Home


HOW TO PLAY SPECIFIC HANDS

In most Play Poker books the part about how to play each hand is usually at the front of the book.  I deliberately chose to put this part at the end because I thought it important to first explain all of the elements that go into the playing of a hand.

  When I advise you how to play a certain hand in a certain position you will already have a good understanding of the concepts of position, raising, check-raising, slowplaying, bluffing, semi-bluffing, reading hand, tells, and adjusting to game conditions.  This final chapter is meant to help you bring it all together in your mind so that you can see how all of these abstract concepts work in actual practice.
  I am going to give you some specific advice about how to play specific hands and I’ll tell you everything that you’ll need to know about the hand.  I don’t want you to say a few years from now, “Boy, I wish he’d told me that could happen when I had A♦ A♣ in the pocket,” or whatever the hand is.  As I said in the introduction, I’ll try to tell you everything that I wish someone had told me when I first started playing this game.   I am not going to discuss all 169 different possible hands.  I believe that if you’ve read the book this far, you will already know how to play hands like K ♦ 5♠ , J ♠ 3♣ , 7♣ 2♦ and hands like this.  There is almost no difference in how you would play a flopped set of eights or sevens, and the same general principles hold when you flop the nuts, whether you’re holding A ♦ Q ♥ or T ♠ 9♣.  There is also almost no difference in how you would play a hand like A ♦ 7♦ or A ♥ 6♥.
  We will concentrate on those hands that have a positive expectation and you would at least see the flop with most of the time.  Here goes:

  • A ♦ A

A pair of Aces in the pocket is the best hand you can have in Hold’em.  There is no other hand that will win more money hand in and hand out in the long run.  You should usually calling pre-flop raises every time you get them from any and all positions and you should definitely reraise if possible.  If you’re not willing to put in the maximum number of bets with the best hand in Texas Hold’em, then you should ask yourself why you’re even playing the game.  Anyone who calls you is definitely taking long odds to beat you.  Here is a list of things to keep in mind regarding Aces in the pocket:

 

 

  • You are about a 4 to 1 favorite over any other player holding a pocket pair if you both play to the river.  You will flop another Ace 10.5% of the time and you will flop a full house about 1% of the time.
  • You are a 2 to 1 favorite against a single opponent on a straight or a flush draw.  You are a slight favorite over two players who are trying to make straights or flushes against you.  If you hold A♣ A ♠ and flop two more ♣ s or ♠s, you will make a backdoor flush only 3.33% of the time.
  • Most low limit players who have A ♥ A ♣ in the pocket will raise before the flop and then carefully watch each player call the raise before the flop and then carefully watch each player call the raise in turn.  He will often actually bounce his head up and down in a clockwise motion as the action goes around the table.  He’s doing this to make sure that each player puts the correct amount of money into what he thinks of as “his” pot.  This is a reliable tell in low limit.
  • Most players will call all bets and raises on the flop when they hold A ♠ A ♦ in the pocket, even when they know that they’re beat.  This is especially true if the online poker player is on a rush, is winning, or is drinking.
  • If you hold A ♦ A ♠ and get a safe looking flop with several players, you do not want the top card on the flop to pair up on the turn or river.  It’s just too likely to have made the caller trips to beat you.  The higher the paired card, the more likely it will have hurt you.  For example, a flop of Q ♦ T ♠ 3 ♥ with the Q ♣ on the turn will be more likely to beat you than a flop of 8♠ 5♥ 3♣ with an 8♣ on the turn.
  • You should be alert for the possibility that an Ace on the turn or river is an out for another player.  For example, you hold A♠ A ♣ and the flop is K♥ J ♦ 5 ♠.  An Ace on the turn could possibly make a straight for someone holding Q ♦ T♠.  In low limit games, this is also possible for a flop like T ♣ 3♦ 2♠ because most low limit players will see the flop with any 5♣ 4♣.
  • You hold A ♦ A ♥ and the flop is A ♣ 2♠ 2♥.  You will usually win the hand but anyone holding a deuce has a 4.3% chance of making four of kind by the river.  I does happen and it’s okay if you’re in a jackpot game.  I would not slowplay this hand because of the potential for getting second-best hands to call you down and pay you off.  Anyone holding the other Ace or a deuce will certainly not fold.
  • You hold A ♠ A ♣ and the flop is A ♥ Q ♦ T ♠.  Do not slowplay because of the obvious straight draw.  Anyone who has a one card draw to the straight will pay you off.  Do not let him draw for free.
  • You hold A ♦ A ♣ and the flop is A♥ 9♥ 3♣.  Even though there is a possible straight draw to the bicycle, it is not likely.  You can slowplay or check-raise with this hand because the turn card is not likely to hurt you.
  • You hold A ♦ A ♥ and the flop is three more ♦s or ♥s.  You have an overpair, the probable best hand at this point, and a nut four-flush.  I almost always bet it right out in this situation because many players holding a single ♦ or ♥ will call hoping to make his flush.  Anyone holding top pair with a good kicker will likely pay you off as well as anyone on a straight draw.

