Don’t overplay hi-low poker hands

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In the third (revised and expanded) edition of my book, “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision,” I explain that a Hi-Lo hand is when your holecards consist of one honor card (A down to 10) and one small card (7 down to deuce).

Examples are A-6 offsuit and Q-5 suited. Most likely, you have seen players pay to see the flop with such Hi-Lo hands. Perhaps you play such hands, too. Hey, it is tempting when several players limp in preflop, and there are no raises to you.

“Let me see what the flop brings,” you ponder. It’s only one small investment… But it’s also dangerous to your poker health.

Let’s examine the hazard of making that investment. You were dealt Qd-5d. On the flop, you are far more likely to pair up than catch four-to-the-diamond-flush – more than twice as likely. Actually, you will not improve at all about two-thirds of the time.

Suppose a second Queen does fall on the flop. “Oh, boy,” you smile to yourself. “I have top pair on the board.” And, indeed you do. Problem is, at a full table (eight opponents), it is about 50-50 one of your opponents also has a Q in the hole. If so, the odds strongly favor him to hold a kicker higher than your 5d. Your hand is dominated.

At the showdown, you would lose this hand unless you got lucky and caught a 5 on the board – while his hand did not improve beyond the pair of Queens. With only three outs to pair your 5d, your prospects are dim. That’s like chasing when you must improve your hand. (Chasers are losers!) And what if he also pairs up with his higher pair?

Sure, starting with two diamonds, there is a chance you might catch four-to-the-diamond-flush on the flop. The odds are about 8-to-1 against you. And, even if you get lucky and catch two more diamonds on the flop, you are still a longshot to fill your flush on the turn or the river. What’s more, there is always the chance an opponent will make a higher flush.

Be aware there is yet further danger looming from the board. If an Ace or King falls on the flop, it is probable your pair of Queens is a poor – and, likely, quite costly – second-best. Poker players “love” to see the flop with an Ace or a King.

You can almost bet the bank that at least one of your opponents has an Ace or a King in the hole. Then you have a dilemma! Should I call his bet or quietly “fold my tent” and accept the loss. Trouble is you did not have to suffer that loss. Just do not play dominated hands!

The same applies when the flop pairs your lower holecard, the 5 in this case. The trouble now is small pairs are so easily beaten, considering each opponent has seven cards that provide ample opportunity to catch (or start with) a higher pair.

Be smart. Don’t invest in such easily-dominated hands. (Suggestion: On the other hand, make note which of your opponents – PokerPigeons – are wont to play dominated hands; and look forward to competing against them in future hands.)

Borderline Hi-Lo Hands

The Hold’em Algorithm gives you definitive criteria for starting-hands. These are minimum numerical scores, depending on card rankings, betting position and other factors. When your holecards barely meet or slightly exceed) these scores, you have a marginal – often termed a “borderline” – starting-hand. Frequently, such hands are also Hi-Lo hands. (See definition, above.) A typical example is A-6 offsuit, a hand that barely meets the starting-hand criteria when you are in a late position. (Note: PokerPigeons often will play such a hand, even from early and middle positions.)

Only you can decide if a borderline Hi-Lo hand is worthy of your investment. Sure, you could get lucky! But more often than not, such hands are losers. It is best to avoid them. Wait for a better hand in which to invest (risk) your poker chips.

Comments?

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Email: [email protected].

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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