Poker School: Texas Hold’em Trouble Hands

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In this segment we’d like to take a look at some of the starting hands which cause problems for beginning and intermediate players, even though their strength cannot be disputed. The hands are AK and AQ, and the reason why they trouble many new players is that they look so good yet often come up short. Many may ask, why is this? It all comes down to how you bet these cards, so here’s a brief explanation of what to do when dealt these cards.

The reason that AK frustrates many players is that even though it is a raising and reraising hand (especially when suited), it’s going to miss the flop approximately two-thirds of the time. This means that once you’ve raised and established your presence as a likely favourite (and felt the secret thrill of collecting another pot), the flop comes out with something totally unhelpful, like Jd 9h 7c. In typical fashion, two players before you check the pot, another player raises, and you suddenly feel that the advantage you had enjoyed a minute ago has completely disappeared. Or, even more dangerously, you have in fact flopped an Ace, but the other two cards are a pair or a connected same-suit duo. Now, two of your opponents have raised and show no signs of backing down. What should you do here?

What you must understand about AK is that it’s a strong hand, but it’s by no means a lock to win. You don’t raise because you know you’ve got it made, but rather you raise because at this point you’re the odds-on favourite to win. You want to capitalize on this position and make the other players add as much as possible to the pot until you lose this advantage, potentially after the flop comes out. So, raise with the understanding that as soon as you appear to have lost the nut hand, you need to call off the dogs and either start calling bets or fold entirely. If you flop a top pair but there’s nothing else on the board that will improve your hand, then you’re looking at very slim odds. In this case, you have only two outs (the cards on the turn and river which will make your hand a winner) to make your set (three of a kind), and even that won’t top a straight or a flush.

This is exactly why you’ll often hear players moan about AK, or “Big Slick” as it’s often referred to. For many, it’s the quintessential hand for losing big pots and winning small ones. Some will claim that it’s better to limp in with AK, rather than raise pre-flop, but this is not true. As a starting hand, AK is very powerful and your fortune should be exploited. By raising you will scare off many, and the fewer players you face, the stronger your position becomes. Callers will be forced to pay a premium to stay in, and the flop will give you an indication of whether or not to continue.

The same holds true for AQ, but obviously here you need be mindful of potentially stronger hands, particularly when your Ace flops. If an opponent raises you, he might be the one dealing with the questions which arise when holding “Big Slick”.

In sum, don’t fear AQ and AK. They are strong opening hands which win more often than lose, but at the same time, don’t expect too much. Raise on them, and let the board dictate your following actions. Good luck and have fun!

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