5 Underrated Poker Hands You Need to Play More Often

5 Underrated Poker Hands You Need to Play More Often

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

In no-limit hold’em, most of the money you’ll make will come from strong premium hands, namely strong pocket pairs, Ace-King and so on.

These strong hands basically play themselves, and it’s fairly obvious they’ll be your most profitable long-term winners.

However, there are other often overlooked hands that can also help your bottom line significantly if you play them the right way.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at 5 such hands that you probably should play more often.

Let’s start with the most underrated premium hand, the pocket Jacks.

1. Pocket Jacks

Even though pocket Jacks are a premium hand, they still seem to get a lot of hate. Of all premium hands in no-limit hold’em, pocket Jacks seem to be the most under-appreciated.

In fact, some players go so far to claim that pocket Jacks aren’t a winning hand at all, and they flat out avoid playing it altogether. Or at least they get anxious when they get it, instead of getting excited.

It’s true that pocket Jacks can be tricky to play at times, but they will still be one of your most profitable hands over the long run if you play them the right way.

One of the reasons that people don’t like pocket Jacks is that they seem to forget that pocket Jacks are a premium hand, and it should be played as such.

5 Underrated Poker Hands You Need to Play More

This means playing pocket Jacks aggressively, especially preflop, where your hand is likely to be ahead of your opponents.

A lot of players try to get tricky with pocket Jacks and play them passively preflop (i.e. calling instead of betting and raising), hoping to hit a set post flop and trap their opponents.

When you play a pocket pair with the intention of hitting a set post flop and winning a big pot, this is referred to as set mining.

Set mining can be a very profitable strategy, but it’s better suited to medium and small pocket pairs, and not a premium pocket pair like pocket Jacks.

There’s two reasons for this: number one, you won’t hit your set nearly as often as you might hope for.

If you have a pocket pair, the chance of flopping a set or a stronger hand is only about 12%.

This means you won’t flop a set almost 9 out of 10 times, so if your strategy relies only on set mining, you’ll be bleeding money over the long run.

Another reason not to set mine with pocket Jacks is the fact that pocket Jacks are a strong hand in and of themselves. 

This means they often don’t even need to improve post flop in order for you to have the strongest hand.

If you have a strong hand, the best strategy is usually to value bet it heavily.

You are betting for value when you’re looking to get called by weaker hands. This is the opposite of bluffing, where you are trying to get weaker hands than yours to fold.

And if you are dealt pocket Jacks, you can value bet them quite comfortably since there aren’t many hands that are ahead of you.

The only hands that are stronger than pocket Jacks are other premium pairs, i.e. Aces, Kings and Queens.

Pocket Jacks are even a slight favourite against Ace-King suited, the strongest drawing hand in no-limit hold’em.

Against Ace-King suited, pocket Jacks have 54% hand equity.

This is not a huge margin by any means, but poker is a game of razor-thin margins anyway, and small margins like this add up tremendously over the long run.

To give credit to the criticism, pocket Jacks can be tricky to play, as they won’t flop an overpair as often as other premium pocket pairs.

An overpair is a pocket pair that’s stronger than the strongest possible pair on a certain board. 

For example, on a flop like Q75, pocket Aces and pocket Kings are an overpair.

The chance of flopping an overpair or stronger with pocket Jacks is 43%.

But even if you don’t flop an overpair with pocket Jacks, not all is lost. 

If you followed the previous tip about playing pocket Jacks aggressively preflop, you can still often take down the pot with a simple continuation bet (or a c-bet for short).

A c-bet is a bet made by the previous street’s aggressor.

If you are the preflop aggressor, you are perceived to have the strongest hand, so you can continue applying the pressure post flop.

Check out my other article on how to play pocket Jacks like a pro.

Underrated Poker Hand Example #1

You are dealt JJ in the CO (cutoff). 

You open-raise to 3x. 

Villain calls from the SB (small blind).

Pot: 7 BB

Flop: A83

Villain checks. 

You: ???

You should c-bet 3.5 BB.

Just because you didn’t flop an overpair doesn’t mean you should give up the pot altogether.

In this spot, a c-bet is basically mandatory, since you are playing in position and have the initiative.

Since you are the preflop aggressor, you can credibly represent any number of Ax hands. 

What’s more, the board is bone-dry, meaning there’s very few ways villain could have connected with it in some meaningful way.

The drier the board, the more inclined you should be to make a c-bet.

For more info on how to read different flop textures like a pro, check out Crushing the Microstakes.

From the villain’s perspective, they’ll have a hard time with continuing the hand in this spot. 

Even if they call your c-bet, you can still keep applying the pressure on future streets and take down an even bigger pot.

Check out Nathan's recent video for 5 more hands you should never fold.

