfortunately you've just flopped bottom two.

Again, there are simply no hands that can make or call a bet on this flop that you can beat. The only way you can win this pot is by sucking out, or making someone fold to you by convincing them you have the straight.

Hopefully they don't actually have the hand you're trying to represent. This would be a classic dark-tunnel bluff, as it is guaranteed to lose you money over the long term. Make a bet, and almost every pocket pair below queens will fold, but if you get a call, you're beat.

Flop 3:      

On this flop, you realistically only lose to AA, KK, A-K, 22 or 33. The odds of being up against those hands are slim, especially since two of the kings are out of the deck.

This means you do have a strong hand here, but it's not strong enough to play a large pot with. There are simply no hands that can call your bets here that you will beat, unless you're playing against very weak players who can't fold something like K-J.

Make your flop bet; more often than not you will take down the pot. When someone shows any sign of interest in the pot, or strength, you have to abandon ship.

Flop 4:      

You've flopped a tight. In this scenario you're going to win a very small pot most of the time, win a very large pot occasionally, and lose a very large pot infrequently.

At this moment, the only hand you have to worry about is KK. Both A-Q and AA have a small chance of out drawing you, but other than that you're good.

You will take A-Q's stack here often enough to make this a profitable pot to play very large. This is one of the few flops you truly want to see, K-K-Q being another.

Flop 5:      

Ryan Young
Unless you hit the perfect flop, chances are you want to fold.

Finally we get to flop five. Aside from the full-house flops, flopping a straight is really the only flop you can call "good."

T-J-A is a better flop for you than 9-T-J, since you can only lose on a T-J-A board if someone hits a house, or a flush. 9-T-J has A-K drawing for a higher straight. The chances are low, but it's good to remember they're out there.

More importantly though, A-J-T is a less coordinated board with an ace, meaning there are multiple possible hands who've hit enough on the flop to invest some money against you. You stand to make some good money on the flop if you're up against AA, JJ, TT or even A-J, A-T and A-K.

The Other Hands

Although all these examples used K Q for the sample hand, the rest of these high marginal hands are exactly the same.

Out of all possible flops that hit your hand, very few of them will actually be good for you. A-J is dominated by higher aces when an ace flops, but can make some money off K-J when a jack flops.

With all of these hands, you need to be playing for small pots, or get lucky to hit the nut straight, flush or house and play for a large pot. If you don't have the nuts, and another player is willing to play a large pot, chances are you're beat.

Get into the custom of folding these hands in the face of serious aggression. When it comes to marginal hands, it's always better to get bluffed off a small pot for a few bets, than to make an erroneous hero call and lose your whole stack.

More Beginner Poker Strategy articles:

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Arty Smokes 2011-06-04 14:43:20

Minor error in the text for Flop 1. You wrote "Out of all the hands that will call a bet on this flop, you can only beat K-J and A-Q."
If you have KQ, you're losing to AQ, a king would be a disaster card and the only way you'll win is if a 9 or A comes on the turn or river.

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