You will often get called when you bet on the flop just because other players will think that you are weak and you would check if you flopped a great hand like this.  Make them pay for this bad judgement.  If you check, they cannot make a mistake by checking after you.  However, if you bet, they can make a mistake by calling you.

  • If you have a pair of Aces in the pocket and get a good looking flop, you would like one of two things to happen: 1. You get another Ace and maybe make a full house, or  2.  Run off a small pair on the turn and end.
  • If you know for a fact that another player has a pair of Aces in the pocket, you have the best chance of beating him if you hold any one of these hands: J ♦ J ♥, the other two Aces, T ♠ T ♣ , Q ♦ J ♦ , J ♥ T ♥ , 7♦ 6♦ and 6♣ 5♣.  You are still not a favorite over pocket Aces, but poker experiences and computer analysis suggest that these are the hands that can beat Aces.
  • If you know for a fact that another player has a pair of Aces in the pocket, you will lose the most money if you play with any of the following hands: Any Ace with any suited card, A ♦ K♥, A♣ Q ♠, and Ace with any other card, a hand with any King and any other card, and all small pairs.
  • A♣ K ♣ , A♣ Q ♣, A ♣ J ♣ ,A♣ T

Two cards to the nut royal flush draw.  When you hold one of these hands this is what you’ll get on the flop:

A.  Once Ace or Your other card 28.960%
B.  An Ace and your other Card    2.021%
C.  Flopped Flush    .837%
D.  Flopped Royal Flush   .005%
E.  Two More Aces or Kings     1.300%
F.  Two more of your suit   10. 944%
G.  Four to a Straight   7.930%
H.  Full House .
___________________________________________
Total  52.089%

When you hold two big suited cards you will flop some thing to go with 52% of the time.  If you have raised before the flop, or if you have position, or if you’re head-up, you have an even greater advantage.  However, in low limit Hold’em, you will often have to make a hand to win the pot.  It is only as you play progressively higher limits that you will be able to win ore often just by betting and using your position.

  The play of these hands is pretty straightforward.  You either flop a playable hand, a draw, or nothing.  Your draws will usually be to the nuts.  If you flop nothing, your decision to play beyond the flop is determined by your position, the size of the pot and your estimate of your  times bluff successfully.  The only thing you have to fear is that the board will pair.
  If you are in early position, I recommend that you usually just call before the flop for several good reasons.  You have a hand that can make the nuts several ways and I don’t think you should drive out your customers when they could make second best hands that will pay you off.  Also, if you don’t raise, you can see the flop as cheaply as possible and then get out if you miss, which will happen 48% of the time.

  If you hold A ♣ Q ♣ and flop a Queen, there will also be a King on the flop 2.5% of the time.  It is 6.5 to 1 that you had the best hand before the flop.  If you hold A ♦ J♦, it is only 3.5 to 1 that you have the best hand before the flop.   Keep in mind that any Ace-high straight draw will always be a gutshot straight draw.

  • A ♥ 9♥ Down through A ♥ 2

These suited hands just do not perform as well as you might think.  The fact that it is a suited hand only helps you an additional 3% of the time and some of those times you’ll still lose with your flush.
  Ironically, computer analysis shows that A ♠ 5♠ and A ♠ 4♠ win more often and make more money than A ♥ 8♥ and A ♥ 7♥.  That is because you can make a straight with the wheel cards much more easily than you can with the other cards.  You should routinely call pre-flop raises with these hands, especially if you have poor position or there are very few players in the hand.  You need a lot of players in the hand to get the right odds to play these drawing cards.

