The Danger of Playing Weak Hands in No Limit

published on 08/07/06 at 8:11 am

It’s hard to be better than an average player if you are not willing to mix up your play from time to time. One thing I always talk to other friends about when we discuss poker playing ability is the ability to change gears. One of those gears that I sometimes shift into when playing is playing “junk” or hands that most tight players fold. I use this gear typically in cash games when I sit at a table with tight-weak players. These hands can be very profitable and most seasoned players have great stories about big pots they’ve won with “junk.” Heck, my favorite hand is 7-3 because I have taken down two 4 figure pots playing 1-2 NL with it. At the same time, these hands can be very dangerous.

Here’s a recent scenario that played out for me in a 1-2 NL game. In the cut-off, I am dealt 8d3d and everyone folds to me. The small blind and big blind are weak players and I raise to 8 to steal the blinds. The button folds but, to my disappointment, both the small blind and big blind call. The flop is 8c-7s-3s…SAVED! The small blind bets 10 and the big blind calls. With both players having less than $50 left, I decide to push all-in as I figure that one player has a big flush draw and the other player has an over pair. Surprisingly, both players call off the rest of their chips. The small blind turns over pocket 9s and the big blind turns over 10s-9s. Instantly, I realize I’m in huge trouble as I’m only 38% to win the hand and not even the favorite (10s-9s at 48% and pocket 9s at 11%). In the end here, I’m only 38% to triple my stack. Statistically, over time, this is not a the worst situation in the world. However, I’m not particularly fond of being an underdog, even when ahead. Even if just the 10s-9s calls, I’m a coin flip away from losing. On the other hand, if the pocket 9s call, I am in the best position I could possibly hope for being 70% to win. Other hands that call here either have me beat (8-8, 7-7, 3-3 or 8-7) or are anywhere from a slight favorite (like A8 of spades) or, if I’m lucky, the hand that calls is a 2 to 1 underdog.

Here are some things to think about when changing gears and playing weak hands.

  1. Limping with weak hands increases the danger
  2. At this point, any hand is in play, especially with the blinds involved. A flop of 10-8-5 looks great when you are holding 8-5 but failing to raise also fails to push out foldable hands like 10-8.

  3. Showing a weak hand winner makes you a target
  4. Whenever I play weak hands, my goal is to win as much money as possible without showing. Winning a hand with 6-4 can be a huge rush but when you just cracked somebody’s misplayed aces, you might as well paint a big red circle on your chest. Typically, you have to set up playing weaker hands by playing and showing stronger hands. Once you win a big pot with a weak hand, my advice is to switch gears again and play tighter unless you’ve noticed that the players you are playing with are not very observant.

  5. Hitting the flop can be fatal to your chip stack
  6. As illustrated in the above hand, flopping two pair couldn’t make me a favorite despite being ahead. Playing weak hands often challenges your ability to read your opponents and understand their betting patterns due to the amount of trouble you can get into.

  7. Weak hands 9-high or above are extremely dangerous
  8. You decide to play 9-6 in late position and flop top pair. At that point, it becomes difficult to bet or call a bet or raise because there are 6 playable hands that have you outkicked. I rarely play ace-rag, king-rag, etc. due to this reason even when I’m playing “junk.”

  9. “But they were suited”
  10. Suited cards increase your odds of winning a hand by roughly 4%. While this can make a difference over time, increasing the amount of hands you play because of this reason will hurt you more than the 4% increase in your odds of winning will help.

  11. Position is paramount
  12. Playing weaker hands as a change of pace does not mean limping under the gun with 75 suited. Continue to apply the normal theory of poker and play your position wisely. Players who have position on you are more likely to call and there are many flops that can freeze you when playing weak hands that make it difficult to continue firing away at the pot.

  13. Ace-rag is the most dangerous hand to play in No Limit Hold’em…for you!
  14. Many average to below average players overvalue an ace in their hand. Hands containing an ace with a weak kicker are difficult to play after the flop. Think about this: you are holding A-3 and two other players see the flop with you. The flop comes A-2-8. How comfortable are you at this point with continuing on with your hand? I know I’m not very comfortable with it. I would play 6-4 before I play A-4 when changing gears for that very reason.

  15. Bad players aren’t afraid to call with big drawing hands

As mentioned above, the key to changing gears is to steal as much money off the table as possible without anyone knowing the wiser. Setting up a tight image at the table early is often the key to maximizing your success using this strategy.

Finally, here are some things to make this “gear” work for you:

  1. Save this strategy for tight play
  2. Get loose when tight players seem reluctant to play even moderate hands. Sometimes you’ll sit down at just that table where it’s easy to pick up the blinds with a raise. This is the time to broaden the spectrum of hands you play. When I’m at a table like that, I’ll play almost anything.

  3. Getting caught means getting called…tighten up!
  4. Once you have to show your hand, playing this style is usually out the window. One thing that I particularly like to do when I’m ready to switch back to tighter play is ensure that I’ll get to show my cards even when I muck them by putting myself in that position. Bumping the pot to $10 and then folding 8-3 face up sends out a message that you are willing to put pressure on with any hand and will increase the likelihood of being called. Remember, though, this means tight, A-game poker until the shown bluff pays off. In addition, very good players usually know this is a work and will not fall for the trap.

  5. Your poker literacy will be tested…pay attention!
  6. Reading your opponents, especially betting patterns and styles will increase your advantage playing these cards more than any.

  7. Position, position, position
  8. I know it was said before but playing out of position puts you at a disadvantage with strong hands. Now, you are compounding your disadvantage with playing weak hands, not a good idea! Play your position more than your cards when choosing this gear.

  9. Be prepared to get sucked out on
  10. You have pushed pre-flop with 75 and the miracle flop hits 4-6-8. You bet and the one caller pre-flop raises your bet. When you push all-in, there is no way he or she is going to lay down the set they just hit because why would you be raising pre-flop with 7-5. Despite being a favorite, it will be a scary ride down the river as your trapped opponent will have 11 outs that will get him or her out of trouble.

As for the hand I mentioned in the beginning, it held up. It was probably the main reason my pocket aces were paid off four hands later. For every story I have like this though, there is one that goes the other way. As the most experienced players know, winning and losing in poker can often resemble a roller coaster ride. While playing weaker hands is sometimes necessary and expected due to table conditions, it’s often a scary ride to the finish.

BJ316 is an amateur poker player who can often be found on Full Tilt Poker or at the $1/$2 No Limit table at one of the many casinos in Atlantic City. He has had moderate success in cash game play over the years and some tournament success in all formats of poker.

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