How to play poker
Danger hands: tips to avoid the most dangerous hands
In this section you’ll learn:
- What danger hands to look out for
- And how to avoid getting into trouble
- How to play King-Jack
- How to play pocket pairs
If something in life looks too good to be true, it normally is. This logic applies to poker hands too and there are a few in particular that you need to be especially wary of.
They suck you into playing even when you know you probably shouldn’t and then make you pay with a tower of chips.
Here are the ones to look out for:
Pocket aces. The ultimate hole cards, or so you’d think! The value of this hand is huge early on, but it drops soon afterwards because anything can happen on the flop. Someone might land two pairs, three-of-a-kind or even set up a straight or flush draw that they can complete on the river.
In no-limit or pot-limit games players often work with 'implied odds'. They need to call pre-flop and then work on making a better hand or draw before raising.
So if you’re going to play aces, play them strong early doors and you’ll deny your opponents the implied odds. This tactic will also give you a good idea of what any callers have made on the flop.
The 'hooks' can reel you into losing a fortune. That’s why they’re often considered to be one of the toughest hands to play. If you raise with them and are called, the chances are the flop will contain at least one or more higher cards. And even if it doesn't, there’s always the danger of aces, kings, or queens. If someone re-raises you, it's likely that they hold either a bigger pair or something like A-K or A-Q. So you’re either a small favourite or a big underdog. That uncertainty of position is something you’re constantly trying to avoid in poker.
Play these early in big-bet tournaments or cash games where the money is deep. But once you get to the flop, here’s some professional advice, 'No set, no bet.'
Click here to find out more about playing pocket pairs.
Despite some players and commentators' belief that this is a hand worth getting excited about, in most situations a weak ace is exactly that.
In short, this is one of the main danger hands in Texas Holdem and unless you're an expert, you’ll be taking it on at your peril. Remember, a hand with a hole in it is frequently worse than no hand at all (with no hand you lose no money).
This tricky hand needs a lesson all by itself.
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?
Face cards may look pretty and appealing but they can often get you into trouble. Although they are high cards they are always losing to any ace pre-flop, and can frequently be in a tight spot if the ace's kicker 'duplicates' one of them (such as K-Q vs A-Q), especially if played all-in. They are moderate, defensive hands if you need to act in a hurry and they are playable in late position or if suited. However, just don't fall for the impression that a nice paint job means you'll find sound engineering underneath.
Suited connectors can be useful hands as long as they're played carefully and cheaply. That's because no-one will suspect a straight on a flop of 6-7-10, or a monster flush draw on one of A-6-5. However, they also suffer from the slim possibility of putting you in a complete lock against a higher straight or flush and guaranteeing you lose all your chips.
With straight draws you need to remember what other hands you could be running into. For example, 9-8 looks great with a flop of Q-J-10, until someone turns up A-K.
How to play pocket pairs
Pocket pairs can be some of the most profitable hands in poker. But if you misplay them your chip stack could be seriously suffering.
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.