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Consider The Implied Odds When Playing Speculative Hands

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Nov 17, 2021

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Whenever you play a hand of poker, you must consider your immediate risk, your future potential risk, and also the amount you can potentially profit. It is important to realize that different hands play better under different situations. Sometimes you should play speculative hands, and other times they should be folded.

For example, when someone raises to two big blinds before you and you have a solid speculative hand like 8Heart Suit 6Heart Suit on the button (which is certainly the worst hand at the moment but has the potential to improve to a premium hand like a flush or a straight) the amount you can potentially win from your opponent should be one of your main concerns.

If you can only win a little bit from your opponent because they have a short stack of perhaps 25 big blinds or less, you should fold your speculative hand because the potential reward (25 bbs) is not worth the risk (2 bbs).

This is expressed as 12.5:1 implied odds. You have to invest 1 unit to potentially win 12.5 units. If you are both deep stacked with 200 big blinds, however, you should usually play your hand because you will then be getting 100:1 implied odds.

As a generalization, in order to profitably play a suited connected hand like 8Heart Suit 6Heart Suit or a marginal suited ace like AHeart Suit 6Heart Suit, you need to be getting 20:1 implied odds or more, assuming you do not expect to be able to win the pot by bluffing too often. (Which may often be the case in small-stakes games where multi-way pots are routine.)

With small pairs, you need about 10:1 implied odds. If you are not getting the correct implied odds because the stacks are shallow or the initial raise was large, you either have to fold or potentially use your hand as a reraise bluff.

While small pairs, suited aces, and suited connectors have implied odds, some hands have reverse implied odds, meaning they will usually either win a small pot or lose a large pot. The hands that have the worst reverse implied odds are those with a big card with a small card that are not suited, such as K♥ 5♣ or Q♦ 6♣.

If you see the flop with K-6 and make top pair, you have a decently strong hand. If you bet and all your opponents fold, you can be confident you had the best hand, but you collect only a small pot. If instead you bet and someone calls or raises, they could have a better top pair than yours or some sort of draw, but you have no way of knowing which.

If you bet the flop and they call, and if you continue betting on the turn and river, you will find that when you get called it will usually be by a better hand, resulting in you losing a large pot. Because of this, hands with large reverse implied odds, like KSpade Suit 8Club Suit and QHeart Suit 9Spade Suit, should not be played in most situations, especially in multi-way pots or when the stacks are deep.

When shallow stacked though, decent reverse implied odds hands like ASpade Suit 8Club Suit and KHeart Suit 9Diamond Suit go up in value a bit because when you make top pair and happen to get stacked, you only lose a small number of big blinds.

In general, as the stacks are deeper and the pots are played multi-way, you are more incentivized to speculate with hands that are likely to lose a little or win a lot, which are primarily the small pairs, suited aces, and suited connectors. Folding the non-premium offsuit hands will keep you out of trouble and save you a lot of money. ♠

Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings, best-selling author of 15 educational poker books, and 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year. If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out his training site at PokerCoaching.com/cardplayer.