Poker Tips by George: Small Cards Can Be Dangerous

By George Epstein
April 18, 2023

Selecting starting hands when playing Texas hold’em is your most important decision. In that regard, small cards in the hole spell danger. These are the cards ranging from seven down to deuce. To be clear, we’re talking about situations in poker played among your fellow players as opposed to table games poker vs. the dealer in live casino games. Let’s look at typical situations involving small hole cards at full (or nearly full) tables:

Most hands dealt to you are not playable. On average, over the long haul, only about 25 percent of your hole cards are worth making the investment to see the flop. That includes one or two small cards in the hole – with some exceptions (see below).

Unconnected Small Cards

Two unconnected small cards, like 2-7 are never playable. Should your hand improve on the flop, most often (about 30 percent of the time) one of your two hole cards will pair up. Small pairs are dangerous and usually should be folded to a bet. If both small cards are suited, you might stay to see the flop if there are no raises and it’s a multi-way pot. (We label this the Hold’em Caveat.)  Hope to catch two more cards of your suit for a flush draw.

Least Valuable poker hands

Hi-Lo Hands

Often you will be dealt one high card (an eight up to an Ace) and one small card (seven down to deuce) – a Hi-Lo hand. That small card makes this hand a no-no with one exception: Stay to see the flop when your hole cards are 8-7 suited provided the Hold’em Caveat applies. Otherwise, Hi-Lo hands are “for the birds”– not for smart poker players.

I have seen many players lose with Hi-Lo hands where their high card (even an Ace) in the hole connected with another Ace on the flop, making a pair of Aces. That’s great. Except an opponent also had an Ace in the hole – but with a higher kicker. Guess who won the pot? With a Hi-Lo hand, you are just as likely to pair up your small card on the flop. Then the Ace is your kicker. But likely an opponent has a bigger pair and takes the pot.

Read Also: Poker Tips by George: The A/K/Q Rule, the Hold’Em Caveat and Game Texture

Small Pairs

Small pairs call for caution. Suppose you are playing poker in a lice casino and you are dealt pocket fives in the hole. You would be wise to fold if there has been a raise before you; it just isn’t worth the investment – no matter your position. There is one exception: If you happen to be the Big Blind and there has not been a raise, when the action gets back to you it makes sense to stay to see the flop. (Never refuse a free card.) Don’t be surprised if the flop doesn’t improve your hand. The odds are heavily against it, but you could get lucky.

It is tempting when you are the Small Blind and hold a small pair in the hole. After all, it’s only one-half a bet. In that case, it’s okay to make that small investment provided the Hold’em Caveat applies so there will be decent pot odds should you get lucky and catch a set on the flop.

With a small pocket pair, the odds of flopping a set are 10.8 percent — 1 in 9.3. Stay to see the flop if the Hold’em Caveat applies. Unless your hand improves, don’t feel married to them. That would be chasing. Fold to a bet.

In Summary

This discussion applies to full (or nearly full) tables. Play cautiously with one or two small cards in the hole. There are exceptions. And always remember the Hold’em Caveat.

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George Epstein

After a long and productive career as a leader in the aerospace industry, upon his retirement in the 1990s, George Epstein chose poker as his “second career.” George has been widely recognized for his many significant accomplishments and contributions to our society. These include pioneering and innovations in various materials, testing and manufacturing technologies for […]

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