5 Poker Hands Everybody Screws Up (Fix This Now)

5 Poker Hands Everybody Screws Up (Fix This Now)

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

Some poker hands basically play themselves, and others are a bit trickier.

While there’s no single right way to play a certain hand, there are some common mistakes a lot of players make with certain hands, which costs them a lot of money over the long run.

In this article, we’ll take a look at 5 hands a lot of players tend to screw up in one way or another, and what you can do to prevent similar mistakes.

1. Pocket Jacks

Pocket Jacks are a premium hand, and it should be one of your most profitable hands over the long run, only behind other premium pocket pairs.

However, a lot of players tend to misplay pocket Jacks. While they can be tricky to play at times, it’s worth remembering that it’s still a premium poker hand, and it should be played as such.

This means that you should usually play pocket Jacks aggressively, both preflop and postflop, unless there’s a good reason not to.

By playing pocket Jacks aggressively, you’re likely to encounter less marginal situations in which you’re not entirely sure what to do.

Pocket Jacks can be tricky to play because you often don’t know where you stand with them, i.e. whether or not you have the best hand.

The solution is to assume that you have the best hand unless proven otherwise.

In fact, this mindset should be the cornerstone of your overall winning poker strategy.

In no-limit hold’em, it’s actually very hard to make a strong hand. So when you’re dealt a premium poker hand like pocket Jacks, it’s safe to assume that you have the best hand most of the time.

Premium poker hands

This means that you should build up the pot preflop with and see the flop as a preflop aggressor.

Being the preflop aggressor gives you an opportunity to make a continuation bet (or c-bet for short) on the flop.

The preflop aggressor is perceived to have the strongest hand on the flop.

This is where a lot of players make the mistake with pocket Jacks: they don’t play it nearly as aggressively preflop, which leads to awkward, marginal spots postflop.

By being the preflop aggressor, on the other hand, you get to dictate the tempo of the hand, instead of merely waiting to hit a favourable flop.

Example Hand #1

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

A tight and aggressive player open-raises to 3x from the CO (cutoff).

A loose and passive fish calls from the BU (button).

You: ???

You should 3-bet to 12 BB.

This is a great spot for a squeeze play.

A squeeze is a reraise against another player’s open raise when there has been one or more callers preflop.

It’s called a squeeze because a) you’re trying to “squeeze out” the dead money, and b) the players are left squeezed between two other players, which puts them at a disadvantage.

A squeeze is a great way to either build up the pot, or to take down the pot preflop right away.

In this spot, flat calling instead of 3-betting (i.e. reraising) will put you at a terrible disadvantage postflop.

First of all, you will play without the initiative, meaning you won’t have the opportunity to make a c-bet. You will also play without the range advantage.

The preflop aggressor has the range advantage, meaning they theoretically have more strong hands in their range than the preflop caller.

You will also play the rest of the hand out of position against not one, but two opponents.

Playing out of position means being the last to act in a betting round, which is statistically less profitable than playing in position.

If you’re using a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4, you can check these stats yourself.

One of the reasons pocket Jacks are tricky to play is because they will face an overcard on the flop relatively often.

An overcard is a stronger card than your hole cards. So Aces, Kings and Queens are an overcard if you’re holding pocket Jacks.

If you hold pocket Jacks, you will face an overcard on the flop 57% of the time.

On a complete board, you will face an overcard 76.3% of the time.

This means that pocket Jacks can be tricky to play even if you have the range advantage. But playing them without the range advantage is even worse.

Bottom line: if you are dealt pocket Jacks, your best bet is to play them aggressively, especially preflop. This means open-raising and 3-betting them preflop, while you're hand is likely to be ahead.

Check out Nathan's recent video for more 3-betting tips.

2. Ace Ten Off-Suit

Ace-Ten offsuit is not necessarily a bad hand per se, but a lot of players make the mistake of overplaying it, which leads them to bleed money over the long run.

Ace-Ten offsuit is a weak broadway hand, and it can get you in trouble if you overplay it. That’s because your hand can be dominated by stronger Ax hands.

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

For example, if you hold Ace-Ten, and your opponent has Ace-King, your hand has only 27% chance of winning the hand.