2. Ace-Five Suited

Ace-Five suited, as well as other small suited Aces are obviously an underdog against other Ax hands, but they can be insanely profitable if you play them the right way.

Suited Aces have an insane nuts potential, i.e. the ability to make the strongest possible flush. This means you don’t have to worry about the reverse implied odds when if you manage to hit your flush.

Implied odds refer to the amount of money you can potentially win on later streets if your draw completes. Conversely, the reverse implied odds refer to amount of money you stand to lose if your draw completes, but your opponent ends up having an even stronger hand.

Unlike other suited hands, suited Aces are always drawing to the nuts flush, i.e. the strongest possible flush. 

This makes suited Aces great semibluffing hands. 

You are semibluffing when you don’t have a strong made hand yet, but will have the best hand if your draw completes on later streets.

Semibluffing is usually preferable to stone-cold bluffing (when the only way for you to win the hand is getting your opponents to fold) because you have some hand equity to fall back on in case your bluff gets called.

With semibluffing, you can either win the pot outright by making your opponents fold, or potentially take down an even bigger pot later on if you get called.

The stronger your draw, the more inclined you should be to play it fast (i.e. bet and raise). 

This is especially the case with nuts flush draws. If you just play your flush draw passively, you may not get any action later on when your flush completes. 

Flush draws are fairly easy to spot, so your opponents may be less inclined to put extra money into the pot if they see a potential flush draw completing.

Also, by playing your flush draw passively, you’re giving yourself less ways to win the pot. 

You can only win the pot if your flush draw completes, and in no-limit hold’em, you’re going to miss most of your draws.

By betting and raising, on the other hand, you can win the pot outright even without a strong made hand. 

Remember, you don’t need to hit your outs if all your opponents fold.

Check out my other article on how to play flush draws for more info on the topic.

Suited Aces are also great light 3-betting candidates preflop due to their blocker power and their solid equity vs big pocket pairs.

5 Underrated Poker Hands You Need to Play More

A light 3-bet preflop is a re-raise against another player’s open-raise. If you’re light 3-betting (i.e. 3-bet bluffing), you’re trying to get your opponents to fold and win the pot outright preflop.

Incorporating a light 3-bet in your arsenal is a great way to boost your profitability without relying only on strong value hands (like pocket Aces, pocket Kings etc.) because those strong value hands don’t come as often as you might hope for.

By making an occasional light 3-bet, you’ll also keep your opponents constantly guessing at your hand strength. 

If you only 3-bet with strong value hands, you’re going to become fairly predictable to anyone paying even remote attention. 

By incorporating a light 3-bet, on the other hand, you’ll always keep your opponents on their toes.

Another benefit of suited Aces is their blocker power.

A blocker is a card in your hand that reduces the number of strong combinations in your opponent’s range. For example, if you hold an Ace in your hand, it’s less likely your opponent is holding a strong hand like pocket Aces, Ace-King, Ace-Queen and so on.

This makes them more likely to fold to your light 3-bet instead of fighting back, which obviously makes your light 3-betting more +EV.

Even if your light 3-bet gets called, your hand still has a lot of playability postflop, so you can often keep applying the pressure and take down an even bigger pot down the line.

Underrated Poker Hand Example #2

You are dealt A5 in the BB (big blind). 

Villain open-raises to 3x from the BU (button). Another player calls from the SB (small blind).

You: ???

You should 3-bet to 12x.

This is a great spot for a so-called squeeze play. 

A squeeze is a 3-bet preflop where there has been an open-raiser and one or more callers before you.

If there had only been an open-raise before you, your 3-bet would not be considered a squeeze play.

The goal of the squeeze play is to win the pot outright preflop by making both the open raiser and the caller(s) fold.

For more info on the squeeze play, check out my article on the 5 insanely useful advanced poker strategies.

Most people still don't even know most of these!

Anyways, in this spot, squeezing is more preferable to flat calling. 

If you just flat call in this position, you will be playing a multiway pot, out of position, without the range advantage and with an easily dominated hand.

A dominated hand is the one that’s unlikely to win against another hand due to an inferior kicker. 

So if you hold A5, your hand is dominated by a lot of stronger Ax hands.

By 3-bet squeezing, on the other hand, you will often win the pot outright, because you’re attacking loose and weak ranges of both of your opponents, which often can’t stand the pressure of a 3-bet.

Even if your 3-bet gets called, you’ll see the flop as the preflop aggressor, so you can continue applying the pressure postflop. 

Your hand also has great playability, since it can make strong combinations like straights and flushes.

For dozens more advanced poker strategies just like this, check out the Microstakes Playbook.

Learn All the Hands I Recommend the Most (Free Preflop Charts)

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3. Ace Jack Suited

Ace-Jack suited is not a premium hand by any means, but it can still be quite profitable if you play it the right way.

