Learn to play marginal hands in poker

Some time ago, when learning to play poker in a more complex or advanced way, it was very common to hear that the marginal hands were the most difficult to play. Therefore, it was advised to avoid them so as not to have bad moments during the game.

The golden rule for a poker apprentice was to play few hands and have a pre-flop notion of the game, that is, to know the value of the hand according to the cards received and the position one occupies at the poker table. This combination formed a very specific type of game where players only played quality hands and very aggressively. In short, a way of playing was taught that was far removed from complicated situations or difficult decisions .

However, the brutal increase in the number of hands currently played as a result of the arrival of new online poker sites has made it necessary to vary the styles of play so that opponents cannot make an exact reading of our hand. One of the keys to poker is to be unpredictable, and that is essential in the strategy of any winning player. So, it is necessary to play different hands in the same way: this means that sometimes it is necessary to involve marginal hands, which must be played as if they were premium so that when receiving those hands our game does not attract attention.

The potential of marginal hands

There are infinities of marginal hands in poker, which we could define as draws : connected cards, the same suit, low pairs or even two cards with a hole like QT, J8 and 64. Contrary to what happens with other plays that can be cashed in preflop , these hands are worthless. However, they do have a lot of potential for improvement once the table is revealed.

The big difference between playing marginal hands and trash hands is that, as we mentioned, the former could end up becoming strong hands . Instead, the only way to win a pot with a junk hand is to get your opponent to fold. Thus, “trash hands” or junk hands should be avoided except in exceptional cases, such as when playing for free from the big blind, for example.

The management of deception

The rule we mentioned above is the cornerstone of having a winning game: get involved with valuable hands and in proper positions. In order to maximize profits , it is necessary to generate action at the table , and for this, deception is important: many times it is necessary to play marginal hands cheaply , which at the same time gives us the possibility of connecting a good game and winning a lot of money. .

By showing a marginal hand from time to time, we will generate action at the table, which is what we are looking for in order to maximize profits when we have quality hands . Obviously, don’t play too many marginal hands.

Overcome your opponents

Playing only premium hands is known as “ABC poker”. In other words, it is about playing in a simple and uncomplicated way where easy decisions are always made.

The downside of having such a conservative style is that the player is completely dependent on having more good hands than the opponents . In order to get better results, it is necessary to outplay opponents without good cards. For that, you have to engage with marginal hands in a profitable way, taking into account the position and playing style of the opponents.

Another important thing to clarify is that caution should be exercised when playing with marginal hands: even if you win several pots thanks to cheating, you must not lose focus and remember that the base of your winnings should be based on powerful hands . Many players often make the mistake of getting carried away with enthusiasm, and there is nothing worse than being at a table where everyone knows how we played and how we managed to win so many pots. The correct thing is to know the opponent, take advantage of your position and be unpredictable.

However, if you share a table in real money poker rooms with recreational players, you may not need to vary your game, since it is very likely that they do not pay attention to what you do. In such cases, it is not advisable to venture too far with marginal hands, as simply by playing value hands correctly you will be able to exploit your opponents’ weaknesses . As a tip, we can say that the biggest gains in poker do not come from your own merit, but from the ineptitude of your opponents.

From fringe hand to trash hand

Another important tip is not to fall in love with a starting hand : remember that the cards change their value as the hand progresses! Let’s look at an example where this happens and a hand with a lot of potential loses its shine as the game progresses.

Let’s imagine we receive 8-9 in middle position. Two players limp and the next player min-raises. We decided to call and the next two players did too. The flop falls and gives us a straight with 10-JQ, of different suits to the one we have in hand. It’s true: we no longer aspire to hit a straight flush, but a straight on the flop is nothing to sneeze at. Now the first player bets half a pot, the second calls, and the next player raises again. What should we do?

This is the moment when we discover that we have the low end of the ladder, and we could be in trouble (we would be beaten with a straight of 10-JQKA or even 9-10-JQK). Our connectors were good and our marginal hand had value, but it turned into crap. Surely it’s not a good idea to go to war in this situation , with the bottom end of a ladder.


The marginal poker hands that are easily mastered lose the most money in the long run. Therefore, you have to have the correct discipline to know how to get away from them. As a general rule of thumb, it’s usually best to try to see a cheap flop in the hope of hitting a good hand.

A hand like AJ is also marginal, as it can be easily dominated. The same goes for KQ, KJ, K-10 and the like. In these cases, the advice is: «when in doubt, pass or fold» . This could save you from losing a lot of money. Instead of considering those marginal hands to play, it’s better to think about how good it would be if others played those same hands against our AK, for example.

It is possible that, at certain moments, you will get a spectacular combination with a marginal hand. However, in the long term this strategy is not profitable. The best hands pre-flop are often the best after the flop, therefore, we must avoid our hand being easily dominated to preserve the most precious of treasures: our bankroll.


The way to play this card game has evolved over time thanks to the appearance of books and guides, the broadcast of live events and the possibility of playing in online poker tournaments . This evolution contemplates the inclusion of marginal hands , which went from being a weak and undisciplined strategy to a necessary and in many cases brilliant and profitable style.

So much so, in fact, that playing marginal hands has become a fundamental part of a good poker player’s strategy . In fact, if you maintain a very conservative style of play, it will certainly be difficult for you to achieve many profits if you do not include other strategies that involve the use of marginal hands.

The main keys to playing them successfully, as we said, are linked to knowledge : having a notion of the opponents’ style of play, taking advantage of your position, being aware of the image we project at the table and having a certain discipline.