How to Play Marginal Hands in Poker

How to Play Marginal Hands in Poker

This week I wanted to share another hand from the same tournament I was discussing last week, a $1,000 buy-in, no-limit hold'em "turbo" event at the World Series of Poker. I also wanted to build a little on the discussion from last week about short-stacked strategy how a lot of players operate under the misconception that it is all luck and no skill.

It was still early when this hand took place, with the blinds 75/150 and my stack down to 3,500 or about 23 big blinds.

It folded to me in early position where I had KJ, a hand I could certainly fold though here I chose to raise to 350. As I talk about in the video below, just open-shoving here with hand like this is a bad idea for a few reasons, though some feel with a stack this size that might be their only play.

Only the big blind called, the flop came AK9, and my opponent checked. Here we have what I call a classic "marginal made hand" situation with my pair of kings. How should I play it with my relatively short stack?

I chose to check, then the turn brought the 3 and this time the big blind bet 350. I'm not loving the situation, but I'm not folding, either, and indeed I called, bringing the pot up to 1,675.

The river was the 5 and my opponent led again for 550. I'll stop there and let you think about what you think the big blind has and what you would do, then watch and listen to my analysis:

I had to call the river getting such good odds, and as I say in the video my opponent ended up having one of the hands I would not recommend betting in this situation.

The larger point here, though, is how I was careful throughout not to commit too many chips with my marginal made hand and relatively shallow stack.

Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and author with over $6,900,000 in live tournament earnings. He writes a weekly educational blog and hosts a podcast at Sign up to learn poker from Jonathan for free at You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanLittle.

  • There is a lot of skill involved when it comes to shallow-stacked strategy, explains @JonathanLittle.

  • Consider how you'd play @JonathanLittle's marginal made hand with a shallow stack in this $1K event.

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