“The most expensive hand you’ll ever play in a limit hold’em tournament is the one you get for free in the big blind, or the one that costs only half a bet more in the small blind,” Tom McEvoy wrote in Championship Hold’em.
Whether you’re playing a tournament or a cash game, those pesky blind hands are hard to fold but easy to lose.
Suppose you have a marginal hand such as J-7 suited in the big blind in a $4/$8 cash game. Fast Freddy raises up front, Tight Ted calls, Betty Button calls, and Slowplay Sam calls from the small blind. “Not a great hand, but it’s suited and the pot is multi-way,” you think as you push another $4 to the center.
The flop comes J-6-2 with no cards in your suit. You’ve flopped top pair! After Slowplay Sam checks from the small blind, you bet, overlooking the fact that your kicker is lousy and you’re out of position with marginal cards. Fast Freddy raises and everybody calls. Oops! Because you didn’t think about what you’d do if someone raised, you’ve put yourself between a rock and a hard place.
Your best play was to just check the flop and wait to see what your opponents would do behind you. Instead, you fell blindly into a pothole: You caught part of the flop and became involved with a hand you ordinarily wouldn’t have played in a raised pot.
Think about this before you call a raise with a marginal hand from the big blind:
1. What hand are you hoping to make? Top pair – you have a crappy kicker. A flush – you have the fourth-highest flush card. A straight – a 10-9-8 flop is vulnerable to a Q-J, and a 3-4-5-6 is vulnerable to a 7-8.
2. Would you play your cards if they weren’t suited? If the ranks of your cards aren’t strong enough to play on their own merits, being suited won’t add enough value to make them playable.
Playing the blinds correctly in a raised pot requires skill and some advance thinking about what you’ll do if you don’t hit the flop square on. Often, your best pre-flop option when you’re in the blind with a marginal hand and the pot has been raised is that four-letter word that so many low-limit players hate: f-o-l-d.