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Poker 101: Why You Should Probably Fold More

You should fold hands like 7-2.

What’s the first thing that most brand-new poker players can do to seriously increase their chances of winning? Fold more.

It’s not the sexiest strategy but most players should generally only be playing around 15 to 20 percent of the hands they are dealt if they’re playing a full nine-player game. That’s a shockingly low number to people who are used to playing every hand of other card games.

The reality is that premium cards are rare in No-Limit Hold’em. In fact, your chance of being dealt one of the 10 best Hold’em hands is less than 10 percent.

While it’s true that the best players in No-Limit Hold’em are able to come out on top with marginal hands, most new players will want to make their lives easier by sticking to relatively good hands.

As with all poker strategy, the following advice will depend on the game you are playing. If you are playing a game with just three other players who are playing every hand, then you’re going to want to loosen up a bit and change your strategy.

Most Starting Hands Suck

It’s an unpleasant truth that the majority of starting hands in poker are terrible.

We’re talking about unconnected hands like 8-3, 10-3, 9-5, K-2 and of course the infamous 7-2. There’s a good chance if your hand isn’t suited, or connected (like 7-8 or A-K) or a pair, then you should probably fold. In fact, you should still fold a lot of your suited or connected hands and even some of your lower pairs, depending on the situation.

There’s also a good chance you won’t hit the flop with your hand either so you shouldn’t count on your 8-3 hitting a set or full house on the flop because you’ve got a less than one percent chance of that happening.

One of the most clear-cut worst mistakes beginner poker players can make is calling huge bets with trash hands pre-flop and immediately folding if they don’t hit. That’s essentially lighting money on fire.

Think about everything going against you when you call a big bet with a bad starting hand.

1. You’re unlikely to hit the flop.
2. You haven’t shown any aggression so you won’t get much respect post-flop.
3. You’ve already committed a large amount of chips to the pot.

It’s basic Poker 101 to avoid calling huge bets pre-flop with bad starting hands.

The Danger of Playing Bad Starting Hands

The problem with playing bad starting hands — especially for beginners — is that it forces you to make tough decisions.

Let’s say you play K-9 and the flop comes K-5-2. At first it seems like you’ve gotten exactly what you wanted as you now have top pair.

The problem is that if you run into resistance (your opponent raises or re-raises you), then you’re in a tough spot.

You’ve got top pair but you’ve got a pretty weak kicker. The nine is probably at the bottom of the K-x hands that your opponent could have. In other words, there’s a decent chance your opponent is probably going to have K-10 or better, which has you crushed.

Even if your opponent doesn’t actually have a king, you’ve got to at least consider it and that will lead to you folding the best hand some of the time.

Having the second- or third-best hand is often the easiest way to lose huge pots and you’re essentially exposing yourself to those situations when you play hands like A-2 or K-9.

When It’s OK to Play Bad Cards

Poker is a unique game in that there’s generally no set strategy that works 100 percent of the time.

You’ve got to adapt to the game you’re playing and avoid becoming predictable.

That’s why there are situations when it can be profitable to loosen up and play a broader selection of starting hands.

Here are some of the most common times when it’s OK to play weaker hands (and sometimes the correct decision).

  • 1. Short-handed with six players or less.

Poker hands get stronger the fewer players there are in a game. Think about a full nine-handed game. That’s nine chances for players to get a good starting hand. That means you’ve got to tighten up because there’s a strong possibility someone else is going to hit a strong hand. Meanwhile, if you’ve only got four players in a game, hands like A-J become much stronger.

  • 2. You’ve got position.

In poker, the last player to act has the advantage of knowing what everyone else is going to do before they play.

In standard No-Limit Hold’em, the player on the dealer button has the best position. The worst position is technically the small blind and it improves from there.

That means if you’re in late position (say, for instance, the first four players in front of you fold), then you can loosen up somewhat. It’s a good time to play low pairs or middle connectors like 7-8 suited.

  • 3. Your opponents are too tight or too loose.

You’ve always got to be paying attention to what your opponents are doing when it comes to poker.

If you notice that your opponents fold 95 percent of their hands, then it can be the correct decision to loosen up and starting play more starting hands. In these situations, it’s more about putting pressure on your opponents than actually having a good starting hand.

On the other hand, if your opponents are complete maniacs and raising huge amounts every hand, then it can be the correct decision to get aggressive with 8-8 or A-Q. Just be aware that you might have to go all-in if it’s that kind of table.

This is entirely situational and it’s an important reminder to play the opponent, not just the cards in front of you.

How to Get Value From Weak Starting Hands

There are two strategies that work particularly well for extracting value from bad starting hands:

  • 1. Seeing cheap flops and hitting big hands.
  • 2. Playing a bad hand like a good one.

Getting to cheap flops is simply a matter of calling (hopefully from late position) against a number of players.

In an ideal world, we are talking about hitting three-of-a-kind with low pocket pairs or straights with disconnected hands like 8-5 or 9-6. Or even flushes with hands like K-2 suited.

The second strategy is more situational and will depend on how the other players at the table see you. If you’ve only been playing strong hands, then it’s important to mix things up and throw some weaker holdings in your range.

One way of doing that is every so often you play a hand like 9-8 suited like it’s pocket aces. Just do exactly what you’d do if you held the best starting hand in Hold’em.

If you’ve been playing pretty tight, then you’ve got the potential to win a huge pot off an opponent who thinks you only play pocket jacks or better.

Winning a big pot with a weak starting hand is one of the single best feelings in poker and an important tool in every player’s arsenal. You’ve just got to be smart about it.

Save Yourself the Headache and Just Fold

The bottom line is that when you’re just learning how to play poker, you’ll face a barrage of different decisions.

You can save yourself a signicant amount of heartache by just folding your bad hands, especially if you’re unsure how to play them. The problem with bad hands like K-2 or Q-3 is that if you actually hit your pair on the flop, you’ve still got some massive decisions to make as you might be crushed by a better kicker.

There are some advantages to bad hands – one is that your opponent won’t expect you to have them – but it’s also easy to bleed value when you play too many bad hands.

The simplist way to plug up your leaks and increase your win rate? Just stop playing so many bad hands while you are learning how to play poker.

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