Card Sense: Playing A Low Pair in Limit Hold’em

I have two poker buddies who play at Foxwoods. This past Friday they went down without me. They came back with a story of a hand where they faced off against each other. In the telling of the tale there is some good poker instruction.

Jim is primarily a no-limit player. He’s surely a looser player than me—and though I don’t like to admit it, a better one too.

Andrei is a limit hold’em player. His style is the typical tight and aggressive style that beats the low limit game—not fancy but fairly effective. I’ve seen him play in Las Vegas and Foxwoods. I’d say he is much better than average, if not yet able to make a living at the relatively heavily raked $4-$8 game where he usually finds himself.

It was near the end of their night at Foxwoods. Jim decided to play for a while at the $4-$8 table with Andrei. They tangled in the following hand. As I detail their action, think about what you liked or didn’t like about their play.

The game was fairly loose and passive—with four or five players typically seeing the flop. Andrei was under the gun and Jim was a seat or two to his left. Andrei, with A-A, raised the big blind. Jim called with 6-6. Three other players called as well.

The flop came with two rags and a 6. Andrei, with his aces, bet; Jim, having hit trip sixes, raised. Everyone else folded around to Andrei, who called. The turn was a blank. Andrei checked; Jim bet and Andrei called. The river was an ace, giving Andrei trip aces. Andrei bet; Jim called. Andrei raked in a large pot, with his trip aces beating Jim’s trip sixes.

So what do you think of their play? Would you have played the same as they did? Was Jim’s pre-flop call too loose?

Here’s my analysis. I think Jim’s call, though often correct in a no-limit game when the stacks are deep enough, is seldom correct in a limit hold’em game. He’s either a tiny favorite if he’s against two over-cards or a huge dog if he’s against an overpair. His odds of hitting trips on the flop are roughly 8-to-1 against him.

Even assuming he wins every time he hits, he’d have to win at least $64 on average for every $8 he’ll lose when he doesn’t hit and folds on the flop, and that’s before discounting the fact that he’ll hit trips and lose some of the time as he did in this hand. He won’t win enough when he does win to justify his call. He’ll win just three more large bets: two small bets on the flop when Andrei bets, he raises, and Andrei calls, and then two more large bets for the turn and the river. That’s only $24 more in this limit game. Even when accounting for the three or four additional bets in the pot from the pre-flop betting, that is still going to be well short of the $64 he needs to justify calling Andrei’s raise.

On the other hand, as Jim pointed out to me when we examined the hand, there is the possibility that Andrei raised with just two big overs, like A-K or A-Q. That possibility complicates the picture, to be sure, and may expand the possibility that Jim could play the hand even if a six didn’t hit the flop.

Additionally, as Jim pointed out to me during our analysis of the hand, there was a significant amount of “fun equity” that Jim got out of calling—given the lateness of the hour, his paucity of playable hands prior to this one, and his eagerness to have some opportunity to play a hand against a friend. With that in mind, making the initial call might make sense—if not for purely reasons related to the likelihood of winning money in the long run from the call.

So readers, as George Epstein asks at the end of all of his articles, what do you think?

Mark Brown
Latest posts by Mark Brown (see all)