Playing Marginal Hands
There’s a lot of hands in between pocket aces and 72o. Perhaps you’re holding KTs and the flop brings AK8, giving you middle pair. Or, maybe you even have high pair, but there’s four to a straight on board. How do you play these marginal hands?
While there’s rarely a single right or wrong answer in this complex game, there are some general strategies that we can employ in these tough spots. We’re never going to have perfect information, but we can still make the best decisions possible with what we do know.
Plan A: Check It Down
Marginal hands have a fair chunk of equity, but they can’t handle big pots because they just don’t have enough value. We don’t want to play for stacks with our marginal hands because they’re often dominated, and they have a hard time improving on later streets.
Instead, we should try to check it down and keep the pot small. We want to get to showdown as cheaply as possible in order to realize our equity. That said, there are certain situations, like when you’re playing against a nit, when you can make small bets to push them off draws and force folds.
Either way, our primary objective with these hands is to play a small pot. Don’t go crazy trying to out-muscle your opponents. The last thing you want is to invest half your stack and then face a shove on the river against a much stronger range.
Plan B: Responding to Aggression
What do we do when our opponents just won’t comply with our wishes to keep the pot small? What if they bet into us or they bet after we check into them?
Raising isn’t usually right here because that will just grow the pot. That leaves us with two options: call or fold. Each is right some of the time.
If our opponent has a strong range, if we’re out of position, or if they make a large bet, then we’ll put more weight on folding. There’s no shame in just giving up the hand and trying again next time.
On the other hand, say they checked the flop and maybe even the turn. They then decide to make a small bet on the river. So long as our pot-odds justify it, then we’re free to call.
The key to playing marginal made hands is discipline. We need to be wary about overvaluing our hands or misjudging our opponent’s strength. Though they may not be home runs, we can still profit off our base hits just as well.