  If you hold an Ace and a small suited card such as a deuce, this is what you’ll get on the flop:

A.  Aces-up  2.02%
B.  Trip Aces or your other card     1.35%
C.  Flush    .84%
D.  Straight     .32%
E.  Full House     .09%
F.  Four Aces or Deuces         .01%
__________________________________
Total   4.63%

  This shows that you’ll totally miss the flop over 95% of the time assuming that a pair of Aces or Deuces will not help you.  And you still face the unpleasant possibility that you can make Aces-up and still lose the hand.

  • A ♥ K

Big Slick is what it’s called.  It’s 20 to 1 that no one lese holds A ♦ A ♣ or K ♠ K ♥ in the pocket.  One advantage that it has over A ♣ K♣ is that you can possibly make one of two flushes when four more of your suit hits the board, which happens only about 5% of the time.  Another advantage of not being suited is that it’s more difficult to flop a four-flush (2.245% versus 10.944% when suited) which in turn makes it easier to fold if you have to.

  If you flop an Ace or King, you should definitely bet and, if there’s a bet before you, you should raise to help protect your hand.  You will have top pair with top kicker and you’ll usually have the best hand at this point.  Be wary if the board pairs and a player who was previously a caller now bets.

 

  • All Other Hands With an Ace

How you play these hands is crucial to your success as a hold’em poker player because they constitute about 15% of the hands you’ll be dealt.  Most players almost always see the flop whenever they hold an Ace and this makes then big losers in the long run.
  You should normally voluntarily enter the pot only with A ♦ K ♣, A ♥ Q ♠, A ♣ J ♠ and A ♥ T ♦.  You should not play with A ♦ 9♣ and below because they just don’t win often enough to show a profit in the long run.  For example, if you are dealt an Ace in a ten-handed game, there’s a 75% chance that another player also has been dealt an Ace.  You’re a big under-dog if his kicker is higher than yours.  If you have something like A ♥ 6♠ and get an Ace on the flop, and get action, then you’re probably beat and are playing a guessing game.  That’s not the way to play poker.

  Since most players do play every hand with an Ace, be careful when the flop has two or three wheel cards in it.  If you have A ♦ 6♠ and the flop is K ♥ 3 ♦ 5♠ and you get a lot of callers, you have a problem hand.  It looks like any little card could make someone a wheel and that’s probably what will happen.  This is especially true if there wee no pre-flop raises.  This makes it more likely that someone is holding an Ace and a wheel card.   If you have Ace-little in one of the blinds and it’s raised before the flop, you should throw it away even though you already have a small investment in the pot.  You probably do not have the best hand at this point since the raiser doesn’t figure to have a worse hand than yours.  Don’t get tied to the hand just because you already have $ 1 invested.  This is especially true if there are many other players who have already called the raiser in front of you.
  If there are one or more pre-flop raises, and you hold A ♦ Q ♥, you could very well lose a lot of money if you flop an Ace and play all the way to the river.  There is an 18% chance (in a ten-handed game) that the raiser has A ♣ A ♦, K ♥ K ♠, Q ♦ Q ♥ or A ♠ K ♦. And if he doesn’t, one of the other callers probably does.
  If an Ace or King flops, you are practically drawing dead.  If you get a Queen on the flop, you will have a pair of Queens with an Ace kicker, but for you to have the best hand, the raiser would have to have raised before the flop with something like A ♥ J ♠, A ♥ T ♦, K ♠ Q ♦ , K ♣ J ♥, Q♣ J♥ or Q ♦ T♠.  That’s not too likely.
  A ♦ Q ♥ is a classic trap hand when there’s a pre-flop raise and you should learn to be careful with it.  You have to know your players and what they are likely to raise with and not raise with before the betting on flop poker.

  One good thing about playing two of the top five cards is that any straight draw to the Ace-high straight will be the nuts.  You will rarely have to split the pot because you’ll be using both of your hole cards.  Keep in mind that the higher the cards are on the board, the more likely it is that someone can and will make the nut straight.  This is due to the fact that players are more likely to play the higher cards necessary to make this straight.
  On the other hand, the lower the highest card on the board is, the more likely it is that someone has made a small straight.  For example, if the board is 2♦ 4♥ 5♠ 7♣ 9♥ and there is a lot of action, you can be certain that someone made the straight.  But, when the board is something like K ♥ 5♥ 8♠ J ♣ 4♠ and there is a lot of action, it’s less likely that someone made a straight even though it’s possible.

