Be cautious on betting hi-lo hands

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Whether or not you use the Hold’em Algorithm for starting-hand selection (see ad), there are certain hands to avoid – like the proverbial red plague. Shortly after being seated in a $4-$8 limit hold’em game, I observed a player in the small blind stay to see the flop with Q-3 offsuit in the hole. (He showed his hand when he lost on the showdown after improving to a pair of treys on the flop).

That’s exactly the sort of hand I warn my students to avoid; such a hand can only spell danger. I refer to these as Hi-Lo hands – one high card (an honor card) and one low card (7 down to deuce).

Here’s the problem: Starting with Q-3 offsuit, one out of three times you can expect to flop a pair. (That’s simply a matter of probability.) Catch a pair of Queens, but your kicker is so weak any opponent with a Queen in the hole is bound to have you out-kicked. Pair up your 3 in the hole and you do have a fairly good kicker, but – with eight others in the game – one or more opponents is bound to hold or catch a higher pair.

You think the Q-3 is kind of pretty to look down on; you have a warm feeling that it will connect for you. But beauty won’t win many pots. Think about it. What are the facts – like it or not?

There are three more Queens in the deck; if an opponent has one of them, it’s almost certain he has a higher kicker. What’s more, there are four each Kings and Aces out there. In all, 11 of the cards remaining in the deck will put your opponent well in the lead, making your hand a huge underdog.

With eight opponents, it is likely one or more will have one of these cards in the hole. Why invest in such a poor hand – even if you think it’s beautiful to behold and have a warm feeling?

There are always exceptions to every rule. What if your Hi-Lo hand was suited, say A-3 clubs, and you were in the small blind? If it’s a multiway pot (three or more limpers) and no raises, then it would make sense to invest one half bet to see the flop. You are hoping to catch two (or more) clubs on the flop. The odds are much against it, but it could lead to a highly profitable hand.

With luck, you flop four-to-your-club flush. There is now a reasonable chance to complete that flush on the turn or the river. The odds against you are only 1.86-to-1. Now the pot odds are so much higher; and, with several opponents contributing to the pot, the flush would make a huge win for you if you connect.

Indeed, it might even make good sense to invest a full preflop bet if you are in a middle or late position while holding such a hand. Again, it must be a multiway pot and no raises (lots of limpers). A raise would make it too costly as an initial investment.

You might ask (reasonably so) how to be sure there won’t be a raise after you call to see the flop.

Answer: Look to your left for a tell. Especially in low- and middle-limit games, players are wont to pick up their chips in preparation for making a bet before it’s their turn to act. If you see an opponent gathering enough chips for more than a call bet, assume he plans to raise it up. Now you know it’s best to fold. Two (or more) bets are just too many to warrant a call with this starting hand, despite your suited Hi-Lo cards.

It may take a few seconds to pause while you look for that tell. Sometimes the dealer may urge you to “hurry up,” “and act.” Even so, just be sure to give yourself the few seconds you need. After all, it’s your money. As for the dealer, the more hands she deals, the more tips she can expect.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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