4 Underrated Poker Hands All Good Players Know to Play

4 Underrated Poker Hands All Good Players Know to Play

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

In no-limit hold’em, some starting hands are so strong that they practically play themselves.

Everybody knows how to play their pocket Aces and pocket Kings, but these strong hands don’t come around very often.

To be a winning player these days, you need to know how to win pots even without being dealt a monster hand.

In this article, we’ll go over 4 underrated, but potentially very profitable, starting poker hands.

By learning how to play these 4 hands optimally, you are guaranteed to see an improvement in your game, as well as your winrate.

Let’s get right into it.

Underrated Poker Hand #1: Pocket Jacks (J♦️J♥️)

You may be surprised by finding this hand on the list. 

After all, pocket Jacks are considered a premium poker hand, so how can it be underrated?

Even though it’s a premium hand, pocket Jacks can be tricky to play at times. This means a lot of players tend to misplay it, so they get the impression it’s overrated and not very profitable.

But that can’t be further from the truth. Pocket Jacks should still be one of your most profitable hands over the long run.

But only if you play them the right way.

Before we get into the details of how you should play pocket Jacks, let’s examine how pocket Jacks hit the flop.

Like other pocket pairs, pocket Jacks will flop a set 12% of the time. 

A "set" is also known as three of a kind.

To set mine means to call a preflop bet with a pocket pair with the intention of hitting a set post flop and potentially taking down a big pot.

For example: 

You have J♦️J♥️ and the flop comes K♠️J♣️5♦️

This is an incredibly powerful hand in No Limit Texas Hold'em.

But if you’re trying to set mine with pocket Jacks, you should know that you’re going to miss your set almost 9 out of 10 times.

By the way, check out my other article on optimal set mining strategy for a much deeper dive on all this.

With this in mind, pocket Jacks are often too strong to set mine with, so you should consider making a 3-bet with them, instead.

A 3-bet preflop is a re-raise against another player’s open-raise.

4 Underrated Hands All Decent Poker Players Know to Play

Pocket Jacks are often strong enough to get called by weaker hands preflop, especially if you’re playing against recreational poker players who tend to call too much.

Against more skilled opponents who play a lot tighter ranges, you can consider flat calling an open-raise and try to set mine instead.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should open-raise with pocket Jacks if you’re the first player to enter the pot.

This means you should avoid open-limping as a general rule.

To open-limp means to just call the big blind preflop instead of open-raising.

I won’t get into much detail as to why open-limping is a bad idea here. 

Check out my other article on the 5 basic amateur poker mistakes I continue to see these days, for a much deeper explanation on why limping is generally considered a bad idea.

Another reason to play pocket Jacks aggressively (especially preflop) is to create a smaller stack-to-pot ratio (or SPR for short).

SPR is a preflop and flop metric that shows you how committed you are to the pot. In other words, it tells you how inclined you should be to play for the rest of your stack.

The smaller the SPR, the more pot committed you are and vice versa.

To calculate the SPR, simply divide the effective stack size with the size of the pot.

The effective stack size is the smaller stack size of the players involved in the pot (since you can only win as much as you put into the pot).

For example, if the pot size is $20 and the effective stack size is $80, the SPR is 4, since 80 / 20 = 4.

If the SPR is very small (3 or less) you are automatically pot committed with a top pair hand or better.

Important note: 

SPR is a (pre)flop metric, meaning it doesn’t change on future streets (turn and river), even if you put additional money into the pot.

If you are pot committed on the flop, you remain pot committed throughout the rest of the hand. 

If you’re not pot committed on the flop, you don’t become pot committed on future streets, no matter how much money you put into the pot.

So what does SPR have to do with playing pocket Jacks?

It’s simple: by playing pocket Jacks aggressively preflop, you are creating a smaller SPR.

This makes pocket Jacks easier to play post flop, especially if you hit a favourable flop.

With a small SPR, it’s easier to ship the rest of your stack in the middle and get paid off.

Pocket Jacks favour small SPR pots because it’s often strong enough to win the pot unimproved.

On the other hand, speculative hands like suited connectors or small pocket pairs favour big SPR, because they need to improve post flop in order to be played profitably.

By playing pocket Jacks aggressively preflop, you’re denying your opponents their implied odds, and you’re charging them a premium if they want to play their speculative hands.

Even though pocket Jacks are a very strong hand, they’re very vulnerable to getting outdrawn.

