Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hand Chart Construction, Part 4: The Other Pairs

Queens. People frequently say that Queens are the most difficult hand to play preflop. (But then again, you hear the same thing about AK, JJ, middle pairs, and so on). Queens are considered difficult because they're listed in many books and charts as a "premium" hand, so people often lose their minds, overplay them, and go broke, expecting QQ to be as strong as KK. Well, guess what? They're not. Close, but not quite.
  • Hand Type: QQ is a Value hand that also has strong Showdown Value. You're not bluffing with this hand preflop.
  • Position. You can and should play QQ from any position preflop.
  • Stack Sizes. When super deep with QQ, the less inclined you should be to get all your money in preflop. Conversely, with stack sizes under, say, 80bb, you should not fear getting it in against everyone except the nittiest of players.
  • Table Dynamics. Who you're going up against will have perhaps the biggest effect on your decision to get it in or not PF. A loose player 4betting you is a lot better for your QQ than a tight, nittish player, as hands other than just AA and KK are in their range.
  • Upstream Action. You should not be afraid of an upstream raise when holding QQ, and in fact you should usually re-raise. But if you're facing a 4bet (or even a strong 3bet), you need to slow down to consider who is making the raise. If the 4bet is from a solid citizen, then folding might be appropriate, especially from EP, while calling the raise and then folding on the flop if an A and/or K hits is fine from the later positions.
  • How to Play: Like almost all the hands I play, I like to open this one with a raise. I will also reraise with it in most situations, but sometimes I will will call a 3bet preflop.
Jacks. This is another hand that people say is hard to play. In fact, the common joke heard at tables is: There are three ways to play Jacks, and all of them are wrong. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got on how to play JJ was from the Guru, who said I should play Jacks like I would 88 preflop; raise, but don't get married to them. This isn't perfect advice, but it's a great thing to keep in the back of your mind.
  • Hand Type: JJ is a Value hand that can have SDV on the right kind of board texture. You are not typically bluffing preflop with this hand. You might, however, consider turning it into a drawing hand to a set if you're facing an upstream raise from a nit in EP.
  • Position: You can and should play JJ from any position.
  • Stack Sizes. The usual rule of thumb applies with JJ: short effective stack sizes favor big pairs. If the stack size is under 60bb or so, get it in. Otherwise, you need to be careful with JJ and be willing to fold preflop is the raises and stack sizes suggest it.
  • Table Dynamics. JJ is not nearly as strong as it looks, but against a loose maniac it maintains much of its Value.
  • Upstream Action. When facing a strong 3bet from the field, consider just folding and moving on.
  • How to Play. You can/should reraise with JJ against a single raiser to isolate, as JJ plays best against a single opp. If the raiser is a super nit and you're in EP, consider just cold calling. If there are a lot of limpers in the pot, you can either squeeze comfortably with this hand, or consider limping behind and treating your fishhooks as a set-mining hand.
Tens and Nines. Tens and Nines are what some poker authors call "bread and butter" hold'em hands, meaning that you can and should earn a good living with them... provided you play them correctly, especially post-flop. And this means not getting married to them, and, just as importantly, re-Deciding on each street what Type the hand is.
  • Hand Type: Both of these hands have modest Value preflop and can have SDV on the right kinds of board. More importantly, you might decide to play these hands as a draw or semi-bluff pre- and post flop depending upon the game situation. 
  • Position: You can and should play TT and  99 from any position.
  • Stack Sizes. Similar to JJ, you should consider getting it all-in pre if the effective stack sizes are short enough (i.e., treat these hands as SDV). If the stacks are deep, then treat the hands as set-miners.
  • Table Dynamics. TT fairs well against LAgs, but you have to tread cautiously with it against most other player types. 99 also fairs OK, but its strength is quite a bit weaker than TT, as the number of hands that dominate grow quickly
  • Upstream Action. Like JJ, when facing a strong 3bet from the field, consider just folding these hands and moving on.
  • How to Play. Open raise, and consider raising a limper to isolate. Remember that you frequently have the current best hand preflop, so you don't want to let other hands in cheap. When facing a raise, you need to look hard at the players left to act. Calling behind can be profitable if you turn the hand into a Drawing hand (i.e. set-mining) if the implied odds are there, but you can easily get squeezed out of a pot if a downstream player decides to get frisky.
66-88. Ah, middle pairs, the bane of many a poker player's life. The simplest way to think of these hands is that they start relatively strong preflop, but then tank post-flop most of the time. Folding is absolutely an option.