You always want your hand to dominate your opponents’, instead of the other way around.

Ace-Ten offsuit is particularly vulnerable in 3-bet pots. If you open-raise with ATo and encounter a 3-bet, you will find yourself in an awkward spot.

That’s because a lot of the hands in your opponent’s 3-betting range will dominate you.

I’m talking about stronger Ax hands and premium pocket pairs.

Against this range, ATo has only about 26% equity.

Your equity is even lower if you’re playing the hand out of position.

When you’re playing out of position, you often won’t be able to realize your hand equity, because you’ll often be forced to fold the hand before showdown.

It’s easier to realize your equity when you’re playing in position AND when you have the initiative in the hand.

For these reasons, you should be careful when playing easily dominated hands, especially when you play them from early positions at the table.

The earlier your table position, the more selective you should be with the hands you choose to play.

That’s because there’s more players that can potentially have a stronger hand than you.

With ATo in particular, you should be extra careful especially if there are a number of aggressive 3-bettors against you.

Not only will your hand often be dominated, but you’ll also be forced to play the rest of the hand out of position, so it’s best to look ahead and avoid such marginal spots altogether.

Example Hand #2

6-max cash game 

Effective stack size: 100 BB

You are dealt AT UTG (under the gun).

You: ???

You should either fold or open-raise.

Whether or not you choose to play in this spot depends a lot on the table dynamics and your opponents.

If there are a number of players that can make your life difficult either by flat calling in position, or 3-betting you, you should tighten up and fold your hand.

However, if your opponents are less aware, and there are some recreational players in the blinds, for example, you can open-raise in this spot quite comfortably.

If you get called by a recreational player in the blinds, you will play a heads-up pot against them in position as a preflop aggressor.

This is by far the most profitable money-making spot in no-limit hold’em, period.

You should also consider your table image. Your table image is how other players perceive you, and it’s worth considering especially when you’re playing against more observant opponents.

If your table image is tight, you can expand your open-raising range. 

If your table image is loose, you should tighten up, especially when playing in early positions.

However, you often won’t have a clear-cut situation, and your decision can go either way.

In these situations, it’s about making a judgment call after considering all the factors.

For example, if there are both aggressive 3-bettors ahead AND recreational players in the blinds, you can decrease your open-raise size to give you a better risk-to-reward ratio.

So instead of open-raising to 3 or 4 big blinds, you open-raise to 2.5 big blinds instead.

This way, you can still play a heads-up pot against the recreational player, but you’re risking less if you encounter a 3-bet from other players.

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3. Pocket Twos

Small pocket pairs may look pretty enough at a glance, but they’re actually not that profitable over the long run.

Pocket Twos are especially troublesome, because their playability relies on them hitting a set post flop, which doesn’t happen most of the time.

If you have a pocket pair, the chance of hitting a set on the flop is only about 12%.

This means that you will only have a fourth pair on the flop almost 9 out of 10 times.

Your chance of improvement on future streets is very weak as well, since you only have two outs left to improve to a set.

An out is a card that you need to improve your hand. The more outs you have, the stronger your drawing hand.

With only two outs left, your chance of improving to a set by the river is only 4%.

By the way, you can quickly calculate your chance of improvement by using the so-called rule of fours.

Rule of fours: simply multiply the number of outs you have by 4 to get a rough percentage chance of your draw competing from flop to river.

The rule of fours gets slightly less accurate the more outs you have, but it works well in most in-game situations.

If you want to know the chance of your draw completing on the next street (flop to turn or turn to river), you simply multiply the number of outs by 2 instead of 4.

So the best way to play small pocket pairs is to set mine with them.

Set mining means calling preflop with the intention of hitting a set post flop, and potentially taking down a huge pot.

Baby pocket pairs

However, a lot of players make the mistake of set mining just about every time they get dealt a small pocket pair, which leads them to bleed money over the long run.

Not every set mine is going to be profitable due to the simple fact that the chance of hitting a set isn’t in your favour.

So in order for a set mine to be profitable, you need to be able to win enough money in order to justify all the instances in which you don’t hit a set, and are forced to fold the hand.

In other words, you need to take the implied odds into consideration.

Implied odds refer to the amount of money you can potentially earn on future streets if your hand improves.