This means they can potentially lose to drawing hands (like straight or flush draws), or they can lose if your opponent manages to hit an overcard.

An overcard is a card that’s stronger than the strongest card on the board. For example, on a board like: Q85, Aces and Kings are overcards.

The tricky part about playing pocket Jacks is the big number of overcards that can potentially beat you.

Pocket Jacks will flop an overpair only 36.2% of the time.

And even if you flop an overpair, you still have to dodge a lot of outs on future streets.

However, even if you don’t flop an overpair with pocket Jacks, you can still make a c-bet on most flops.

A c-bet (short for continuation bet) is a bet made by the previous street’s aggressor. For example, if you open-raise preflop, you have a chance to make a c-bet on the flop.

The reason you can make a c-bet on the flop even if you don’t flop an overpair is the fact that you can credibly represent a lot of strong hands in your range.

If you are the preflop aggressor, you are perceived to have the strongest hand. In other words, you have the range advantage.

Range advantage means you theoretically have more strong hands in your range than the preflop caller (like pocket Aces, pocket Kings, Ace-King and so on).

By the way, before we get into the first example hand, I have actually written an entire article on Pocket Jacks strategy before.

Underrated Poker Hand Example #1

Cash Game, Effective Stack Size: 100 BB 

You are dealt JJ on the BU (button). Villain open-raises to 3 BB from the CO (cutoff). You 3-bet to 9 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 19.5 BB

Flop: K92 

Villain checks. 

You: ???

You should c-bet 10 BB.

Even though you didn’t flop an overpair, you can still expect to have the best hand most of the time.

Some players might get scared when they see a King or an Ace in a similar spot.

Sure, your opponent may have some Kx hands in their range, but that’s only a small portion of their overall range.

You are actually ahead of a lot of hands here, like flush draws, 9x hands like T9s or 98s, medium pocket pairs like pocket Tens, pocket Eights and so on.

What’s more, you’re playing in position, so you can keep applying the pressure on future streets and find ways to win the pot.

This makes a c-bet all but mandatory.

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Underrated Poker Hand #2: Pocket Eights (8♠️8♦️)

Pocket Eights and other medium pocket pairs can be tricky to play, but they can still be wildly profitable if you play them the right way.

This is why all of the top 1% of poker players in the world love these hands.

The reason medium pocket pairs are tricky is the fact that they won’t flop an overpair as often as stronger, premium pocket pairs.

This means that you can often find yourself in a lot of awkward post flop situations where you’re not sure if your hand is ahead or not.

For example, Pocket Eights will flop an overpair only 10.2% of the time. Like other pocket pairs, they will flop a set only 12% of the time.

For this reason, medium pocket pairs are usually best played as set mines.

This is especially the case if you’re playing cash games with deep effective stack sizes.

The bigger the stack sizes, the better your implied odds, and the more profitable set mining becomes.

If you’re the first player to enter the pot, on the other hand, you should still make a standard open-raise with pocket Eights and other medium pocket pairs.

If you get to the flop as the preflop aggressor, you don’t need to rely on hitting your set to play pocket Eights profitably.

That’s because pocket Eights will usually have decent showdown value.

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

If you hold a pocket pair, your hand is statistically ahead of all the unpaired hands your opponent could potentially hold.

And since it’s a lot easier to miss the board than to connect with it, you will often have the best hand even if you don’t completely smash the flop.

To smash the flop means to connect with it in a strong way, making two pair hands or better.

Hands with showdown value serve as good bluff catchers.

As the name suggests, bluff catching hands allow you to call down your opponent if you suspect they have a lot of bluffs in their range.

By the way, check out my other article on the 5 easy ways to spot a bluff if you want to know all my secrets to read their hand,

Aside from bluff catching, hands with showdown value can be used to stack off your opponents preflop.

This is especially the case in a tournament setting, where the effective stack sizes are usually a lot smaller than in cash games.

The effective stack sizes greatly impact the value of starting hands. Some hands prefer deep effective stack sizes, while others perform better with shallow stack sizes.

For example, speculative hands like small pocket pairs and suited connectors go down in value when the stack sizes are shallow, because they aren’t getting good implied odds.

Alternatively, big pocket pairs and strong broadways go up in relative value because they can often win the pot unimproved, and don’t mind stacking off preflop.

With that in mind, pocket Eights are often strong enough to comfortably stack off with in tournament settings.

This is especially the case if you’re getting close to a short stack. In that scenario, pocket Eights will hold up often enough to make preflop shoving profitable.

