Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
Never let a good suffix go to waste. This is the third consecutive column in which we revisit concepts I presented years ago, examining them in new ways.
Previously, the accompanying key words were Modern and Review. Today, it’s Reviewed. As you can see, I’ve simply added “ing.” Suffix magic.
So, let’s get started. Today’s review continues my series of self-interviews.
Question 1: What hold ’em hands can you play profitably from early positions?
You won’t like this answer. In fact, you’ll probably hate this answer.
If the game is full-handed, meaning nine or 10 players, and you’re in the first seat, you can safely play a pair of aces, a pair of kings, a pair of queens, ace-king (suited or unsuited), ace-queen suited, and any two cards that are both paired and adjacent in rank.
Question 2: I don’t get it. Two cards can’t be paired and adjacent in rank? Adjacent in rank means hands like 7-6, 10-9, or king-queen. If that’s the case, they can’t be paired. What am I missing?
Question 3: Let me think about that. Meanwhile the other hands you say are safe don’t seem to occur very often. Are there more that you left out?
No. Aces, kings, queens, ace-king, and ace-queen suited are the only hands you can be pretty sure are profitable.
This applies to both limit and no-limit games, although you can make a solid argument for adding a few more pairs in a no-limit game. But you can also decide to strictly abide by those guidelines and add nothing.
I’m not saying you should always fold all other hands. I’m just explaining that anything else, such as a pair of jacks or ace-queen of mixed suits are either losers or have tiny profit expectations and might not be worth the risk.
Especially in the control of inexperienced players, hands other than the ones sanctioned are likely to lose money overall. That’s because it requires additional skill to play those hands beyond the first round of betting.
So, do I play more hands than that from first position? Yes, often. But when I play those extra hands, I don’t expect them to provide huge profits. It doesn’t much matter whether I play them or not.
What you need to understand is that hold ’em is highly positional. As you move to the middle positions, you can play many more hands, assuming nobody else has entered the pot. In late positions, you’ll play a lot more still. Put it all together and in typical full-handed games, a winning player will enter about one out of five pots. Some playing styles dictate more, some fewer.
By the way, that restricted list I provided for first position encompasses just one out of 35 hands. So, you can see how tightly you need to play from early positions. Most players don’t. But, that’s why most players, even many professionals, lose money on the hands they play early.
Question 4: A pair of aces and a pair of kings frequently are teamed up on charts as the two highest-ranking hands. Is that appropriate?
No. If you asked me what the two most-profitable hands are, of course I’d say aces and kings. But that doesn’t mean they’re similar in strength.
In many situations, a pair of kings only makes about two-thirds the expected profit that a pair of aces does. That’s an enormous drop off – much greater than the drop off between other categories of hands.
A pair of aces rules. It should be considered as a category in itself.
Question 5: How often do you start with aces in hold ’em?
Once every 221 hands, on average. If your game delivers 35 hands an hour, then you should expect to start with aces in hold ’em once every six hours and 19 minutes.
It’s not unusual to go through two or more sessions of poker without having aces. And still, they often lose. Don’t let losing with aces frustrate you. Many bankrolls have been destroyed because players stop caring after suffering defeat with huge hands.
Just yawn, relax, and wait for the next time. You might lose again, but eventually aces will be your most-profitable hand.
Be patient. — MC