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Specific Poker Hands

How Not To Fall in Love with Specific Poker Hands

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by APT Poker Coach Kenna James

It’s so easy to become enamored with specific poker hands. I have a friend who just adores 10-7 suited. You probably know someone who likes to play their birthday or perhaps 6-2♣ because they won a big pot with it once upon a time. Everyone has their favorite hands.

On the other hand, some people won’t play certain hands like AJ or AQ, “because I always lose with it”. This is really two sides of the same coin. The person picking favorite hands is not looking at the strength of these hands objectively. Rather, they’re attaching past results to a present time experience. Bringing past emotional considerations and attaching them to present time decisions is not a helpful thing to do. 

The Doyle Brunson

A great example of this is the Doyle Brunson (10-2). Doyle won with Ten-Deuce in the World Series of Poker in back-to-back years (1976 and 1977). And now all kinds of people enjoy playing “The Brunson.” If you listen to some of Doyle’s later interviews, however, he says that he’s lost more money with that hand than with any other hand he has played.  

In those two WSOP moments, Brunson was extremely fortunate. He was way behind in 1976 when he shoved on the flop with his 10-2 on an A-J-10 board – the other guy had top 2 pair! Brunson went runner-runner 2 on the turn and 10 on the river to win. In 1977, he was outflopped, bottom two pair to top pair, but both players slow-played to the turn where a 2 came, giving Brunson a better two pair. This time he got all in ahead but only because of a very lucky turn card (for the record Brunson boated the river with a 10 again!). Suffice to say, expecting to get turn and river cards like Brunson did in consecutive WSOPs would be the path to financial ruin. A great story that exemplifies that even the great players can become emotionally attached to unprofitable hands.

How to Avoid Specific Poker Hands You Shouldn’t Be Playing and Fold Hands You Should

The first step is to realize that you are attaching significance to a symbolic item and that is clouding your rational judgment.  The next step is to learn to manage both the significance and your attachment to these particular hands.  Please remember a great hand, or a horrible hand, or your favorite hand are all statements of significance that compromise technique. We need to understand that the whole idea of “favorite hands” is not going to work for us in the long term.

Remember, the value of any hand is based on your situation.  As my friend T.J, Cloutier said, “Sometimes jacks are gold, other times they’re toilet paper.” Your job as a professional is to know the difference.

Almost any hand has a right time and a horrible time to play it. K-J♣ might be good to play from middle position early in a tournament when stack depths are deep and it’s a tight passive table. In a solid cash game, I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole in early position or even middle position. It’s not the hand that’s the problem, it’s a hand coupled with a situation.

Remember guys, a hand is not “good” or “bad”.  Given the right situation, any hand can be playable.  I don’t care how bad it is: 8♣-5 even has value in the right situation. To make profitable decisions, you have to know both the pot odds you’re being offered, and the equity of your hand. 

Four Key Factors in Evaluating Whether to Play a Hand

Deciding whether to play a hand requires seeing your situation clearly and being able to define it objectively.  Think Joe Friday in Dragnet – “Just the facts, Ma’am” is the right approach.  Separate the facts from your personal evaluation.  Weigh all your pros and cons.   Don’t let your emotions get in the way.  Specifically, consider these four factors:

  1. Stack depth (both yours and that of your opponents)
  2. Your table position
  3. The betting action so far
  4. Your opponent’s profile (personality)

You can play a wider range when your stack is deeper, you are in position, and your opponents have been passive. If you are short-stacked, out of position, and there is an aggressive player behind you…it’s time to fold that 6-2!

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Kenna James

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