Home Poker Starting Hands in No-Limit Hold’em: How to Play 88

Starting Hands in No-Limit Hold’em: How to Play 88

by Paul Hewson
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Poker Pocket Eights

Would you rather be dealt pocket Eights or Ace-King when you’re playing Texas Hold’em? I’m guessing the latter. But the math says that snowmen are more powerful than Big Slick; 88 has 69% hot-and-cold equity versus two random cards, compared to 67% for AKs and 65% for AKo. 

Here’s the thing: Hot-and-cold equity doesn’t care about your post-flop playability. That 69% only manifests itself when you and your opponent go all-in pre-flop. In the real world, you’re probably going to win more money with AK when you see a flop and make Top Pair-Top Kicker.

Those pocket Eights are still plenty powerful, though. Here’s how you can use them to your best advantage, whether you’re playing No-Limit Hold’em live or at one of our recommended online poker rooms.

When Should I Raise With 88?

If you’re first in the pot, you should normally open-raise pocket Eights from any seat at the table – even if you’re 10-handed. This wouldn’t have been a question with any of our other pocket Pairs, but now that we’re down to 88, we’re getting very close to break-even from under the gun. Maybe you’ll even want to fold if the situation calls for it, like on the cusp of a massive tournament pay jump.

There aren’t very many places where you’ll want to re-raise 88. It’s a good idea if you’re in the small blind facing a button open; otherwise, as a simplified strategy, you can get away with flatting and “set mining” when the stacks are deep enough.

When Should I Call With 88?

A whole lot. If you open and the big blind raises, definitely call; if it’s any other player at the table, you’ll almost always be flatting here as well.

What if someone else opens first? If you’re on the button facing an open-raise, you’re in a great spot to call with your medium pocket pair. With any luck, someone in the blinds will join the fun, and you’ll be in position in a multi-way pot, hoping to spike a set on the flop.

Speaking of the blinds, 88 is also one of those rare hands that you can overcall while in the small blind. As a general rule, you want to 3-bet or fold when you’re in this seat, since you’ll always be first to act post-flop no matter what; pocket Eights is just strong enough to set mine out of position.

Otherwise, calling with pocket Eights is usually the right play from just about every seat at the table, including those few occasions when you get 4-bet. But you might want to mix it up if you’re a skilled player, especially if you’re facing tougher opponents.

When Should I Use a Mixed Strategy With 88?

Far more often than you would with pocket Nines. Just about every situation that falls into that “Otherwise” bucket above can be handled with either a raise or a call. For example, if you open from the lojack and get 3-bet by anyone but the big blind, “GTO” poker calls for a very light smattering of 4-bets. The later you open, the more that smattering turns into a sprinkle.

If you’re the big blind, be very wary of 3-betting the lojack, but do it every once in a while – and considerably more often against the hijack, maybe a third of the time. Flatting is the recommended play versus all other opponents.

As for overcalling, turn those calls into raises about half the time if you’re in the hijack facing a lojack open, but only about one-fifth of the time when you’re in the cut-off versus the hijack, and even less than that when it’s CU vs. LO.

Phew… that’s a lot of mixing. It all depends on your situation and your opponents, but as you can see, a hand as “cuspy” as pocket Eights can be played aggressively in most cases – even though maybe you shouldn’t. That dynamic holds for Ace-King as well, so stay tuned for more valuable Hold’em strategy tips, and may the rectangles be with you.

author avatar
Paul Hewson
Paul Hewson (not that one) is a poker player/writer from the Pacific Northwest, appearing on the World Poker Tour, MILLIONS Tour and the WSOP Circuit series. Hewson is the senior writer for the Bodog Poker family; Texas Hold’em is his specialty, with side hustles in 8-Game and Badugi. He’s an Abe Limon Guy.

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