For example, pocket Eights are a slight favourite to win even against Ace-King suited, the strongest drawing hand in no-limit hold’em.

Against Ace-King suited, pocket Eights have about 52.5% equity.

The same goes for other strong broadways like AQs, KQs and so on.

Bottom line: 

Pocket Eights can be very profitable to play, but the best way to play them will depend on a number of different factors, namely the effective stack sizes.

If the effective stack sizes are very deep, the best way to play them will usually be to set mine.

If the effective stack size is very small (in tournament poker or if your opponent is short-stacked in a cash game), consider playing them very fast, because they will usually have decent equity and showdown value against your opponent’s range.

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Underrated Poker Hand Example #2

Cash Games, Effective Stack Size: 100 BB 

You are dealt 88 in the CO (cutoff). You open-raise to 3 BB. Villain calls from the SB (small blind).

Pot: 7 BB

Flop: J73

Villain checks. You bet 3.5 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 14 BB

Turn: 7

Villain checks. You check.

River: 2

Villain bets 5 BB.

You: ???

You should call.

This is a good spot for bluff catching with a marginal hand. Let’s break down the action to see why.

Preflop you have a standard open-raise from the late position. Nothing much to be said here.

You don’t exactly smash the flop, but you still make a standard c-bet. You have a second pair, and may very well have the best hand here.

You’re certainly ahead of a lot of drawing hands in your opponent’s range, as well as some 7x hands that might give you action.

You also have a backdoor straight draw, which gives you a nice little equity boost.

The turn doesn’t change much, except it gives your opponent potential trips. 

You can certainly make a case for making a double barrel (i.e. a turn c-bet) to charge your opponent a premium for their drawing hands.

But checking behind is not terrible, either. If you do bet, you will often only get action by hands that beat you, or by hands that have a lot of equity against you.

Also, facing a check-raise would certainly suck and would put you in an awkward position.

The river is a complete brick and the villain fires a small bet out of position.

This is a good spot to bluff catch, since there’s a number of missed straights on the board.

Your opponent could easily hold a hand like T9s, 65s, or any number of busted flush draws.

If you call here, sometimes you’re going to run into a stronger hand, like a pair of Jacks, trips and so on.

But given the action sequence and the price you’re getting on a call, you can call quite comfortably here.

You’re getting almost 4:1 pot odds on a call, meaning you only need 20% hand equity to break even on a call.

And given the amount of air your opponent can have in their range, calling is certainly +EV in this spot.

If you want to learn how to read your opponent's hand like a pro, check out my book, The Microstakes Playbook.

Underrated Poker Hand #3: Ace-Three Suited (A♠️3♠️)

Ace-Three suited, as well as other small suited Aces (A5s through A2s) are great speculative hands with insane nuts potential.

Small suited Aces have the potential of making a nut flush, as well as a straight.

When you’re drawing to a flush with a suited Aces, you’re always drawing to the strongest possible flush.

This means you don’t have to worry about the reverse implied odds.

Implied odds refer to the amount of money you can potentially win on future streets if you complete your draw. 

Reverse implied odds refer to the amount of money you can potentially lose if you complete your draw, but your opponent ends up having an even stronger hand.

Even if you don’t flop a monster hand or a strong draw with Ace-Three suited, you still have the potential of making a top pair.

If that’s the case, you should exercise caution due to a weak kicker.

With all this in mind, let’s examine how Ace-Three suited connects with the flop.

A3s will smash the flop 4.63% of the time. It will flop a top pair 14.6% of the time.

As for draws, A3s will flop a flush draw and an inside straight draw 10.9% and 11.2% of the time, respectively.

So A3s is a very versatile hand that can connect with the board in multiple different ways.

This means you can play it differently depending on the situation.

When you play it preflop, you should obviously open-raise it if you’re the first player to enter the pot.

If another player open-raises before you, you will have the option of either flat calling or making a 3-bet.

Small suited Aces make for great 3-bet bluffing hands.

A 3-bet bluff (or a light 3-bet) is a re-raise against another player’s open-raise made with the intention of getting your opponent to fold.

This is different from a value 3-bet where you want your opponent to call you with weaker hands.

Small suited Aces are great for light 3-betting because they have 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 Ace-Three suited, it’s less likely for your opponent to have strong combinations like pocket Aces, Ace-King, Ace-Queen and so on.

