Asked and Answered
The first question every Texas Holdem player has to ask is: Should I stay in the hand or should I fold? This is a lot harder to answer than simply yes or no. It depends on so many factors such as your position, your opponents, your stack, the cards themselves, and the stakes.
What Kinds of Hands Warrant a Thought before We Fold?
This is actually a mistaken question! At Juicy Stakes Poker we say that every hand warrants a thought simply because you have to feel that all of your opponents are scrutinizing you and if you show them that you fold most hands without a thought you will find it much harder to bluff them out of good size pots.
You might be able to bluff them enough to get them to fold to your 6-4 unsuited hand but all you’ll win are the blinds. We suspect that you would like a bluff to grow the pot before everyone folds!
So, every hand, even that lowly unsuited 6-4, deserves your attention even though you will fold most hands and almost 100% of the 6-4 hands you’re dealt!
Is There Really So Much to Think about from Just Two Cards?
Indeed, there is!
We can divide all of the combinations of the hole cards into five categories. There are 169 combinations of cards but only five categories of hands.
- Connected cards, called connectors, that are also of the same suit, called suited.
- Suited but unconnected cards.
- Connected cards that are unsuited.
- Unconnected and unsuited cards.
Are All Pairs Equally Valuable?
Of course, not!
Not only are pairs not created equal, none of the two-card combinations in any of these categories are created equal.
How Can that Be?
Obviously, a pair of deuces is not of equal value with a pair of aces. Similarly, a pair of jacks and a pair of tens may be close to each other in value but a pair of jacks is not considered a powerful hand simply because there are still the queen, the king, and the ace to create pairs that devastate a meager pair of jacks.
Connected cards are good but a three and a four in the hole is much less valuable than a king and queen in the hole.
Suited cards can turn into a flush. Still, if one of the suited cards is also a high card, you might end up with a high pair if the flush fails to develop.
If you have suited connectors, you would certainly prefer they be the king and queen rather than a five and six.
In other words, although there are only five categories that the hole cards can fit into, there is a lot of variance within those categories.
Variance is a Fascinating Concept
At this point, we would like to point out how the slots term “variance” can be used to apply to poker. In slots, variance is the term we use to describe the relative frequency of winning spins and the relative size of those wins. A slot with high variance has fewer winning spins but the wins are much bigger than the wins in low variance slots.
This is important because comparing the return to player rate in slots is not sufficient to know if that slot is suitable for a gamer in terms of his or her monetary budget for gaming. The return to player rate might be, say, 97% for two slots but because the variance is different a player with a smaller budget for gaming ought to choose to play the low variance slot. There won’t be any big wins but they will finish the session very close to the break-even point.
This same concept applies to poker. In Texas Holdem, you might have suited connectors but because of your stack or your position or both those suited connectors are less valuable than the value same two cards would have if you were the big blind.
The Value of High Pairs
Aces and kings are the two best pairs. They come about approximately once every 100 hands which makes them unusual but not rare and not nearly as rare as winning the lottery. If you call or raise as a bluff in early position with a poor hand and someone betting after you raises your hand, they might have a pair of aces or a pair of kings. Such a scenario is not at all uncommon in Texas Holdem.
Of course, they may also be bluffing as well! This small example demonstrates the importance of paying close attention to every opponent both in hands that you stay in and also in hands that you fold early.
Two Kings Cannot Compete with Two Aces
A pair of aces is much better than a pair of kings. One reason, the obvious one, is that aces beat kings. But the more subtle reason why aces are a lot better than kings is because kings are such a strong hand that many players see them as the equal of aces which they are not.
In other words, it is even easier to “fall in love” with a pair of kings than it is to fall in love with a pair of aces.
Queens and Jacks
Obviously, these are the next pairs in our hierarchy of pairs. It is interesting that paired queens and jacks are closer to a pair of kings than a pair of kings is to a pair of aces!
Some poker analysts rank paired queens and jacks as equal to an ace-king combination in the hole.
All Other Pairs
Here is where close observation of the table can reap some benefits. Generally speaking any pair from nine to deuce will not win most hands in Texas Holdem. Of course, there are plenty of hands in which low pairs turn into trips and win the pot.
That is a subject for a different article. Here we are talking about the question we raised at the start: Should I stay in the pot or should I fold?
For all inexperienced players, we feel that staying in the pot with a low pair should be considered a bluff. If you are experimenting with bluffing, it is best to bluff with a high low pair rather than with a low low pair!
If you are experimenting with bluffing, it is also important to know that your opponents can be bluffed. Especially at low stakes, there are some players who can’t be bluffed. They stay in hands that they should fold because the stakes are so low that they can afford to lose many hands. These are the players who land an inside straight on the river!
Unpaired High Cards
This is the next category of high card combinations in the hole. High cards can lead to a strong and winning straight. They can also lose ignominiously to the player with the pair. So, we encourage looking at unpaired high cards as a potential mine field: a place to tread very carefully if at all!
Suited but unpaired high cards add an element of chance to what is essentially a weak holding. Some players overestimate the value of suited high cards: a Royal Flush is a rare event indeed.
The pros we watch on YouTube might play low combinations. We urge all new poker players to avoid these hands as much as possible. They are possibly okay as an (very) uncommon bluff. Otherwise, they are safe to play only in late position before the flop if the stakes are low and no one has raised going to the flop.
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