Marginal Hands: Raise or Fold Early

Part of the charm of poker is the delicate and tough decisions we
face when playing. We have a feeling that our top pair with a bad
kicker is the best hand, but we are not sure. We think that our
opponent might be bluffing, but how do we know? This insecurity gnawing
at us when playing adds to the depth of the game and puts us on the
edge of our seats when playing online poker.

A good rule of thumb
is, when we are unsure, to either raise or fold. Let us assume that we
called a preflop raise from a tight player with JTs after a caller
in-between. The flop comes T73 rainbow. The early position raiser bets
out, the player between us folds. What should we do?

First of
all, we need to realize that our holding is very marginal. Sure, we
have top pair, but our kicker is bad and we are facing a tight player.
It is not exactly a hand to write home about (unless we have our mom on
MSN and want some good parental advice).

In this situation, our
options are to raise or fold. There is nothing wrong in folding. A bit
on the tight side, sure, but if we put the tight player on a good hand
there is no reason to continue playing. We can, however, test the tight
player by raising. If the opponent re-raises we just fold, if he calls
we do not put another cent in the pot unless we improve to two pair or
three of a kind. Playing like this has its advantages: we avoid to pay
off our opponents’ good hands (for example, over pairs or sets), but we
win most of the times he is continuation-betting with a hand like AK or

The same is true for a hand like 87 on a flop like T76 – a
very marginal holding indeed. Middle pair and a gutshot straight draw
is not really a hand we like to get deeply involved with, but if we
feel the opponent might be bluffing it is not wrong to test him with a
raise. Folding is correct, but often, so is raising.

The common
denominator for both hands is our action on the flop. Raise or fold. No
calling! This allows us to avoid trouble later in the hand, on more
expensive streets. If we face resistance, we are probably beat. If we
are lucky, we draw out on the turn and get paid off, but otherwise we
just toss our hand in the muck without losing too much money.

we just call the flop with a marginal hand, there is a risk of us
trying to bluff should the opponent check the turn, or maybe it will be
too alluring to call on the river just to see him turn over a better
hand. It all boils down to avoiding trouble on later streets by acting
on the flop. It both saves money and makes money, and is therefore a
good play.

Written by Andris Kangeris for