Like other suited Aces, Ace-Jack suited has a great nuts potential, with the ability to make the nut flush, as well as the nut straight.

It also dominates a lot of other Ax hands with a decent kicker. 

In no-limit hold’em, the most common hand combination you’re going to have is a one-pair hand, so knowing how to play one-pair hands is very important to your overall profitability.

If you’re playing against recreational players, aka the fish, Ace-Jack is usually in pretty good shape, as recreational players tend to overplay just about any Ax hand, whether it’s suited or not.

They also have trouble folding their hand when they connect with the board in any way. This is especially the case if they happen to have a top pair hand. 

In that scenario, they’ll usually get quite sticky with it and refuse to fold it, even if they have a mediocre to weak kicker.

Against this type of players, you can often extract a lot of value with a top pair, good kicker, since recreational players tend to overvalue top pair hands, regardless of the kicker.

While you probably won’t be able to get 3 streets worth of value with only a one-pair hand against more skilled opponents, you can often do so against fishy opponents, and you can often even take their whole stack.

Check out Nathan's recent video on how to beat fishy players for more info on the topic.

Another benefit of a hand like Ace-Jack suited is the aforementioned blocker power, as it blocks a lot of strong hands in your opponent’s range, namely pocket Aces, pocket Jacks, Ace-King etc.

When it comes to 3-betting with Ace-Jack preflop, it’s important to exercise caution, since you often won’t be able to get stronger hands to fold. 

It’s also questionable if you can 3-bet for value, because there aren’t many weaker hands that may want to give you action.

This is something that all good advanced poker training programs focus on these days, profitable 3-betting ranges.

The exception would be playing against recreational players who tend to call 3-bets fairly liberally, and would continue with hands that Ace-Jack dominates, namely other weaker Ax hands.

Even if you miss the flop with the hand like AJs, you will typically still have at least some hand equity to fall back on. 

This means you can keep applying the pressure and either look to win the pot by making your opponents fold, or by improving on later streets.

Underrated Poker Hand Example #3

Effective stack size: 100 BB 

You are dealt AJ in the CO (cutoff). You open-raise to 3x.

Villain calls from the SB (small blind).

Pot: 7 BB

Flop: T63

Villain checks. You c-bet 3.5 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 14 BB

Turn: K

Villain checks. 

You: ???

You should c-bet half-pot again (double barrel).

This is a great spot for a double barrel bluff. Let’s break down the action street by street.

Preflop you have a standard open-raise with Ace-Jack suited. You have no reads on the villain yet, so not much to go on for now.

You miss the flop, but you still have a ton of hand equity. You have a backdoor flush draw, a backdoor straight draw, as well as two overcards.

A backdoor draw means you need both turn and river cards to complete your draw.

You’re also playing in position and you have the initiative, so a c-bet in this spot is a no-brainer.

Your hand doesn’t improve on the turn, but you do pick up a ton of equity. Now you have an inside straight draw, as well as a flush draw.

Also, the King is a scare card on this board, which makes double barreling all the more compelling.

A scare card is a card that favours your perceived range, while making your opponent’s range relatively weaker.

In this example, you theoretically have a lot of Kx hands in your range, so the King on the turn favours your range. Conversely, if your opponent has a pair of Tens, now his hand got relatively weaker.

All these factors make this a textbook double barrel bluffing opportunity. 

You can either win the pot with an Ace-high hand, or potentially improve to the nuts on the river, and take down an even bigger pot.

A lot of the situations you encounter at the felt are way less clear cut than the examples above. 

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4. Pocket Nines

Pocket Nines are another under-appreciated hand that often gets overlooked. It’s not a premium pocket pair by any means, but it will still be one of your long-term winners if you play it right.

Granted, pocket Nines won’t hit an overpair on the flop nearly as often as stronger pocket pairs.

The chance of flopping an overpair or better with pocket Nines is about 21%.

That’s way less impressive than the stronger pocket pairs, but it will still happen some of the time.

And if you’re lucky enough to hit a set with pocket Nines, your hand will be in great shape indeed.

Pocket Nines will also connect well with a lot of different boards, so they have decent playability postflop, whether or not they make an overpair on the flop.

To be fair, pocket Nines can be tricky to play when an overcard comes on the board, so you can’t go too crazy with them if you don’t flop the mighty set.

But one thing that pocket Nines do have going for them is their showdown value.

Hands with showdown value are hands that aren’t strong enough to value bet with, but can often win the pot unimproved when they get to showdown.

Hands with showdown value serve great as bluff catchers.

As the name suggests, bluff catching means calling down your opponents when you suspect they have a lot of bluffing hands in their range.

Underrated Poker Hand Example #4

You are dealt 99 on the BU (button). A loose and aggressive (LAG) player open-raises to 3x from the CO (cutoff). 

You call. 