The better the implied odds, the more inclined you should be to continue playing the hand and vice versa.

The first thing to consider with the implied odds is the effective stack sizes. The bigger the effective stack size, the better your implied odds, because there’s more money to win.

The effective stack size is the smaller stack size of the players involved in the pot, because you can’t win more than what you put into the pot.

Then, you need to consider the pot odds you’re getting on a call. The better the pot odds, the more likely your set mine is to be profitable.

I won’t get too deep into the pot odds here, but you can check my other article on everything you need to know about poker odds for more info on the topic.

Pot odds and implied odds are one of the key factors to consider when set mining, but they aren’t the only ones.

You should also consider your table position (i.e. whether or not you’re playing in position post flop).

Playing in position makes set mining more profitable for obvious reasons.

There’s also your opponent’s range to consider.

As a general rule, you want your opponent’s range to be strong when you’re set mining.

This may seem counterintuitive at first, but hear me out.

If your opponent has a strong range, they will be more likely to pay you off once you actually hit your set.

Conversely, if your opponent's range is weak, they might not be willing to pay you off, which is the whole point of set mining in the first place.

4. Ace-King Suited

You may be surprised to find this entry on the list, but a lot of players tend to have trouble playing this hand.

Ace-King suited is the strongest drawing hand in no-limit hold’em, but some players aren’t too thrilled when they get dealt the “Big Slick.”

Some players have a feeling that they don’t win with Ace-King nearly as often as they should.

That’s because as strong as Ace-King is, it’s still a drawing hand, meaning it needs to improve post flop to be profitable.

In poker, most hands miss most flops, and Ace-King is no exception. 

You will miss two out of three flops on average, even with strong drawing hands.

However, just because you miss the flop, it doesn’t mean you should give up the hand altogether.

If you miss the flop with Ace-King, you will have at least 6 outs left (three Aces and three Kings) to improve on later streets.

If you hit one of your outs, you will have a top pair, top kicker hand, which can be a relatively strong hand, depending on the board runout.

This means that even if you miss the flop completely, you can still make a standard c-bet on most flops.

This way, you’ll either take down the pot right away, or potentially improve your hand on later streets and take down an even bigger pot.

Of course, if you encounter resistance from your opponent(s), you should take your foot off the gas pedal and fold if it becomes obvious your opponent has you beat.

A lot of players make the mistake of overplaying Ace-King just because they have a feeling they’re supposed to win with it.

This is especially the case if they happen to hit a top pair, top kicker on the flop.

They get irrationally attached to their hand, and they fail to recognize that they might be beat.

What separates the winning poker players from the rest is their ability to let go of their hand at a moment’s notice, no matter how “strong” their hand is, and no matter how much money they’ve committed to the pot.

This can be hard to do when you have a great hand like Ace-King, but it’s worth remembering that a top pair, top kicker is still only a single pair, and it can and it will be beaten from time to time.

Check out my other article on common Ace-King mistakes you should avoid.

Example Hand #3

Effective stack size: 100 BB 

You are dealt AKUTG (under the gun).

You open-raise to 3x.

A player calls from the BB (big blind).

Pot: 6.5 BB

Flop: A97

Villain checks. You bet 5 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 16.5 BB

Turn: 8

Villain checks. You bet 8 BB. villain check-raises to 20 BB.

You: ???

You should fold.

This is a textbook spot where overplaying Ace-King will get you in trouble. Let’s break down the action street by street.

Preflop you have a standard open-raise under the gun. Villain calls from the small blind.

You have no information on the villain, but they don’t come off as a huge fish. You can narrow down their range to something like medium pocket pairs, suited connectors, and maybe some suited Aces or broadway hands, although your hand blocks a part of that range.

A blocker is a card in your hand that reduces the number of combinations in your opponent’s range. For example, if you hold an Ace, this reduces the number of Ax hands in your opponent’s range.

Also, your opponent’s range is capped, since they didn’t 3-bet you.

A capped range theoretically has less strong hands than an uncapped range due to range capping actions. Calling instead of raising is a range-capping action.

You flop a top pair, top kicker. The board is semi-wet, so you fire a bigger c-bet in order to charge your opponent more for their drawing hands.