  If you flop an Ace-high straight, you should almost always bet it for value because this is exactly the type of flop that will make other second best hands pay you off.  Someone will usually have what they think is the nuts (even though a straight is possible) and someone else will probably be on a draw to a better hand than your straight draw, top pair with top kicker, two pair, trips or flush draw will usually be there until the river.  Don’t let’em play for free.
  If you have A ♦ K ♠, A ♥ Q ♠, A ♣ J ♦ or A ♠ T ♦, and you flop two pair, you definitely have to bet.  If your opponent has a hand, you want him to pay to draw to a better hand.  If he is on a draw you also want him to pay.  If you hold A ♥ J♣ and flop A ♦ J ♥ 6♠, the next card could make someone else a straight.  The turn card could also give someone a draw at an open-end straight or a four-flush to draw to.   Remember, the flop is when many players decide to much their hand if they don’t flop anything and there’s a bet.  Don’t let them see the turn card and pick up a draw for free if you can help it.  Giving a free card after the flop when you have any kind of hand at all is one of the classic beginner mistakes you’ll see in this game.  Especially in a low limit game where it seems everybody plays every hand.
  If the flop has a big card in it, such a Q ♥ 8♣ 6, and there is an Ace on the turn or river, it often means that someone has made Aces and Queens.  This also holds when the Ace is on the flop and the face card comes on the turn or river.  If this happens and everyone checks on the turn, especially if there are many players, it usually means that someone was going to check-raise but there was no bet to raise.
  When this happens and there is a bet on the end, the position of the bettor is very important.  The worse (earlier) his position is, the more likely it is that he has a legitimate, powerful hand basic odds percentage.
  Think about it: He called before the flop from an early position.  That means he more likely than not has two big cards in the hole.  He bet or called on the flop when there was an Ace or face card on board.  He checked on the turn because, if he does have the good hand, his early position makes it more likely that a check-raise attempt will be successful.
  A player in early position check-raises more often than a player in late position.  He bet on the river into a large field from an early position with a large pot.  He knows he’s going to be called.  All of this adds up to the fact that he has a very good hand.

  If you have A ♥ 7♣ and the flop is 8♠ 7♦ 2♥, you are much more likely to have the best hand than if the flop were K ♥ J ♣ 7♠ simply because players are more likely to throw away an eight before the flop than they are a King or Jack.  You will often have the best hand and should usually bet it for value, especially if it’s checked to you on the flop.  With two cards to come, you have a 20.4% chance of improving to Aces-up or trips, and you might win without improving.
  This is a common situation in Hold’em and you should learn to take advantage of it.  If you get called, you are probably looking at a straight draw or a pair of eights with a bad kicker.
  Again, you have to know your players.  If a good player calls your bet, you should probably abandon the lead.  Check and fold if this good player bets it.  If you’re in a very loose game where everybody plays everything, you might consider pushing it if you think your opposition is on a draw.   In a single eight-hour session you will be dealt at least one Ace about 48 times.  Unfortunately, most of these hands will be trap hands if you play them.  A hand with an Ace in it gives you more opportunities to save money and not make mistakes that you know the other players will make.  Namely, they’ll play every hand with an Ace and you won’t.  This is one easy way that you can save a lot of money poker over cards in the long run and plug a big leak in your game.
  It’s so important that I think it needs to be said again: How you play hands with an Ace is so important and such a big part of your game that you should learn to do it right, and that usually means not playing the hand.  If you are dealt the A ♦, then there are 51 other cards that can go with it and only about twenty of them are playable most of the time.  Think about it.

  • K ♠ K ♥ and Q ♦ Q

You will usually have the best hand before the flop regardless of your position, but your position does have an influence on how you play the hand.
  Lets look at having K ♥ K ♦ on the button, or in last position.  If there are several callers then it is likely that at least one of them has an Ace in the Pocket.  Whether you limp in to see the flop cheaply or raise to get more money in the pot (in a hand you expect to win) is a trade-off between saving money and building big pots.
  Since an Ace will come on the flop about 22% of the time, you may want to save your money and see the flop before you invest too much in the hand.  This is will give you an opportunity to get away from the hand for only one bet if you want to.  You especially might want to play it like this if you’re losing during this session or you’ve taken a few bad Beats recently.

