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Hi-Lo hand decisions are important to success

Mar 28, 2017 3:00 AM

What is a Hi-Lo hand? After reading about them in George “The Engineer” Epstein’s book, I asked him about such hands. I found his explanation fascinating. So now, you relax and be prepared for an amazing journey into the realm of Hi-Lo hands when playing Texas hold’em.

You have a Hi-Lo hand when your hole cards consist of one high card and one low card. That’s quite common. And it presents an “inherent danger.” A high card is an honor card – an Ace down to 10; a low card is 7 down to a deuce. An 8 or 9 is considered borderline. Some typical Hi-Lo hands: A-7, K-7, Q-6, and J-5 – suited or offsuit. (Of course, there are many more.)

Probably, the biggest problem with playing such a hand is it can easily become a dominated hand. That’s when you and an opponent hold the same high card in the hole, but one of you has a lower kicker.

Let’s say you have K-7 in the hole. Your opponent has K-10, but you don’t know it. A King falls on the flop, giving you top pair on the board. Neither of you further improves on the turn and river. Subsequently, at the showdown, you each turn up K-K but he takes the pot with his higher kicker.

There are two ways your Hi-Lo hand could be borderline (marginal): (1) Hole cards that just barely satisfy the Hold’em Algorithm for your position and (2) hands where the lower card is a 9 or an 8.

In the first case, play them just as you would hands that barely score high enough to be considered playable and satisfy the Hold’em Caveat – a multiway pot (three or more opponents staying to see the flop) and no raises.

Thus, K-8 offsuit is playable only in a late position; and K-8 suited is playable in middle or late positions (but not in early positions) – subject to the Hold’em Caveat. (Note: Of course, if you are one of the blinds, you could see the flop with no further investment, or just one-half bet – a good deal.

While you would be wise to fold most Hi-Lo hands, K-8 suited gives you another dimension; you could catch the second-nut (King-high) flush. Indeed, this may well be a viable exception. Should you stay to see the flop, you are really hoping for two or more of your suit. But the odds are much against it. It’s 118-to-1 against flopping your flush; and 8-to-1 against making four-to-your-flush.

And, if you got lucky to make a four-flush on the flop, you are still a significant underdog to catch a fifth card of your suit on the turn (8-to-1 against). Far more likely, if your hand improves at all, is to pair one of your two hole cards. (Odds are only 2-to-1 against.) However, then you are once again holding a hand that would be dominated by an opponent with a King in the hole, but a higher kicker.

I asked George: When would it be OK to invest to see the flop with a suited Hi-Lo hand? Here, again, the Hold’em Caveat is important: a multiway pot and no raises, offering the potential for a big pot at low investment. You really want to go for the big flush.