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Texas Holdem is very complex.  It involves math, observation of our opponents, the courage to bluff and the skill to see bluffs, the ability to read the hand as it goes on, and many other aspects of the game.  Still, there are some hands that we can understand instinctively.

Let’s Look at Some Poker Hands

At Juicy Stakes Poker, we have a large collection of articles that primarily are directed at newer Texas Holdem players and seek to help these players improve their poker.  One of the aspects of online and land based poker that we come across fairly often is that players, both newer players and experienced players, spend too much time thinking about the poker rake.

In short, the rake should have no bearing on your poker decisions.  In this article, we will talk about a few poker hands and how they might affect your poker decisions.

High Pairs are Better than Low Pairs

This one is very obvious but a lot of players don’t realize just how obvious it is.  If you have a low pair and you stay in the hand at some expense, you will lose the pot most of the time.  One of the few exceptions is when you are the big blind and everyone who has not folded has simply called your bet, which in poker terms is called to limp in.

In that case, even a pair of deuces is worth holding onto.  Of course, you have to make a decision if someone along the way actually raises you.  What kind of player are they?  Do they generally bluff in early position?  These are a few of the things you have to consider if you are facing a raise before the flop and you have a low pair.

If you have a pair of kings or aces, you should call any raise.

Falling in Love at the Poker Table

Although a pair of kings is the second best hand you can get in poker, it is far less good than a pair of aces.  You have to be alert to your opponents’ behavior when you raise with a pair of kings.

It is not common for one player to have kings and another to have aces.  What is much more common is that an opponent has a lower pair that he or she has decided to stay with.  This is usually a bluff but if they know that you are leery of betting into a challenging high hand and if they know that you have the tendency to fold after the flop if it doesn’t help you, then they may be setting you up for a bluff.

Facing an Ace and a Low Card

When you have kings, you have to be aware of the possibility that another player might call with an ace and a low card.  Then, if they pair the ace on the flop, they might win with a higher pair.  All of this means that with a pair of kings, you have to think and play aggressively before the flop.

However, if you are known to bet high before the flop only with top pairs, you will likely scare off anyone who doesn’t have a top pair of his own.  So, the bottom line on kings is to be aggressive and to also be aggressive with lower hands from time to time so your opponents can’t read you.

Going All In

Some players go all in with just a pair of aces or kings if they feel that the opponents can only improve from the flop but lose before the flop.  There is quite a bit of debate about this strategy.  A lot depends on the stakes.  At low stakes, there will likely be at least one player if not more who will call your all in bet.

This is much more common in regular poker games than in tournaments but it is also prevalent in tournaments.  Always remember that at low stakes, a lot of players can afford to lose their modest bankrolls and as a result will call an aggressive action at any time in the hand.

How Should I Play Low Pairs?

First of all, you have to be able to define what a low pair is.  Any pair from nine and below is considered a low pair.  But the pairs from deuces through fives are generally considered very low pairs while the other pairs are seen as intermediate pairs.

Here you have to have a good feel for the table, the opponents, and be fully aware of your position before the flop.  In general, especially at the beginning of a game with players you don’t know, you should fold all low pairs before the flop if you are in early position.

A low pair is woefully exposed to an over-pair.  You will generally not see it coming if you have fallen in love with your low pair.  A player may be betting on a pair of jacks which demolishes any low pair in your hand.  Even at low stakes, you ought not to count on luck to win the hand for you.

The Importance of Paying Attention

We said that you need to learn more about “the table” which means get to know the opponents.  Here we see the vital importance of paying close attention on every hand not just the hands that you stay in.  Getting to know the table is a function of learning something about every opponent on every hand.

Paying close attention in poker is actually more important than learning exactly how to play a given hand!  There is no one perfect way to play a hand but there is one single best way to pay attention.  We can often learn more from close observation than from playing some hands.

What if I am in Middle Position?

Here you know how a few players have acted.  If they have all folded, you can call or raise with your meager intermediate pair but you should probably fold a very low pair.

Once again, knowing your opponents gives you a giant heads up on every hand.  One of the reasons the pros are so good is that they can play with players they know extremely well and who know them very well.  That is, they know each other so well that there is little left to the imagination in tournaments at this level.

And still, some pros seem to always win more than others.

Getting back to our modest game, if your opponents have limped in, you can do the same since it is unlikely that they have a strong hand.  They might have a better low pair but it is unlikely that they have a powerhouse hand.

So Much to Think About

This is one of the reasons why so many poker players play with friends in friendly low stakes games of a weekend evening.  If you want to advance from these happy games to online games against more aggressive players, you should always start at low stakes.

You should try different tactics as long as you aren’t risking too much of your bankroll to do so.  Going from low stakes to higher stakes takes time, study, and practice.

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