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26/05/2006 No.49
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday May 26, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

What is "half a hand"? I have referred to it a couple of times, in terms of making a move when you get low on tournament chips. Maybe I should be more specific.

If you have two weak, unconnected cards (such as 84 or 73), that is "no hand". It's rubbish. There is no chance, before the flop, that you are beating anybody who would give you action. If you have a pair of eights, say, or a pair of nines, you've got a hand. With those cards, there is a very decent chance that you are in front before the flop. If you've got AK, AQ, a pair of queens or above, you've got a good hand. Now you can be almost certain that you are winning - or at least, with the two big picture cards, in very good shape to be winning after cards come down.

Logically enough, half a hand falls somewhere between a hand and no hand. It's a hand that just might be beating a caller in a heads-up situation. A weak ace (A5, A6) is half a hand: you are beating a caller with KQ or small suited connectors. K9 or Q9 is half a hand; a pair of twos is half a hand.

These cards are not worth playing in cash games, unless the game is so good that you're confident of winning a huge sum if you hit the flop hard. More likely, in a cash game, you will half-hit the flop with your half-hand, end up with a quarter of a hand, and lose lots of money to somebody who has actually got something.

Tournaments are different. If your chips are getting low (less than 10 big blinds), you can't afford to keep getting "blinded off" while you wait for a big pair. Neither can you afford to make small bets and pass after the flop. If you can be the first voluntary entrant to the pot, and your chips are low enough to make an all-in move mathematically logical, you should probably move with any two cards - you might steal the blinds, or outdraw a caller. But certainly, half a hand in this situation is a godsend: this gives you the extra bonus that you might just be in front.

Of course, your personal tournament style may be "rollercoaster". You may like to move in constantly throughout the game with half a hand or no hand. With good judgment, this aggression can be very effective - but you want it to be a choice, not a necessity. With less than 10 big blinds, whatever your style, it starts to become a necessity. A small stack is no use, so you might as well risk losing it in the attempt to double it. Never forget that you aren't there to survive for hours with a few chips. You're there to win the tournament.