  • Hand Type: These hands are often the best hand preflop, but almost certainly lose their value post-flop, especially if the hand goes multiway. I like to treat these as Semi-Bluff/Draw hands.
  • Position: You can play 66-88 from any position against average opponents.
  • Stack Sizes. If treated as set-miners, these hands obviously play better against deep-ish stacks than shallow ones. On the other hand, if the stacks are shallow enough (less than 30bb, you can consider getting it all-in pre against a single opponent, especially if you're the one pulling the trigger (i.e., shoving, not calling a shove).
  • Table Dynamics. If the table is very LAggy, with a lot of preflop action, you might consider mucking in EP, as you can often get re-popped and not have enough IOs to flat the raise when the action comes back to you.
  • Upstream Action. If the implied odds aren't there, don't call upstream raises. On the other hand, if the IOs are there, this is exactly the type of situation you want to call with.
  • How to Play. Open raise. Call a raise if the IOs are there and the risk of getting squeezed out downstream is minimal. Post flop, unless there is a damn good reason to deviate, treat these hands as fit-or-fold cards.

22-55. Small pairs are just that: small. Yes, according to software tools like Pokerstove, these hands are on a equal footing with over cards, but that's preflop and in a perfect world. On most flops, especially OOP against thinking players, you will be crushed and/or completely unsure where you stand, as the board will almost certainly contain cards that are bigger than yours. Folding, especially in EP, should be part of your arsenal to maximize EV with these hands.

  • Hand Type: These are classic Semi-Bluff/Drawing hands.
  • Position: At a full-ring table, you can't play these hands profitably from EP. You can, however, play them from MP on if the situation is right.
  • Stack Sizes. These hands are set-miners, so they play better against deeph stacks than shallow ones. And, like the middle pairs, you can consider getting it all-in preflop if the stacks are very short (again, if you're the one pulling the trigger, and not the one dodging the bullet). Where these hand get most people into trouble is in games with "average" sized (read: 50-150bb) deep stacks.
  • Table Dynamics. If the table is super tight or super LAggy, you may not be getting true implied odds even if the stack sizes make you think you are.
  • Upstream Action. This one is simple: if the implied odds aren't there, don't call upstream raises. On the other hand, if the IOs are there, this is exactly the type of situation you want to call with. 
  • How to Play. Lots of books say to limp with these hands, but IMHO this just turns your hand face-up to aware opponents. Therefore, I like to open raise with these hands, but I don't like playing them in the earliest of positions at a full-ring table. Call a raise if the IOs are there and the risk of getting squeezed out downstream is minimal. Post flop, unless there is a damn good reason to deviate, treat these hands as fit-or-fold cards.  If you hit your set, don't worry about getting over-setted, as this is just part of poker.

Still definitely a work in progress, but this table attempts to capture the basic strategy for the pairs. UOP=Un-Opened Pot, URP=Un-Raised Pot, RP=Raised Pot, RRP=ReRaised Pot, R/F=Raise-Fold, R/C=Raise-Call, C/F=Call-Fold, and Ci=Call if Implied Odds are Correct. I haven't fully vetted this table yet, but it's probably pretty close as-is.
Remember, with pocket pairs you only have a pair before the flop, and chances are that you going to still have just one pair on the flop. Therefore you usually want to thin the field and not let your opponents see cheap flops.... but you also have to remember that one pair hands generally lose money at hold'em, so don't be worried about folding the trouble ones, even preflop, if your spider-sense is telling you something is wrong. Remember: folding is probably the most under-rated technique to making money in hold'em.

All-in for now...

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