Dang those pesky lukewarm combinations!
There is perhaps nothing quite as exhilarating as turning over your hole cards in a game of Texas hold 'em to find a neat pair of aces sitting in front of you. That's the single strongest opening hand you could muster, and while community poker by definition develops and changes as the community cards are revealed, a pair of aces is certainly a good starting block.
But what if you turn your hole cards over, only to discover a thoroughly mediocre hand, one that neither inspires you nor compels you to fold immediately?
Perhaps you'll find an eight and a jack. The cards are too far apart to immediately consider forming a straight with any amount of certainty (though of course you could get really lucky and find at least three consecutive cards comprising a 6, 7, 9, or 10) It's also fairly unwise to hope for a flush unless each card is similarly suited, but even then you’d proceed only if you’re feeling particularly optimistic.
So what's a poker player to do? It depends on a number of factors:
- Firstly, assess how many players are still in the game. The more players there are, the higher the likelihood that your hand will be beaten.
- Secondly, consider how high or low the big blind currently sits at. If the big blind is low enough, it may be worthwhile to pay in and play on just so you can see the flop to assess whether there’s any potential in staying in the round.
It's definitely ill-advised to stay in the game if the flop gives you no joy. Don't be afraid to simply cut your losses and fold. If you're determined to stay in the round, then bet as conservatively as possible in order to see the turn and the river. If the stakes become too high, you should probably just bow out and wait for the next hand. If, however, your investment in the pot is very large, then sometimes it's essential to just keep playing and see how the round pans out. Once you're out of the hand, you have no opportunity to win the pot. But even if you're in, even with a weak hand, you possess at the very least a slim chance of having the nuts.
The take-home message? Play long enough to see the flop [if the blinds are not too high] but without getting sucked in too far so that you’re staking too large a fortune on an unlikely return.
A caveat: some poker players, whether wisely or unwisely, will often make a call about a mediocre hand based on their intuition and “gut feel” rather than on statistical probability and mathematical odds. You can't be too prescriptive when it comes to gambling, but you should never ever feel that folding is tantamount to giving up. Sometimes, it's just the opposite.