-Potentially Staying Out of Harm's Way.
In the Strategy section of this site, and especially the section written for tournament play, I mention the importance of your position in relation to the bring-in when making a decision to go in with a starting hand. Below is an illustration of how to understand just how your position to call or raise after the bring-in affects your bankroll, and can potentially keep you out of harm’s way if your starting hand is questionable to call. Study the table below to get a feel for the options you have when considering to play this hand.
At this table you are sitting at seat #4 with split Nine’s and a Jack kicker.
At the door: Seat 1 shows a Jh, Seat 2 shows 8d, Seat 3 shows 7s, Seat 4 (you) show 9s, Seat 5 shows Qh, Seat 6 shows As, Seat 7 shows Qd, Seat 8 shows Ks.
You can roughly estimate the following odds with the cards in your hand and with the other cards showing at the door: High straights are dead. Jacks are dead, Queens are dead, spade flush is dead. Diamond flush is quite possibly dead.
You can also estimate that any callers to this hand will already have a pair, or a three flush that is not of spades and probably not of diamonds.
You are first to act behind the bring-in. What you must consider when playing this hand is the following:
Your table image.
Have you consistently shown down winning or at least competitive hands while at this table? This may mean the difference between becoming bluffed off of this hand if you decide to come in, or potentially stealing the pot.
The opponents behind you.
If you raise the bring-in being first to act, how likely would it be that the players behind you will fold based on their play history in this session vs. you? Which of the players behind you is a solid or tight enough player that you would surely know that they had a higher draw against you if they called? Which players would be likely to bluff with their high card showing at the door?
What could you hope for when getting into this hand?
What you have is a pair of Nines. One other jack that you need to possibly make two pair is already in seat #1, who could very possibly have a pair of Jacks already. The spades you need to hit a late flush are already out on the table. The cards you need to complete a straight are already showing at the table. At best what you could hope for is a pot steal, a third nine, or possibly another running pair of different card ranks (such as 4-4 for example) for two pair against higher pairs that may call behind you.
I will suggest that in this position with low odds to improve your hand, folding would be a wise decision. Since you have only invested the ante and no more, you have a very minute loss by choosing to not get involved, as opposed to investing when involvement could be saved for a better situation. This hand would have more odds for success if played in later position with perhaps only one other caller. Consider that after coming into this hand, on fourth street you will most likely not be in first position to act because you do not yet have a high face-card showing. The face card will be betting into you. It gives you little information in the way of your hand’s strength vs. your opponent. This is an especially key point to remember in regards to position in relation to the bring-in and the cards behind you.
Keeping your position in mind is one of the most important things to consider at a table when deciding to go into a hand with pairs that are lower than most of the door cards at the table. Especially when you are limited with the outs you have.
If the table limit you are playing and your session’s history as well as your opponents’ play history allows for this hand to be played, my suggestion on how to play this hand is as follows, using advanced betting strategy and hand-protection strategy:
How would I play this hand to increase my odds for success?
With the higher cards behind you and in first position to act, simply calling could possibly be a grave mistake. Any other callers who will get in for cheap to see the next card will give you no information as to where your hand stands in terms of strength. You are also risking the possibility of allowing the bring-in player in seat #3 to see his next card for free if you don’t invest in your hand.
The last thing you will want to do by coming into this hand, having to dodge all of the face cards behind you, is to give them the impression that your hand is weak or marginal. Any one of the face cards can take the opportunity to take advantage of this and bluff you out of the hand just based on the door card alone. Let them know that you are serious about playing this hand, and the people who are most likely to call will have a serious hand since you have raised in the position you are in with so much to dodge.
If you were to come into this hand, my suggestion with possible dead high-cards behind you, would be to raise the bring-in with to a completed bet to protect your pair. Hopefully the players behind you will realize that their high draws and flushes are mostly dead, and fold the pot down to you. Remember that any callers in this hand are likely to have a pair that is live to making two pair or with other outs such as a flush that is still live.
Fourth street is a critical play and will require another investment to test the hand-strength of your opponent(s) if they bet out. While it is likely they called your completed bet because they have a pair, it is just as likely that they will be betting out on a bluff to make an attempt to steal the pot because they had a card higher than yours showing at the door.
Assuming that an opponent will bet out on fourth, my suggestion would be to raise, protecting and investing into your hand on an inexpensive street unless they have paired the door card, or another card higher than your pair has just fallen into their hand. (In this case it would be a Ten or better) If you are re-raised, be prepared to fold down your hand. If they check to you on fourth, place a bet. If you are check-raised, you are most likely beaten, or the opponent has an incredible draw and I highly suggest letting the hand go while the pot is still small and the minimum bet is still at the low end.
If an opponent has bet out, you have raised, and they elect to simply call: After the fifth street card is dealt, if they bet out again, there is a good chance that you are beaten and should fold. If they check to you, I suggest checking through to get the sixth street card for free, and observe if either of your hands has improved or any scare cards have fallen. Play the last street according to the cards that have fallen, the potential of your opponent(s) to make a play for the pot on a bluff or semi-bluff, and how your own hand has improved, if at all.