In this article, I will describe you the five Texas Hold’em starting hands that I have, during my 5-year poker career, found to be the trickiest ones. I will also explain you how you can take the most advantage out of those hands and avoid playing them wrong and losing money.
If someone asked me which starting hand I consider to be the most dangerous one in No-Limit Hold’em, I would tell them that it’s A-Q – and I would do it without the slightest bit of hesitation!
The good old saying „Everything that glitters ain’t gold” describes this poker hand with the utmost accuracy. Most poker players consider A-Q to be a premium hand, one that has great chances to take down many pots and is very simple to play - and they’re willing to play the hand strongly from any position, against any opponent. The truth, however, is quite the opposite.
Whereas A-Q is indeed in a huge lead against any random hand, we need to look further. Firstly, let’s assume that we raise with our A-Q pre-flop (which most of us do) and then look at the calling range of our opponents. Unless you’re playing at micro stakes or have found an extremely loose game (in which case, send me an email right away, telling me the address of that poker club!), you won’t be finding many players who are willing to call your raise with hands such as 2-9 and J-3. Based on this fact alone, we have to narrow down the range that you’re likely against. In most cases, this range looks something like this:
A-K, A-J, A-T, KQ, suited connectors, middle pocket pairs and perhaps some low pocket pairs.
Looking at this, the average winning percentage of your A-Q has dropped quite significantly!
Another important aspect to look at is how much profit potential the hand has. In a perfect scenario, you will flop an ace or a queen and be against hands such as A-J, A-T or Q-J. This way, you’re indeed very likely to take down the pot, but not much likely to win a lot of money! This is for the simple reason that most opponents who play the hands I mentioned above, accept the possibility that what they’ve got is simply a dominated hand, and play it accordingly by flat-calling your bets and perhaps even folding on the later streets if the board looks scary enough.
At the other side, there’s oh so much to be lost with this hand! Let’s assume that you’ve again flopped a top pair and feel confident with it, but your opponent has something better than you! The odds are that you will still keep betting and perhaps even calling re-raises, only to find out that you’re against AK, a set or two pairs.
In conclusion, generally A-Q is a hand that can win you many small pots but lose you the same amount of big ones. What I suggest is playing this hand with an extreme cautiousness, avoiding getting into difficult situations and if possible, trying to take the pot down as soon as possible and giving up if there’s a good chance that you’re not ahead.
Very similarly to A-Q, pocket jacks look extremely nice but can get you broke in no time – if you don’t play them right, that is. And most people at lower stakes don’t! Poker players around the world seem to think that pocket tens and pocket jacks are far better hands than their lower counterparts – which is something I don’t agree with. I prefer to put J-J into the same category with hands such as 7-7 and 8-8, and play them accordingly. This is for various reasons:
1. There’s not that many flops that suit J-J perfectly and create good dynamics for playing them strong. Roughly 50% of the flops contain either an ace, a king or a queen and facing two to three opponents after your pre-flop raise, the odds are high that one of those three cards are represented within your opponents’ holdings as well, making your chances of success very slim.
2. With pocket jacks, the only two perfect flops are those that consist of low cards and those that contain a third jack giving you a set. With a set, your chances are obviously pretty good – especially if the flop contains some more high cards and one of your opponents happens to hit one of those. But the chance of this happening is very, very low. The average for hitting a set is 1:10 – if you add the criteria of the flop containing an ace, king or a queen AND that your opponent has one of those cards in as their holecard, it comes down to about 1:45. Is this worth even one 4xBB raise?
What I tend to do with pocket jacks is simply limp in, hoping to either see a jack on the flop (in which case I will go ahead and get as much money from my opponents as they can afford) or getting a low flop (which allows me to value bet the hand on the latter streets). The main advantages of this strategy are the fact that you don’t commit yourself to pots that you will eventually lose, as well as the deceiving value! What I mean by the deceiving value is that your opponents do not expect you to play your jacks so passively pre-flop and are therefore much happier to pay off if you happen to hit your set.
By X-Xs I mean any two suited cards that don’t provide any side-value, i.e. don’t include connecting cards and aren’t very high. And guess what – most beginning poker players LOVE this kind of hands, having the dollar signs rolling in front of their eyes, thinking how much money they will get if they hit their flush. Once again, the reality can’t be further from the truth.
When playing this kind of hands, there’s exactly four things that can happen and I’ve listed all of them for your reference:
1. Not hitting anything or hitting a low pair.
This is the situation that you see most often. Once the flop is dealt, your initially nice-looking two suited hole cards transform into worthless rubbish. You’ve lost everything that you’ve put in the middle pre-flop and what’s worse – there’s still more to lose if you happen to hit a small pair and decide to start paying off to your opponents who hold medium and high pairs!