  As your position improves and there are fewer, or perhaps no players in the hand, you should usually raise to narrow the field and increase your chances of winning the hand.  You’ll win smaller pots on average but you will win more often.  Better to have a 75% chance of winning a $ 50 pot than just a 15% chance of winning a $ 100 pot.  When you raise with more players already in the pot you will have bigger swings in your players bankroll because of the decreased chance of eventually winning.
  You will be a big winner in the long run with K ♣ K ♦ in the pocket regardless of position, number of opponents, or number of raises.  There is probably no wrong way to play this hand before the flop but there is a way to play that will save you some money in the long run.  Slow down with this hand in late position and be willing to throw it away if you feel you have to.  Again, try to make the mistake of calling with it after the flop (when you’re sure you’re beat ) just because it is a pair of Kings in the pocket.
  If you have K ♥ K♣ in the pocket when in either the large or small blind, I recommend that you do not exercise your raise option before the flop.  You’re not going to drive anyone out by making them call just one more bet.  Your raise will give away the fact that you have a great hand and, of course, you’ll be at a positional disadvantage throughout the hand.  I think it’s just too much to fight for just one more bet.
  There is one situation that occurs only 1.4% of the time, but is worth mentioning because of the winning poker concept involved.  That is when you have K ♠ K ♣ in the pocket and the flop has two or even three Aces in it.  I want to tell you that from both a statistical viewpoint and my own personal experience that when you have a pair of Kings in the pocket that one Ace on the flop is usually bad for you, but two Aces on the flop is usually good for you.  Believe it or not.  One more Ace on the board means that there is one less Ace available to be in someone’s hand.  Bet it right out and expect to win more often than if the flop had only one Ace.
  The difference between having K ♥ K ♦ and Q ♣ Q ♠ in the pocket is not that great but there are a few subtle points to be aware of.  With Queens in the pocket, you’ll get one or more overcards on the flop about 41% of the time.  With no overcard on the flop, thee will be one on the turn or river 32% of the time.  This means that your hand is more vulnerable and you’ll be less likely to like the flop.  For this reason you should usually see the flop as cheaply as possible and be prepared to muck the hand in the face of a bad flop and /or a very large field.

  If there is a pre-flop raise, you should usually just call.  You don’t gain that much by reraising.  The raiser has two ways to beat you: He can already have you beat before the flop, or he can get help on the flop.  Usually, you’d like to see the flop as cheaply as possible with Q ♦ Q ♥ in the pocket.  Even if the raiser has A ♥ K ♣ you are only a slight 52% -48% favorite.  In any event, if you throw away your Kings most of the time you see an Ace on the flop, you are definitely saving the chips in your stacks and not losing that much in the long run.
  One final word about Kings and Queens in the pocket: They are the only pairs with which you can flop a set and still end up with the nuts without improving.  In other words, it is possible to flop a set of Kings or Queens and not be facing a possible straight or flush.  An example of this would be a board of K ♦ J ♥ 8♠ 5 ♣ 2♥.
  Most beginning low limit poker players usually do not know how to play when they flop a set.  They’re so excited over having flopped a great hand that they don’t think about how to maximize a possible win or minimize a possible loss.  The most important thing to consider when you flop a set is the threat posed by the other two odd cards.

  For example, if you have K ♦ K ♥ and the flop is K ♣ 7♥ 2♦, you are not looking at any possible straight or flush draws.  A check is probably called for because a free card is not likely to hurt you and you need to give the other players more of a hand with which to call.  A check from you might also induce another player to try to bluff at the pot.
  On the other hand, if you have K♥ K ♦ and the flop is K ♣ J ♣ 8♠, you should definitely bet to make the straight and flush draws pay to beat you.  You’re not going to lose anyone who flopped top pair or a straight or flush draw, but you can make them pay to draw and perhaps give them the wrong odds to play their hands.
  The same guideline applies when you flop trips that is not a set.  For example, you have A ♠ T ♠ and the flop is two more Tens.  Whether or not you should bet depends on that one odd card that came with the two Tens.  If it’s a big card  or a card that makes a possible straight or flush draw, you should bet.  With a flop like K ♥ T ♥ T ♦ you will be called by anyone holding a King, two ♥s or two cards to a straight draw.  You are also a big favorite over anyone holding the other Ten.  Do not let them play for free.  Getting players with second-best hands to put money in the pot is the essence of all forms of poker. 

