How to play
Danger Hands: Tips to Avoid Losing With the Most Dangerous Hands
There are 169 non-equivalent starting hands in Texas Hold'em, and each can win a pot. Obviously, some starting hands are far stronger and, therefore, desirable than others; you would always rather have pocket aces (the strongest starting hand) over seven-deuce offsuit (the worst starting hand) any day of the week.
All 169 starting hands have the potential to win you plenty of chips, but they can also lose you your entire stack. Some hands can be tricky to play for various reasons, so they are often called danger hands. These so-called danger hands in poker require skill and finesse to win or not lose. Keep reading to discover some common danger hands and how to play them.
A pair of aces in the hole is the starting hand everyone dreams of receiving because it is, after all, the strongest starting hand in Hold'em. Pocket aces have a massive advantage over every other hand preflop; they are approximately 82% favourites over other pocket pairs and almost 90% favourites over ace-king. So why do some people consider them a danger hand?
Someone once said pocket aces either win you a small pot or lose you a big one, which has stuck with players. It can be frustrating to raise or three-bet preflop only for your opponents to fold, leaving you to pick up a small pot. This frustration sometimes leads players to get tricky when they are dealt aces, slow-playing preflop being the main culprit.
You see, aces are super strong against one opponent but quickly become vulnerable when facing two or more foes. Prevent pocket rockets from becoming a danger hand by playing them aggressively preflop.
Some players also struggle to let aces go even when they are obviously beaten. You must be disciplined post-flop, particularly when your aces face aggression on seemingly harmless low boards, you have an overpair to on a draw-heavy board or are fighting over a multi-way pot.
Pocket jacks are the sixth-best starting hand in Hold'em and will be one of your most profitable hands in the long term. However, jacks, often called hooks or fishhooks, are vulnerable to overcards.
There will be an overcard on the flop, that is at least one queen, king, or ace, 57% of the time when you have a pair of jacks in the hole. With this in mind, it is important not to slow play pocket jacks because the last thing you want is to face several opponents when an overcard lands on the flop more than half of the time. Always raise preflop with jacks and consider re-raising or three-betting against most preflop raisers to thin the field.
All pocket pairs can be danger hands, but small pairs are especially so. Small pairs will almost always be up against at least one overcard on the flop, and when you find yourself all-in preflop, you will either be crushed or in a coinflip for your stack or tournament life.
Do not get too enthusiastic with small pairs. If you don't flop a set, it is often best to let your hand go: no set equals no bet!
In this section we’ll talk about:
K-J is a tough hand to play
It's not automatically playable, like a pair of aces, kings or queens, but at the same time it’s not a hand you should fold every time. You need to know when to call this hand, raise it and sometimes even throw it away.
Position is everything
Early doors, K-J might allow you to win small but more importantly lose big, especially when the game is aggressive and players are raising frequently.
Playing K-J from early position, especially if you call rather than raise, leaves you vulnerable to an opponent's raise. Even if you flop a king or a jack, you can't know for sure whether you have the best hand. And if that's the case, you'll either have to call your opponent to find out, or try a speculative raise and from there anything can happen.
For that reason, we recommend folding K-J in early position unless the game is very passive with lots of callers and very few raises. You still might not have the best hand but at least it's not likely to cost you a bundle.
In middle position, you can loosen up a bit because the chances of a raise are lessened.
And if no one has acted, you can raise and try to seize control of the pot right there.
When you're in late position and no one has entered the pot, we’d suggest raising. If that takes out one of the blinds you'll only have to beat one opponent to win the full pot. Plus, you probably had the best hand before the flop anyway and you'll have the best position for the remainder of the hand too.
If you're in the same position but a number of players have already called, you can call behind them. After all, if no one raised, the chances of your hand being dominated by A-K or A-J are slim. If you flop either a jack or a king you probably have top pair with the best kicker so why not bet if the action is checked around to you?
Small Offsuit Aces
Some poker players look down, see an ace as one of their hole cards, and think all their Christmases have come at once. Small unsuited aces are the biggest danger hands because you can rarely be sure you have the best hand.
For example, you call a raise with Ah-4c, and the flop comes As-9c-6h. Your ace with a four-kicker could be best, but it has to avoid a lot of hands to remain that way. Likewise, you have Ah-4c, and the flop comes 4h-7c-Ts. Your pair of fours is never going to be good here. You are hoping to flop two pair, trip aces, trip fours, a full house, or quads, hands you rarely make on the flop.
Offsuit Paint Cards
Hands such as king-jack, queen-jack, king-ten, and queen-ten look pretty and can be useful, but they will often put you in danger. They are dangerous for the same reasons ace-x offsuit are; you are hardly ever certain if you are out-kicked and have made what will turn out to be an expensive second-best hand.
These types of hands are playable, but you should wait to play them in unopened pots and from later positions at the table to minimize the chances of being up against a hand that dominates yours or facing multiple opponents.
