Analyzing Trouble Hands

One of the reasons for the recent explosion in the popularity of Texas Hold 'Em is the idea that "any two cards can win." This popular quote is based on the idea that even the worst starting hand in poker—the mighty 72 offsuit—will beat the best starting hand (pocket Aces) 13% of the time if both hands go to the showdown. Although it's true that no single starting hand is that big of an underdog in hold 'em, it doesn't mean that weak starting hands can consistently be played profitably, even by the best players in the world. In our experience, we've found that even experienced players overestimate the strength of many starting hands. We call these hands "trouble hands" since they usually end up costing players money over the long run.

In order to determine which starting hands consistently cost people money, we examined the potential profit of each starting hand over 122 million hands of "real" data. PokerRoom.com provides the expected value (the average profit in number of big bets) for every hand played on the site (see http://www.pokerroom.com/games/evstats/totalStats.php7ordeFvalue for a complete listing). Expected Value (EV) is the most important concept in any analysis of games of chance, and represents the average amount one "expects" to win for a given bet if that bet is repeated many times. For example, an American roulette wheel has 38 equally possible outcomes. A bet placed on a single number pays 35-to-1. So the expected value of the profit resulting from a $1 bet on a single number is, considering all 38 possible outcomes: ( -1 x 37/38 ) + ( 35 x 1/38 ), which is about -0.0526. Therefore one expects, on average, to lose over five cents for every dollar bet. We used PokerRoom's expected value data to determine the hands that players are losing the most money with. The following section describes common trouble hands that should be avoided under normal circumstances.

1. Small and Middle Offsuit Aces (A2o-ATo)

• It's somewhat of a surprise that as a group, the hands with the lowest Expected Value (the hands that lost the most big bets on average) were offsuit aces.

Cards

EV

A2

-0.15

A3

-0.13

A4

-0.12

A5

-0.12

A6

-0.12

A7

-0.1

A8

-0.07

A9

-0.03

AT

0.08

72

-0.12

These statistics show that players are losing more money with their middle aces than they are with the worst possible hand in poker, 72 offsuit. One reason for this is because many players overestimate the strength of a naked ace, and often overplay the hand, throwing away many big bets in the process.

Are you one of these players? If you see a lot of Ax offsuit hands in your list of biggest losers, then you've found a leak, and need to be more careful with these hands. For the beginning player, we recommend throwing all of these hands in the muck, with the exception of ATo and A9o, which can SOMETIMES be played profitably in loose-passive games.

2. Small and Middle Suited Aces (A2s-ATs)

• Just as many players overplay small and medium offsuit aces, it is common to see people overvaluing and overplaying small and medium suited aces. Unlike their offsuit counterparts, suited Aces are excellent hands in loose games, since they can win monster pots by making the nut flush. What most players don't realize is that the combined probability of flopping two of your suit for a 4-flush or three of your suit for a flush is only 11.79%. There is also a small probability (2%) of flopping two pair, which can win many big bets from a player holding an ace with a bigger kicker (if the board does not pair higher than your second pair). The chance of flopping a flush draw, two pair, or better is almost 14%, so you can see why suited aces are powerful hands in a loose game, where you're likely to win a big pot if you hit your hand. We are getting 6.4:1 odds to flop two pair or a draw to the nut flush (or better), so if we are likely to get three or more callers, the implied odds justify our call. If the pot is going to be less than three handed, we are unlikely to have the proper odds to call with our small suited Ace.

If you see a suited ace near the top of your list of losing hands, click on it to bring up the individual hands in the bottom pane. Click the "Net" column twice to reverse sort the hands by net profit. The rightmost column, "Winning Hand," describes the hand that beat your Axs. If you find yourself getting outkicked often, then you may want to adjust your play on the flop with suited Aces. We recommend playing them like small pocket pairs—if you don't flop a four flush or two pair, throw them in the muck.

Cards

EV

A2s

0

A3s

0.02

A4s

0.06

A5s

0.08

A6s

0.03

A7s

0.08

A8s

0.1

A9s

0.18

ATs

0.33

• Cold calling raises with offsuit face cards is a common mistake by the typical low limit player. The threat of domination (the situation where the raiser shares one of our cards but has a better second card, e.g. the raiser's KQ dominates our KJ) is too great to make cold calling with offsuit face cards profitable. A dominated hand only has three outs, so hands that risk domination should be played with caution.

Cards EV

KJ 0.07

QJ 0.03

KT 0.01

The statistics show that these hands are marginal winners at best. To make things worse, they are difficult to play post flop: even if we flop top pair, playing the hand aggressively will be expensive if our hand is dominated. We recommend playing these hands only in loose games where the pot has not yet been raised.

4. Medium and Small Suited Connectors (32s, 43s, 54s, 65s, 76s, 87s, 98s, T9s)

• Another common mistake made by beginning low-limit players is overvaluing the medium and small suited connectors. The odds of flopping a flush or straight draw with these hands makes them extremely valuable in loose-passive games where many players are seeing the flop. However, these hands are extremely sensitive to table conditions, and are unprofitable in all but the most loose-passive games.

Cards

EV

32 s

-0.16

43 s

-0.13

54 s

-0.08

65 s

-0.07

76 s

-0.03

87 s

-0.02

98 s

0

T9 s

0.05

The above statistics show that all of the suited connectors except for 98s and T9s are losing hands on average. If your list of losing hands contains some of these medium suited connectors, we recommend dumping these hands preflop except on the most loose-passive tables. We want to see flops with these hands only from late position when there are many limpers ahead of us, and it will only cost us a single bet to see the flop.

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