  If you have the same A ♠ T ♠ and the flop is T ♥ T ♦ 2 ♣ you have a much different situation.  Now, instead of the other players having second-best hands, they very likely have no hand at all.  You should usually check and give them a free card that will hopefully make them a second-best hand.
  Anyone who picked up a draw on the turn will still be a huge underdog to you with only one more card to come.
  An exception to slowplaying this hand on the flop is when there was a raise before the flop.  That raise means it is more likely that someone already has a second-best hand on the flop and they will call if you bet.  Most omaha poker players who hold a pocket pair higher than Tens will usually call you all the way to river.  Even so, don’t forget that they would have an 8.4% chance of hitting their pair to make a big full house against you.
  Also, if you have a Ten and get two more Tens on the flop, you should be more inclined to bet as your kicker gets worse.  In other words, check when you have A ♣ T♣ but bet when you have T ♥ 3 ♠.  Again, if they’re going to draw out on you, don’t let’em do it for free.

  • J ♦ J♣ Down Through 2 ♦ 2

These are hands that usually need improvement to win, especially against many opponents.  In other words, you should flop a set, flop an open-end straight draw (without drawing to the low end) or have no overcards on the flop to continue with the hand.  If you do flop a set you cannot make the nuts without improving after that.  But that doesn’t mean that you should fear every possible threat, especially if the turn and river had to hit perfect-perfect to present the threat.

For example, you hold 9♥ 9♦ and the flop is 9♠ 5♣ 2♦ and the turn and river are two more ♠ s,♣ s or ♦ s.  Don’t slowplay if there’s a possible straight or flush draw on board.
This true for all threats on the board.  It’s not a legitimate threat unless it’s likely that your opponent holds the cards needed to go with the board.  In other words, there’s just you and a single player who raised before the flop and you hold K ♥ K♣.  The flop is 7♣ 6♣ 3♣.  You probably still have the best hand.  Even though the board looks threatening, you’re facing only one player and his pre-flop raise indicates he probably doesn’t hold the cards needed to make the threat a real concern for you.  Actually, the only card you need to worry about it the A♣ and if he does have it, it is still 2-1 against him making the flush.

You should usually not even call with pairs smaller than 9♣ 9♥.  You need a near perfect flop to continue plying winnings by not playing them but you sure can lose a lot with them.  If you must play small pairs, play only in late position with a lot of callers in front of you and don’t call a double bet cold with them.

  • Any Two Suited Cards

If you have two suited cards, you will flop a flush draw only one out of nine times.  This means that the strength of your hand will come from their ranks.  If you miss your flush, K ♦ J ♦ will still win the hand more often than 7♦ 4♦.  You cannot play these purely drawing hands in an early position and you cannot play them with very few players in the pot because of the poor pot odds.  This is not a good hand to call a pre-flop raise with because the raise means that you’re most likely already beat and will be fighting an uphill battle.
  The best casino holdem advice on poker I can give you about this type of hand is: If you wouldn’t play it if it were not suited, then you should play it only under the best of circumstances when it is suited.  That means you need good position, a lot of players to see the flop, and the likelihood of winning a huge pot if you do hit your hand.

  • Two Cards to a Straight

The odds are you won’t end up with the straight.  The higher the cards are, the better your chances are of winning.  It will take some experience and judgement to know if your top pair is any good and if your kicker is any good.  If you flop top two split pair (no pair on the board) you will usually be favorite to win the hand.  Any open-end straight draw will usually be playable until the river unless the board pairs and there’s a lot of action.  A three or four-flush on the board usually means trouble if you’re drawing odd to a straight.

  Most of the hands in this category are usually clear-cut calls, checks, bets and folds for you.  As an easy rule of thumb, the final size of the pot has to be at least $ 80 to justify drawing to an inside straight after the flop.  And that’s if, in your judgment, the hand will stand up if you do hit it.