Think of the poker hands that have caused you the most [delete as appropriate] confusion/pain/agony/trauma/trouble since you started playing No Limit Texas Hold'em. Now, everyone will have their own individual voodoo hands but there are a few common holdings that regularly come up in the conversation.
Join us as we go through two of the most villainous hands in poker – and explain how you can turn them around to work in your favour…
The Dreaded Ace-Queen
Why is A-Q such a problem?
It's always nice to look down and see you've been dealt A-Q – it's a very good hand. However, it's not a great hand, and it can often lead to situations where you are dominated by Ace-King whenever the pot gets too big.
How can you avoid trouble with A-Q?
A-Q is a wonderful hand pre-flop in many circumstances. If you're in a tournament and have 25 big blinds or less it's almost always going to be profitable to look to get all your chips in pre-flop. You could be even deeper stacked than that – in a cash game or tournament – and happily play a big pre-flop pot if you're up against a very loose or aggressive opponent.
The problems with A-Q come when you start to treat it the same as you would A-K or pocket Queens and voluntarily play a huge pot pre-flop. When you start jamming 100 big blinds (a full cash game buy-in on PokerStars) or an above average tournament stack with A-Q the chances of running into a hand that dominates you go up considerably.
There's a fine line to walk here. A-Q is definitely strong enough that you must be looking to raise and 3-bet pre-flop much of the time. However, you sometimes need to exercise caution too. Instead of being so keen to get all-in perhaps just call a raise or 3-bet instead. This way you will sometimes be the one dominating your opponent when he holds a weaker Ace, and if one hits the flop you will have a good chance of winning a big pot.
Those Itty Bitty Small Pairs
Why are small pocket pairs such a problem?
Small pocket pairs offer up a different set of problems from A-Q. The problem with 22-77 is not that you're likely to lose a big pot, but that you're very likely to lose a ton of small pots over and over again. In time, these can add up to be a substantial drain on your PokerStars bankroll.
How can you avoid trouble with small pairs?
The main reason a lot of players get excited about small pairs is the approximately 12% chance of flopping a set (and then hopefully winning a massive pot!). While flopping a set is definitely one of the most exciting things in poker, the stats tell you that this doesn't happen around 88% of the time you see a flop with a small pair. If you're only ever winning pots when you do hit a set then the maths simply don't add up.
There are ways that you can make small pairs profitable, even when you 'miss'. The first thing you need to do is to change your mindset and realise that small pairs can still have a lot of value even when you don't hit a set.
Let's say you call a raise with 6-6 and see a K-5-2 flop. If you face a continuation bet in this spot there is still a good chance that you are ahead – you're only losing to a King, higher pocket pair or a flopped set – so you have to at least call and see the turn. You'd be surprised how often opponents then shut down. It can easily be checked through to showdown and your Sixes emerge the winner against something like Ace-high. Another option might even be to raise the flop. By doing this you deny your opponent the opportunity to see the turn or river (assuming they don't have a strong hand) and may even get them to fold something stronger than Sixes, such as 8-8 for example. Of course, if you do face further bets on the turn or river there's now a strong chance you are behind, giving you the information you need to make an easy fold.
Another great tactic with small pairs is to mix it up pre-flop by throwing in the odd 3-bet instead of calling. Do this and it's going to be hard for your opponent to work out what you have, giving you more opportunities to take the pot down post-flop if called. If there's a high card on the board you can bet and credibly represent it, whereas if the flop is low your pocket pair might legitimately be the best hand.