Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2009.
This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.
Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lessons from MCU
— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —
Lesson 155: Playing speculative hands
Today I’ll discuss hold ’em speculative hands. They’re often called “come hands,” because you’re betting “on the come.” That means you don’t have a complete hand or any real strength just yet, but you’re hopeful that this will soon change.
A speculative hand is one that can’t stand on its own; it needs assistance from fate. When you play a speculative hand, you’re hopeful of making a straight, flush, or maybe three of a kind or two pair if you already have a small pair after the flop. You’re not usually attempting to simply make a pair, especially if your cards are low — such as beginning with 8-7 suited.
In essence, it’s a given that your opponent is enjoying a better hand than you, but you have high hopes of perking up your hand to the extent that you will win the pot. These hopeful hands often connect to claim the largest pots, while affording a no-cost escape on the river when they fail to connect.
If you decide to play king-queen suited, hoping to acquire a straight, flush, or straight-flush, you’ll occasionally win with a pair, two pair, three of a kind, a full house, and sometimes four of a kind. So, even though you’re attempt at a totally different hand didn’t pan out to your expectation, you were still the victor. Mike says that these “stumble into” results, when you don’t make a straight or flush, account for many of the wins for speculative hands, that they would lose money overall, otherwise.
Mike says that “second-best speculative hands tend to be unprofitable.” In games like seven-card stud and draw poker, you need to be trying for the best speculative hand among those competing. Then if you and another player both connect, you win. In hold ’em, it’s usually unprofitable to pursue an open-end straight draw if two suited cards flop. It’s because the chance that you’re facing an opponent with a flush draw and you could both connect simultaneously, reduces your already thin profit margin.
Mike advises against playing 7-6 suited and lower, claiming that it’s rarely lucrative. Too many players try in vain to play these cards, and get disappointed time and again, leaving them with smaller bankrolls.
If there is a pair glaring at you from the board, you want to be careful about playing your speculative hand, in an attempt to make a straight or flush. Often, the increased likelihood that your opponent will make a full house or four of a kind shaves enough from your profit margin to make a speculative hand unplayable.
A good time to take advantage of speculative cards is when you’re involved in a loose game. Loose games provide you with more players who will happily, often recklessly become involved in hands. This results in bigger pots, which equals a handsome profit for you when your speculative hand conquers your opponent’s.
It’s vital that you make correct decisions when attempting to play a speculative hand. Frequently, the hands that you play successfully are going to be speculative. But, the hands that you know are strong, impressive go-getters are going to reap more profits for you than your speculative hands. Always remember: Your rewards will be mightier from the hands that are not speculative hands, but are actually great from the beginning.
If you suspect that your opponent has a speculative hand, don’t allow him a free ride. You should often bet, making it cost him for the attempt to make something. If you’re involved in a no-limit game, you want your opponent to pay dearly for the chance to play a speculative hand, so bet large. Mike writes that you’ll either immediately “win the pot or earn extra profit on average, because you’ve overpriced your opponent’s call and made a sale.”
Gaining an understanding on which of the speculative hands can bring you a profit and which ones to steer clear of will be a key factor in your success as a poker player. — DM