Suited and Unsuited Connectors
Connecters, two cards one pip away from each other, can be extremely powerful hands because they are often disguised. Nine-eight of spades, for example, can be a great hand to play because it can flop two pair, straights, flushes, and draws. However, these hands are well known for getting players into all kinds of trouble.
The main drawback to hands like 9s-8s is that your flush can never be the nuts unless you make a straight flush. Likewise, if you make a straight, you will only have the nuts if it is nine-high. This vulnerability is what makes suited connectors danger hands.
Unsuited connectors are more vulnerable because you lose the ability to make a flush.
While any two cards can and do win pots in Hold'em games, not all cards are created equally. Some nice-looking cards can be dangerous to your stack and bankroll if you misplay them.
Generally, if your hole cards could be vulnerable to overcards or find yourself dominated or out-kicked, you want to contest the pot against as few opponents as possible. Do this by raising preflop to thin the field or by waiting for an opportunity to raise an unopened pot when you are in a late position.
Another reason certain hands become dangerous is user error. All too often, players are to blame for their misfortune. They fail to let seemingly strong hands go when they are likely beaten, or they stick around with middle pair with a low or strong kicker, then wonder why they lost.
Pay attention at the table, take notes on your opponents, and use the power of position to your advantage, and you should be fine, even with these dangerous hands.
In this section, we discuss how to avoid mistakes when playing pocket pairs, including:
Let's start with possibly the worst play in poker, which also happens to be the best example of misplaying pocket pairs.
Calling an all-in bet when you only hold a small pair
Calling, rather than betting or raising all-in yourself, only gives you one way to win: by holding the best hand. Betting or raising gives you two ways to win: by holding the best hand or by getting your opponent to fold. Which sounds much better, don’t you think?
Pocket pairs against overcards
Imagine you have pocket sevens – or even your pocket deuces – and you find yourself up against two cards like A-K or J-10. You're the favourite to win, but only by small margin.
Why? These are the main ways your pocket pair can lose:
- Hitting at least one of the overcards. For example, Q-Q vs A-K, and the final board is K-J-7-5-2
- A straight. For example, 7-7 vs J-10, with the final board coming Q-9-8-7-2 (even making a set of sevens on the turn didn't save the pocket pair)
- A flush. For example, 8♥ 8♦ vs Q♠ J♠ with the final board coming 10♠ 9♠ A♥ 3♥ 8♠ (here, the same river card that gave the eights their 'lucky' set also created the flush)
- Being counterfeited – one of the biggest problems with smaller pairs. For example, 3-3 vs A-9 and the final board comes 10-6-6-5-5. Your opponent’s ace gives him the edge. So be very careful any time you own a small pair and a larger pair flops
- Coming up against J-10. This hand makes more high straights than any other hand. So if you owned a pair of fours, the powerful looking A-K, which makes far fewer straights, would be a much better hand to face.
However there is one occasion when the odds favour your pair. Owning Q-Q and being up against A-K, puts you in the single most favourable 'pair vs overcards' situation. At 4:3, or 1.33-1, or a 57.2%, however you label it, you’re quite far away from coin flip territory.
This edge is down to the power of your queens. They significantly reduce the A-K's chances of winning with a straight as a queen will need to hit the board to make it possible. And with two of them tucked safely away you’ll be in the driving seat for sure.
You can split pocket pairs into groups. Here we’re going to start at the bottom and work our way up:
Small pairs (2-2, 3-3, 4-4 and 5-5)
These hands stand a reasonable chance of winning a 1 on 1 confrontation against overcards, but they have several major vulnerabilities. If three or more players see the flop, you’ll usually need to make a set to win and these pairs are the most vulnerable to counterfeiting.
Middle pairs (6-6, 7-7 and 8-8)
Most of the time these hands play like small pairs. On the plus side they aren’t as vulnerable to counterfeiting and sometimes you’ll only be up against one overcard rather than two. However, these hands are often more troublesome than small pairs and as a general rule, unless you flop a set or a good straight draw (that is, the board is 4-5-6 and you have 7-7), you should get out, quick.
Danger pairs (9-9, 10-10)
Danger pairs play a lot like middle pairs, but will occasionally hold their own against an opponent who has hit part of his hand (like someone playing A-8 suited who hits the 8). Play them like you would middle pairs, you’ll very rarely get counterfeited but try not to push them too hard. You’ll only end up disappointed.
The third best starting hand in Hold’em. And we recommend you play it aggressively. Lead out with a significant raise, then sit back and wait to see if the flop contains an ace or king before making your next move.
'Cowboys' are a strong hand but they still rank below aces, because even a rookie playing A-3 has a 30% chance to beat you. So be careful when they land in your lap because nobody wants to lose like that.
When it comes down to it you won't know what your pocket pair is really worth until the flop. It’s usually the best hand before the flop, but as we all know, in Hold’em the flop changes everything. Don’t get stubborn and always remember – this is more than just a two-card game.