Whether you’re a fully-fledged poker pro or a newbie to the scene, it’s easy to trip up with “marginal hands”. While marginal hands are served in several shapes and sizes, they are predominantly referred to as connectors (not suited), suited cards, small pairs and two gapped cards like T8, Q10, J9, etc.
These are the kind of cards which can cause recreational players to pursue weak hands out of position. On the other hand, when these cards are played strategically and sparingly, they have the potential to improve and catch other players by surprise.
Unsure how and when to play marginal hands? Read on.
One of the first things you should know about marginal hands is that they are so-called for good reason: they are often weak pre- and post-flop.
While it is sometimes okay to limp into pots with marginal hands (more on that later), more often than not they cause players to commit too much of their stack when the odds are against them. For instance, one problem recreational players have is calling large pre-flop raises when they feel the allure of pretty-looking – but easily crushed – cards.
While cards like KJ may be enough to make your heart flutter in a game of Blackjack, in Texas Hold ‘Em they are often crushed by premium hands like AA, AK, AQ, AK, KK or KQ. In situations where you’re faced with a large pre-flop raise against a tight player in early position, you should almost always get out of there.
May the odds be ever in your favour…
Many recreational players fall into the trap of being drawn into a pot with marginal hands. The upshot of this is having to chase the pot when the strength of your hand drastically reduces post-flop. In almost all instances where your opponent has made a pre-flop raise and then called on the flop, you are likely to be a huge underdog. Committing to these hands is a surefire way to lose all your chips.
Imagine you receive the 7 & 8 of Clubs in your holding. You call a medium-sized pre-flop raise along with 3 other players and the flop comes 9H, 10H and J of Hearts.
Now, whilst at first glance, a straight may seem like a strong hand, in fact, it only gives you around a 30 per cent chance of winning the hand. This is because there is the possibility of a higher straight and a flush. If a Queen comes on the flop or river, your chance of winning the pot deteriorates further.
While this example may seem extreme, it highlights how dangerous it can be to pursue marginal cards. If you do make a hand, you should consider how many people are in the pot, whether you’re in position, how much value you get from continuing on to the next street, and how many outs your opponent could have.
Value, value, value
Marginal hands should only be considered when there is value to be had. For example, if you are in late position and several people are in the pot, it can make sense to limp in.
Limping is great when your pot odds outweigh the cost of your call – it means that you have the potential to upgrade your hand in exchange for a small fraction of your stack.
That being said, you should avoid limping when you only have a few big blinds left, as this can lead to having to call off your whole stack with a poor hand. Likewise, when there is a significant chunk of the table in the pot, and you miss, it’s extremely likely that at least one other player has you beat.
In short, you should only ever think about playing marginal hands when you can see another card for free or for a relatively low price.
Choose your spots wisely
Now and again, it is necessary to confuse your opponents by deviating from your table image. One of the ways this can be achieved is by getting into pots with marginal hands – especially when you have only been playing premium hands up until that point. This allows you to conceal the strength of your stronger hands (when you do have it!) and, in turn, extract value from players who think you’re weaker than you are.
While we wouldn’t advise doing this all the time, it can be particularly effective when you hit straights with connected cards – especially against premium hands. As above, you should only proceed where there is value, or if there are attractive pot odds on offer. In situations where you don’t upgrade significantly on the flop, it is often not worth pursuing the pot.
Still unsure of your odds in a particular scenario? Check out our Holdem Odds Calculator to find out the percentages.