The turn card is not the best for you, but you decide to double barrel anyway.

(A double barrel is a continuation bet on the turn after you’ve bet the flop).

Then the villain hits you with a check-raise. In this spot, there’s nothing left to do but to fold begrudgingly.

The turn card completes a number of straight and flush draws, and the villain is very rarely bluffing here. It’s unlikely they randomly decided to turn their hand into a bluff here.

They won’t be doing this with a lot of hands you are ahead of. They will never do this with a hand like Ace-Jack or Ace-Ten.

Remember, the villain sees the same board as you do, and they are telling you they aren’t scared of the board. This means they have something to show for it.

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5. King-Jack Suited

Like other hands on this list, King-Jack suited is not a bad hand. It has great playability postflop and has the potential to make strong combinations like straights and flushes.

However, a lot of player tend to overvalue and overplay it, which can get them in a lot of trouble postflop.

KJs is a decent hand, but it’s not a premium hand by any means. It may look pretty enough at a glance, but it can get you in trouble if you overplay it.

That’s because KJs can be dominated by stronger hands like AJ, KQ, and other premium pocket pairs.

This is especially important in 3-bet pots, where KJs will often be an underdog.

This is the biggest problem with seemingly strong hands like these: they are too strong not to play, but will often end up as only the second best hand.

If you encounter a 3-bet from your opponent, you should think twice before getting involved with an easily dominated hand, especially if you’re playing out of position.

Calling a 3-bet out of position with an easily dominated hand is a big leak that may be losing you money.

Another problem with a hand like KJ is that it can make strong combinations postflop, but it won’t make the nuts every time.

For example, if you make a flush with KJs, another player can beat you with any suited Ace.

This won’t happen too often, but it’s still worth considering.

Example Hand #4

You are dealt KJ in the MP (middle position). You open-raise to 3x. 

A tight and aggressive player 3-bets to 9x in the CO (cutoff).

You: ???

You should fold.

Calling in a spot like this will lead you to a lot of awkward, marginal spots post flop that are best avoided altogether.

Based on your table position and your opponent’s player type, your hand is not in great shape.

Your opponent’s range is more than likely to be value heavy, and there aren’t a lot of hands you’re ahead of. 

You may be ahead of a number of bluffing hands in your opponent’s range, but that’s just a small part of their overall range.

Even if you’re ahead of some hands, you will have a hard time realizing your equity. That’s because you will play the rest of the hand out of position.

This will make it harder to bluff catch against your opponent, even if you suspect they may be bluffing.

Bottom line: King-Jack suited is not a bad hand, but you should be careful not to overplay it, especially in 3-bet pots where you’re likely to be behind your opponent’s value betting range.

Check out Nathan's recent video on bad poker hands you should avoid playing altogether.

5 Poker Hands Everybody Screws Up - Summary

To sum up, here are 5 hands a lot of players routinely misplay, and what you can do to avoid similar mistakes.

1. Pocket Jacks

Pocket Jacks can be tricky to play, but they should still be one of your biggest long-term winners. It’s important to remember they’re a premium hand, and it should be played as such.

This means open-raising and 3-betting them preflop, especially when you’re likely to be ahead of your opponent’s range.

2. Ace-Ten offsuit

ATo is not necessarily a bad hand, but it’s not a premium hand by any means. The problem with this hand is that it will often be dominated by stronger Ax hands, especially in 3-bet pots.

It also doesn’t have as much nuts potential as some other broadway hands, so it’s important not to overplay it.

3. Ace-King suited

AKs is the strongest drawing hand in no-limit hold’em, and one of the most profitable starting hands overall. But it’s important to remember that it’s not invincible, and it will miss the flop just as often as other hands.

4. Pocket Twos

Pocket Twos have very poor playability postflop unless they hit a set, which doesn’t happen too often. If you’re set mining with small pocket pairs, make sure you’re getting a favourable risk-to-reward ratio to make it worth your while.

5. King-Jack suited

King-Jack suited has decent playability postflop, but it’s not a premium hand by any means, so you should be careful not to overplay it, especially in 3-bet pots.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $2000+ per month in small/mid stakes games, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

5 Poker Hands Everybody Screws Up