Identifying Hands You Should and Shouldn’t Play

We’ve already shown the hands you should play earlier in the chapter, and everything outside that list shouldn’t be played. It’s time to look at some more-specific examples.

Probable winners

There are a few big hands that when you have them, you have a very good chance to walk all the way through the hand with a winner. A-A, K-K, and Q- Q all fall in this category. But always be aware that the fewer players at the table, the more likely you are to win.

Big Slick (ace-king) is a great starting hand, more so if it’s suited, but it is purely a drawing hand.


On average, once every 220 hands you’ll be dealt American Airlines — it is special enough of a hand to merit its own discussion.

If you’re dealt A-A at a table and everyone calls all the way through, the odds are less than 50 percent that you’ll win the hand. This is part of the reason it’s important that you not only raise with this hand early to drop a few competitors out but also be aware that it’s vulnerable. Yes, it’s true that your raise will let people know you have a hot hand, but it may prevent a few less suckouts.

Pocket aces get beaten (cracked) all the time and are particularly vulnerable to people with smaller pairs catching trips as well as flushes in unmatching suits and lower straights.

The beauty of the hand is that it’s the best possible starter. The bad thing is that it’s not a very good drawing hand. There are only two more aces in the deck and for straights or flushes you have to have four community cards of that type.

Be happy when you have pocket rockets and don’t be afraid to bet them. Just be aware that they’re vulnerable and sometimes they will be beaten.

If you get in a hand that’s starting to look bad, you can help dampen your losses by checking and calling. Or wet them down even more by getting out altogether.

Interesting side note: If you know, for certain, that your opponent has A-A, the best possible hand you can have in defense is a 6-7 in the suit that is not the same as either ace. Such a combination has flush possibilities, lots of straights, and caps any 2-3-4-5 community cards for the wheel play.

Quite possible losers

Small pairs are very dangerous. Especially on lower-limit tables, it’s common to see people over-bet hands such as 5-5 and 6-6.

There also seems to be an infatuation with pocket Jacks and the only reason we can think of is that it has a lot of paint on it so it looks better than it is. In fact, if you’re playing J-J against two other players with one having a king-X, the other having a queen-X (Xs being any card less than jack), and the players play to the end, the pocket jacks have about a 50 percent chance of winning. And you’re going to be running into hands that are much better than that.

Gapped connectors can also cause you problems, especially ones with triple gaps such as 6-10. The problem with this hand is the only way you’re going to make it straighten out with both cards is to end up with a community play of 7-8-9. If someone is playing 10-jack here, you’re dead meat.

Small suited connectors have similar problems. A little diamond mine like 2♦ 3♦ can be beaten by any two higher diamonds. Worse, you want to see the community cards come out with exactly three diamonds — because if there are four, anyone with another diamond beats you automatically. Gross.

Again, keep an eye on players at the table. If someone is playing extremely limited hands under the gun and you see him raise, you should be folding any hand that is not A-A, K-K, or A-K; because that’s the only hand he would be playing out of that position.

Borderline hands

If you’re playing any of the hands toward the bottom of Table 2-1, you’re definitely down into borderline territory.

There’s an interesting irony here because those hands are all much stronger against a fewer number of players, simply because they don’t have to beat more people. But they pay better if you’re up against multiple players.

The answer to this is conundrum is to go ahead and play them in both situations, but the flop is where the truth will start to be told. If you’re up against multiple players, you must flop extremely well. If you’re up against only one opponent, you may be able to bet in such a way that your opponent thinks you flopped well.

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