Poker Tips by George: The Kicker Can Make The Difference

By George Epstein
February 25, 2021

I always look forward to reading the poker column in the Sunday issues of the Los Angeles Times. They are usually interesting. Unfortunately, it seems they are only written for the pros and other high-stakes players. It would be appropriate to have a few columnists for us recreational players who prefer low/middle limit hold’em and represent the majority of poker players. At least the columns are almost always focused on hold’em – my favorite game.

Chad Holloway is a frequent columnist (Ed. Note: As well as a fellow Cardplayer Lifestyle contributor) and does a fine job. A recent column was about a player named Charlie Godwin who entered a $109 buy-in satellite game that she won to earn a seat in a much bigger satellite. She won that one, too, giving her a seat in the World Poker Tour World Online Championship $100,000 Super High Roller tournament. Boy, that is really moving up fast!

The winners in the final event were guaranteed at least $229,600 in prize money, with the top winner slated to take home $1.28 million. Godwin got all the way down to three-handed play when she shoved her last chips all-in, holding Ac-2d in the hole. The big blind called with Ad-6h. Neither of their hands improved the rest of the way, and Godwin was eliminated in third place for $620,000. On the positive side, her original investment of $109 had paid off big time! But, with a little more good luck, her score could have been even bigger.

Charlie’s story reminded me of a no-no that I teach my seniors poker students: Hi-Lo hands usually should be mucked from the start. Ace-rag (seven down to deuce) is a typical Hi-Lo hand. With such a low kicker, this hand is usually dominated by any Ace with a higher kicker, so it will almost always lose. That holds true whether you’re playing in a live setting or online poker at


There are, however, always some exceptions such as short-handed games with fewer than three players staying to see the flop. A related exception would be when you are the Big Blind and there are only a few limpers with no raises. In that case, you get to see the flop for free. Never refuse a free card! You can never know what the flop will bring. (Surprises do happen. We all get lucky sometimes.) Under these circumstances, a half-bet would be okay. In both instances, usually you should promptly fold if your cards do not improve on the flop – unless you get another free card. Your hand is just not worth further investment.

What are the odds?

Probability law is not kind to Hi-Lo hands. There is a one out of three chance that one of your unpaired hole cards will pair up on the flop. It could be the low card. Only one out of six flops will pair your high card. Then the low card becomes your kicker. As in the hand played by Godwin, her small kicker could not beat her opponent’s six in the hole. It cost her the pot and the chance to win even more money in the tournament.

Recognizing these odds, I suggest you use the Hold’em Algorithm (see Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision) to help you decide. (See ad at end of this column.) The algorithm uses several key factors: value of your two hole cards (rank, pairs, connectors, suited), betting position, any raises?, number of opponents staying in, your opponents’ traits, and game texture). It’s easier when you know how to best make that decision.

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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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