Home Poker Starting Hands in No-Limit Hold’em: How to Play 99

Starting Hands in No-Limit Hold’em: How to Play 99

by Paul Hewson
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How to Play 99

Now that we’ve mastered all the “premium” pocket pairs, Aces through Tens, our pre-flop Texas Hold’em strategy is at a crossroads: Do we cover the rest of the premium starting hands first, or do we stick with pairs?

We’re definitely doing pocket Nines next. This may not technically fall into the premium category, but 99 is the sixth most powerful hand in Hold’em when it comes to hot-and-cold equity, with 72% versus two random cards. That’s more than Ace-King (65%), and even AK suited (67%).

What can I tell you – it’s hard to make a Pair in Hold’em. And pocket Nines is the largest of the “medium” pairs. It’s often enough to win you the hand at showdown whether you improve or not. But with all those overcards to your Nines, you’d better use them wisely at the online poker rooms.

When Should I Raise With 99?

In most of the same places, you’ll raise with pocket Tens. This hand is plenty strong enough to open-raise from any position at the table, and if you face a single re-raise after you open, you’ll be continuing just about every time.

Having said that, you shouldn’t be quite as aggressive with 99 as you are with TT. Let’s say someone else opens, then there’s a 3-bet, and the turn comes around to you. Should you “cold 4-bet” in this spot? As part of a simplified pre-flop strategy for beginners and intermediates, I would go ahead and fire those Tens, but I would flat-call Nines if the stacks are deep enough.

You should also 3-bet with 99 a bit less frequently than TT. Keep raising from the blinds if you’re facing an open from late position, including the hijack if you’re in the big blind. But if the open comes from early position, now you need to consider playing it cool.

When Should I Call With 99?

Quite frequently. It may be intimidating to see a flop with pocket Nines, but you’re going to win a lot of money in the long run when another Nine hits the board, and someone else in the hand is set-mining with a lower pocket pair.

If you open with 99 from early position and someone in the blinds 3-bets you, just call. For that matter, you should almost always call when that 3-bettor has position on you. It’s fine as a simplified strategy to do it all the time – the same goes for calling 4-bets as well.

When Should I Use a Mixed Strategy With 99?

Not as often as you might with TT. According to the trusty pre-flop numbers I generated back in the day with PokerSnowie, you have two situations where raising almost all the time is recommended:

  • Small Blind vs. Cut-Off open
  • Big Blind vs. Lojack open

You also might want to sprinkle in a few raises when you’re in the hijack, either facing an open-raise from the lojack or a 3-bet from the cut-off. The same goes if you’re in the small blind facing an open from the hijack. This is a very aggressive play, though, and should only be used once in a blue moon, when the conditions are ideal.

At least that’s what “GTO” poker would suggest. The extra money you’ll generate with 99 playing an optimal mixed strategy is tiny – and unless you’re very, very good post-flop, it’s more likely you’ll make a mistake and light giant heaps of money on fire trying to chase down those chips.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide which road you want to take. But I highly recommend starting with a simplified strategy and getting comfortable with that before mixing it up. Stick around for our next episode on pocket Eights if you want to see some real pre-flop shenanigans.

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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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