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Poker Strategy:Playing Big Cards

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Most any hand runs the risk of being drawn out. But, big cards run an especial risk. Typically, they are closer to being as good as they can be, despite what turns up on the flop, than drawing hands. Drawing hands stand to go from rags to riches, whereas big cards can amount to bigger hands, but not as big.

First, let's identify what we mean by big cards. Big cards include any of the following:
- Big pairs: a pair of Ten's or bigger
- Big unsuited cards: both cards are Ten's or bigger...10-Q, for example
- Big suited cards: same as above, but the same suit...obviously a nice hand, in fact the best kind of hand at a low-limit table.

Let's look at each of these, and what they mean what they look up at you.

Big pairs

If you are dealt a pair of Aces or a pair of Kings, come out swinging. It's typically not the wrong thing to do, regardless of if the table if loose or tight. These are big hands.

The only problem with them is that they can't improve as much. In fact, they have the same potential for improving as does a pair of Two's (barring the neglible chance of a high straight or high flush). So, you've been dealt a good hand, but it may be as good as it's gonna get.

After the flop falls, if your hand hasn't improved, then you will likely need to test the waters as to who made their draw. Make it expensive for the other players to stay in. The result will depend on how the table has been reacting to you throughout the session. If you are perceived to be a tight player, as I usually am, your bet will get more respect. At the loosest of low-limit tables however, anything could be re-raised.

You want to make it expensive because your hand may already be as good as it can get. Each player that you leave in the pot however may stand the same or a better chance at making an even better hand than yours. After you've knocked some players out before the flop, knock out a few more on the flop.

The turn and the river may give evidence of a possible made hand, such as a straight or flush. There may be three of the same suit on the board. Or, there may be a run of three or four cards. When this happens, you've reached the worst part about having a big pair at a low-limit table. That's right. You've spent up until this point betting at every chance, but do you have that straight or flush that we can all see on the board? And if not, does somebody else? Or does somebody else think they can bully you out by pretending to have it?

At this point, it's a judgment call. If a player did not raise any of your previous bets, then he was likely chasing a draw. If that's the draw that you see on the board, you may be beat. For example, if two Clubs fall on the flop, and a third falls on the turn, the player that called your hand before the flop and on the flop may have a flush.

In summary, bet this hand before the flop, bet this hand on the flop, and if nothing looks scary on the board, bet this hand on the turn and the river. Everybody loves Kings and Aces.

In fact, the Excalibur in Las Vegas has a spinning wheel at the back of its pokerroom. If a player turns up a pair of Kings or a pair of Aces and doesn't win the pot, that player gets to spin the wheel. The dollar denomination that appears on the wheel is awarded to the player for having lost with so strong a hand.

Big unsuited cards

A lot of the same rules apply to big unsuited cards as they do to big pairs, except nowhere near as good. A good strategy for playing hands such as 10-A or J-K depends on how tight or how loose the table is.

If the table is tight, then it is likely a good move to come out swinging. Ideally, you want to play such a hand against a small number of players. With a good drawing hand, you suck them in so that they can pay you off when you make a strong hand. With big unsuited cards however, you want to rely on the weight of the cards themselves to knock players out quickly and early.

In the case of the weaker hands, such as 10-J, 10-Q, or 10-K, you might not want to bet at all. Call and hope that you can see the flop for free. If not, you may want to get out. And fast.

Once the flop falls, you will know where you stand based on whether you paired up, and if so, whether it was the higher or the lower of your two cards that paired up. A big pair can be a good hand on the flop, depending on what the other cards look like.

The key with these cards is to try to play against a small number of players, but understand the hand's limited potential. One of your two cards will pair up, at best. Of course, in the case of such strong hands as A-K, A-Q, or K-Q, pairing up with either one is a strong hand. As always with the flop, it depends on what else is showing. If there's nothing else intimidating in those cards, bet it up. Make it expensive for all of the drawing hands to stay in the game.

Big suited cards

In my humble opinion, this is the best hand to be dealt at a low-limit table. It doesn't always win, but when it does, you should expect to make lots of money. When you see this hand, you should immediately think, "How can I get the most amount of money in this pot?" An obvious question? Not always.

This hand's strength is based on mathematics. Big suited cards are high in rank, first of all. Second, they might make a straight, and a big straight at that. Third, they might make a flush, and a big flush at that. And the peanut on top is that they might also make a straight flush. In fact, these are the cards that a player has to be dealt to get a royal flush, the best possible poker hand.

This is the one hand that combines both the benefit of being high in rank with the potential for big improvement. As we've seen, a hand that is high in rank does not play the same at a low-limit table as a hand that has potential for big improvement. So, how do you play this unique hand of the two strategies? The answer is...

It depends. I suggest that you go along with what the table is doing when it's your time to act. What the table is doing is either betting or not betting. If the betting is underway, then partake by raising. If it comes back, consider raising it again. If however the table is quiet with lots of calls but no big bets, make a call yourself. Yours is a drawing hand as well as big cards, so it might not be that strong. As always, it will come out in the flop.

When the flop falls, your hand is either four cards to a straight or flush or it is the equivalent of big unsuited cards.

If you are four cards to a straight or flush, you are in drawing hand heaven. If you make your hand by the river, you've got the big cards to make it a high straight or a high flush. You'd might consider betting, even without having made your hand. If you are in last position and nobody else has bet, then make a bet yourself. When the turn falls, it is probable that everybody else will check so that they can wait to see what you will do. When that decision comes to you, if the turn helps your hand, bet. If it doesn't, then check and go to the river for free. Remember, at a 3-6 or a 5-10 table, the fixed bet doubles in size on the turn. You'd rather throw out a bet on the flop than have to call one on the turn.

If the suit that matches your two cards does not come up on the board, then your hand is really no better than two unsuited cards. Instructions for how to play that mixed bag are above.


With the exception of big suited cards, AA's, and KK's, big hands are a difficult hand to play at the low-limit table. In fact, it's easier to throw away a bad hand and know that you've made the right decision than to regret about how big cards turn out.

With much likelihood, your hand is good but only as good as it will get. The more players that you allow to remain in the game, the more the chance that one of them will get their miracle card and have a better hand than you. So, the trick is to get it down to as few players as possible.

This is no easy task at the low-limit table. You are dealing with some erratic players who never know when to fold. There is typically more action, which you can use to your advantage in the case of suited big cards. Otherwise, a truly loose table will make it even more expensive for you to stay in when the re-raises come back.

Table Climate - Position - Starting Hands - Playing Pairs
- Drawing Hands - Psychology - Playing Big Cards

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