Pot: 7.5 BB

Flop: K85

Villain bets 3.5 BB

You: ???

You should call.

A lot of players flat out give up their hand unless they manage to hit an overpair or a set with their pocket pair, but this means forfeiting a ton of hand equity, and consequently missing out on a lot of value.

In this example, you didn’t manage to hit your set, but that’s no reason to give up the hand altogether.

The flop texture is fairly dry, and against an aggressive player like in this example, you should sometimes call them down with a wider range, otherwise you’re letting them know they can just push you out of the pot any chance they get.

By calling them down wider, you’re keeping them in check and letting them know that barreling into you with impunity will prove costly.

Your hand is also comfortably ahead against a lot of random hands they could be light c-betting with, so it serves as a great bluff catcher.

A light c-bet is a continuation bet made with the intention of getting your opponent to fold. This is the opposite of a value c-bet, where you want your opponent to call you with weaker hands.

For more elite poker strategies like this, check out my 5 advanced cash game strategies nobody is talking about these days.

5. Six-Five Suited

Suited connectors like Six-Five suited are great speculative hands that can be extremely profitable. 

This has to do with their great playability postflop and the ability to connect with a lot of different board textures.

Suited connectors have a great nuts potential, because they can make strong hand combinations like straights and flushes.

Still, it’s important to remember that suited connectors are speculative hands, meaning they need to improve postflop in order to win a big pot.

Once they do connect with the board, however, you’ll often be able to totally stack your opponents. 

Middling suited connectors are usually well-concealed when they connect with the board, meaning your opponent will have a hard time putting you on your exact hand.

Example Hand

For example, say you are dealt 65 

And the board is:


You have the nut straight, and your hand strength is well-concealed, meaning you’ll be able to get action by a lot of weaker hands.

One great advantage of a hand like Six-Five suited is that it connects well with a variety of different boards, so you’ll often have decent hand equity when you play it.

This is important especially if you decide to 3-bet it preflop as a bluff.

3-betting a hand like Six-Five suited may seem unorthodox, but it’s a great way to balance your 3-betting range. 

If you only ever 3-bet strong hands like pocket Aces, pocket Kings, Ace-King and so on, you may become overly predictable and you won’t be able to get a lot of action with your strong value hands.

By throwing in an unorthodox hand like Six-Five suited in your 3-betting range, you’ll keep your opponents on their toes at all times, because they’ll always have to guess at your hand strength.

Another benefit of 3-betting with speculative hands is that if you manage to smash the flop, your opponent will have no way of knowing it, because they won’t expect that type of hand in your range.

They’ll probably think you’re bluffing and call you down with all sorts of weaker hands.

However, it’s important to remember that you don’t want to get out of line and 3-bet just about any random junk hand just for the sake of being unpredictable.

If you do decide to 3-bet light, you should choose hands that have some sort of playability post flop in case your light 3-bet gets called.

You also shouldn’t 3-bet with speculative hands 100% of the time, because that would also obviously beat the purpose of trying to be “unreadable.”

Another caveat: balancing your ranges is only necessary if you’re playing against skilled players that are actually paying attention. 

Against recreational players, forget all about balance, and keep things as straightforward as possible.

For more info on how to properly balance your ranges against more skilled opponents, check out Modern Small Stakes.

5 Underrated Poker Hands You Need to Play More - Summary

To sum up, you don't need to study a ton of advanced poker training in order to know the best hands to play.

But some are more under-rated than others.

Here are 5 under-appreciated, yet potentially very profitable poker hands, in no particular order of (under) appreciation:

1. Pocket Jacks

By far the most underappreciated premium hand in no limit hold-em. While it can be tricky to play at times, it should still be one of your most profitable hands overall, behind only other stronger premium pocket pairs.

2. Ace-Five suited

Like other small suited Aces, A5s has an insane nuts potential, with the ability to make both straights and the nut flush. Small suited Aces also have blocker power, so they serve as great light 3-bet and 4-bet candidates preflop.

3. Ace-Jack suited

AJs is not a premium hand by any means, but it has great nuts potential, due to its ability to make the nut straight and the nut flush. It also has a decent kicker, so it will often get action by a lot of weaker Ax hands.

4. Pocket Nines

Another underrated pocket pair, pocket Nines can be very profitable if you play them right. It won’t flop an overpair too often, but still has decent playability postflop. 

It also serves as a great bluff catcher due to its decent showdown value.

5. Six-Five suited

Suited connectors have great playability postflop, with their good nuts potential, as well as the ability to connect with the variety of different boards. 

Still, you need to exercise caution when playing them, as they come with the risk of making only the second strongest hand, which is the worst hand to have in no-limit hold’em.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $1000+ per month in small stakes games, get a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

5 Underrated Poker Hands You Need to Play More Often