2. Hitting a flush draw
Even though far better than the first scenario, this one too can be quite costly. You’re very lucky if you get a flush draw from the flop and manage to check down the betting round to see if you’ve made your flush by the fourth card. More often, however, there’s at least one bet after the flop, usually not giving you enough odds to call with your draw. In this situation, there can be exactly two outcomes: you either fold to the bet, losing what you’ve invested pre-flop or you call the bet even though it’s against the correct pot-odds and therefore lose in the long run.
3. Magic! You’ve hit your flush!
This is one of those ‚dream come true’ situations – or is it? Of course it’s great to hit a flush right from the flop, and odds are huge that you’re far ahead of anyone else in the pot. You may even find opponents who don’t believe you and pay off your big bets with a top pair / good kicker type of hand. What happens very often though is that your opponents are very aware of the texture of the flop and will simply fold their hands, leaving you with a few measly dollars that were in the pot before the flop. Or worse than that – suppose that you’ve got Td-3d, the flop comes down 2d-Ad-8d and your opponent has As Kd in hole. Situations like that are quite dangerous as even though it might seem that you’ve got all what’s needed to take down the pot, it’s actually a typical 50/50 (also called coinflip) situation!
4. Being dominated by a higher flush
While not extremely often, I’ve seen this happening many times. Similarly to playing aces with low kicker cards next to them, playing low flushes is a very dangerous technique. Of course, the odds of your opponent having a higher flush are very low (unless there’s four flush-cards on the table), but what we have to consider here is what happens every single time this situation occurs: you’ll go broke – as simple as that! Seriously, would you be able to make yourself throw away a ten-high flush on a board such as 2d-9s-Ah-4d-Jd ? I doubt it.
The above should be enough reasoning to stay away from those hands for good!
Pocket Rockets, American Airlines, Bullets, Weapons of Mass Destruction – the hundreds of nicknames given to this hand illustrate the power it preserves. After all, it’s the single strongest hand in the game of poker! But next to its strength are its weaknesses.
While pocket aces are indeed a great favourite against all other poker hands, they too have to be played with a certain amount of cautiousness. I’m going to list a few mistakes that many players tend to make, costing them a great amount of money.
Slowplaying the hand – While limping in pre-flop and flat-calling on later streets is quite justified in some situations (such as playing against very aggressive players and being in an early position), it’s generally a bad idea. Pocket Aces stand the best chance to win if they’re against one to three players. If you let the whole table see the flop, then chances are that your pre-flop odds of 80% have decreased to only around 30-40%.
Playing hyper-aggressively – Opposite to the previous mistake, some players grasp the concept of pocket rockets being more powerful against fewer players and in result, make a huge pre-flop raise (such as 8 times the big blind as opposed to their standard 4xBB), hoping to get as few calls as possible. This, however, isn’t a good idea either because every experienced player will see that something’s clearly out of order and if possible, avoid playing against you. Therefore you may have to just pick up the blinds and move on to the next hand without profiting from the tremendous opportunity that you had.
Falling in love with the hand – This is something that almost all of us have experienced in the beginning stages out our poker careers. We’re confident that our opponent has our aces beaten, yet we refuse to lay the hand down – or even re-raise trying to ‚bluff them out’ in a situation where bluffing is the last sane thing to do.
Those of you who have seen the famous TV-show “High Stakes Poker” or read one of the poker forums out there know exactly why I’m talking about this hand.
Even though not offered by any online poker rooms, the ‘2-7 game’ is quickly gaining popularity among home games and is even played at some prestigious poker rooms around the world. Simply put, it’s a small addition to the rules of No Limit Texas Hold’em – even though the rules differ from poker room to poker room, the general concept is following: whenever someone takes down a pot holding a deuce and a seven from different suits (and it doesn’t matter if you win the pot at the showdown or get others to fold), EVERY other player will pay them a small amount of money, varying between the amount of the small blind up to the amount of 3 big blinds.
Let me let you in on a little secret of mine. Whenever I play at a home game, I always suggest that we use this rule. Not only does it make the game more fun, but I’ve found it HIGHLY PROFITABLE – this is because most people have no idea how to adapt to this rule!
I have seen many players go broke with their 2-7 after they announce all-in on the flop for 50 big blinds (having just 3 big blinds in the middle), only to discover that I snap-call them with my measly middle-pair and take down the pot.
Whenever you play the 2-7 game – make sure you don’t do anything stupid. The few big blinds you can win when taking down the ‘2-7 jackpot’ aren’t ever enough to risk your whole pile of chips. Bluff when you see the opportunity to bluff, with or without 2-7, and the rest of the times consider it as just a simple marginal hand and play it like you would play it normally.