How to Play Hold em Starting Hand: Marginal Hands


This article is in a series of articles that will look at various starting hands you can get in hold’em and what to do with them. It will focus mainly on preflop play, and will cover a normal 9 handed No limit game were you have an average chip size and a reasonable read on other players. While these articles do focus on no limit play, the principles can be applied to limit and pot limit games.

Marginal hands are those that are not pairs or suited connectors and are playable preflop. They are generally 2 high cards and include the following hands:

A, J to A, 6 (suited or unsuited)
K, Q to K, 10
Q, J and Q, 10
J, 10

There are some other cards that are marginal hands depending on position but those are the most common ones. For example I would limp in with any suited ace in late position when there are a lot of limpers in front of me and I am sure there will be no raise behind me. When I do this I hope to hit a flush or a flush draw and I have to be very cautious about thinking my ace is good due to its low kicker.

The first thing you should know about these hands is that they are called marginal hands for a reason because they are not very good. They are okay to limp into pots with but that’s about it. They can win you pots and should be played, but can also cause you many problems if played badly. If example they generally have low kickers and so you must be careful if you call a preflop raise with it because you could hit top pair with a bad kicker and get beaten by a higher kicker. For example you call a preflop raise with another player with K, J the flop comes down K, 10, 4. You now have top pair and so bet out, the other player folds but the preflop raiser raises you, you feel he wish bullying you and so you reraise all in and he of course has A,K and easily beats this. This example shows while you must be careful playing these marginal hands. To avoid these kind of problems my generally rule is not call preflop raises with marginal hands unless you plan on mucking them to resistance from the raiser if you a pair.

We will look at what you should do with these hands in the following 3 positions early, which is 1st or 2nd person to act, late position on the button or 1 off it, or in middle position.

Early position:

In early position I like to limp with these hands. Unlike small pairs they are reasonable to limp with early as they do not necessarily need other players in the pot to make the draws worthwhile. I might fold however something like 10 ,J or 10, Q here if its unsuited as it might run into better hands later on. I give more value to suited marginal hands as they more potential to improve on the flop as they can hit flushes easier. I would not raise from early position with marginal hands for the same reason I would not raise early with small pocket pairs, a better hand is likely to be behind and if they call or reraise you have a lot of problems on the flop especially if you hit a pair.

Middle Position:

If there is at least 1 raise in the pot, I fold here. The only exception to this is if they are suited in which case I might call the raise but only if other people have called the raises and if I am confident a reraise will not occur behind me. If there are limpers in the pot I will limp with them. If no one has entered the pot I will generally limp or occasional raise to keep the blinds under pressure and to stop them from getting a free ride into the pot.

Late Position:

Basically the same advice as for the middle position. The only difference is that I would definitely raise here if no had entered the pot in front of me. I would do this to attempt to steal the blinds and not give them the chance to limp into the pot and out flop me.

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