A blocker Ace reduces the number of combos of pocket Aces from 6 to only 3, and the number of Ace-King combos from 16 to 12.

This means your opponent is more likely to fold to your 3-bet when you hold a blocker in your hand.

Even if your bluff gets called, you will still have a decent hand that can connect with the board in a variety of ways.

This gives you plenty of options to win the pot post flop.

If you can’t 3-bet for any reason, you still have the option of flat calling instead.

This is a good option to consider when you’re getting a decent price on a call (pot odds) and/or decent implied odds.

For example, if you are likely to play in a multiway pot with a lot of recreational poker players.

Check out my recent article on exactly when to call preflop (aka "the cheat sheet") for much more.

Underrated Poker Hand Example #3

Cash Game, Effective Stack Size: 100 BB 

You are dealt A3in the SB (small blind). A tight and aggressive (TAG) player open-raises to 2.5 BB from the CO (cutoff).

You: ???

You should 3-bet to 10 BB.

This is a textbook spot to attempt a light 3-bet.

In this spot, you are attacking a relatively wide range from the open-raiser. Tight and aggressive players will gradually loosen up their open-raising ranges as they get closer to the button.

And a lot of hands in their cutoff open-raising range won’t be able to stand the pressure of a 3-bet.

You also have a decent speculative hand, so even if you get called, you will still be able to win the pot post flop some of the time.

In today’s games, it takes more than waiting around for the nuts to be a long term winner.

You also need to be able to win a few pots even without a particularly strong hand.

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Underrated Poker Hand #4: Jack-Nine Suited (J♥️9♥️)

Suited gappers don’t get as much love as suited connectors for one fairly obvious reason: they won’t make a straight as often as a connected hand.

The bigger the gap between your hole cards, the harder it is for you to make a straight.

For example, JTs can make a straight 4 different ways, while a hand like J7s can only make a straight 1 way.

This is why suited connectors have much better post flop playability than their gapper counterparts.

Still one-gapper hands like J9s are far from unplayable.

While it will make a straight slightly less often than JT or T9, for example, it still has decent nuts potential with the ability to make both straights and flushes.

Let’s examine how J9s connects with the flop.

Jack-Nine suited will smash the flop (make a two pair hand or better) 5.28% of the time.

This is far from impressive, but what makes J9s a decent speculative hand is its ability to flop a number of strong draws.

J9s will flop an open-ended straight draw and an inside straight draw 6.93% and 14.6% of the time, respectively.

It will also flop a flush draw 10.9% of the time.

I already wrote the #1 free flush draw strategy guide available online by the way, if you have trouble playing your flush draws.

Like other speculative hands, J9s prefers deep effective stack sizes, and the deeper, the better.

That’s because you will miss the flop quite often, so you want to make it worth your while once you actually do connect well.

One of the reasons this hand can be very profitable is the fact that your hand strength will often be well-concealed.

This is especially the case if you manage to hit a straight. 

For example: 

Let’s say you are dealt J9 and the board is: A87T4

On this board, you have the stone cold nuts, and you can potentially get paid off by a lot of weaker hands like sets, two pair hands and so on.

On top of that, all the flush draws have missed on the river, so your opponent may be more willing to give you action in a spot like this.

As a general rule, completed straights are usually better concealed than completed flushes.

This means you will generally have better implied odds when chasing a straight than you would when chasing a flush.

Even recreational players can easily spot a completed flush draw, for example. 

So you should keep that in mind when assessing your implied odds in a given spot.

Underrated Poker Hand Example #4

Cash Game, Effective Stack Size: 100 BB

You are dealt J9 in the BB (big blind). A tight and aggressive (TAG) open-raises to 2.5 BB from the CO (cutoff). A loose and passive fish calls from the SB (small blind).

You: ???

You should call.

While calling here can theoretically put you in some awkward spots post flop, you can still make a profitable call here.

Your hand is strong enough to blind defend with, and has decent playability post flop.

You’re also getting decent pot odds on a call. You only have 1.5 BB to call, and the pot size is 6 BB, so you’re getting 4:1 odds.

Also, you get to play in a pot against a recreational player, which greatly boosts your implied odds.

Playing in position against recreational players is the best way to take advantage of the many post flop mistakes they're bound to make.

This is discussed in much more detail in my book Crushing the Microstakes.

4 Underrated Hands All Decent Poker Players Know to Play - Summary

These days, everybody knows how to play their strong premium hands. However, there are a number of potentially profitable starting hands that often get misplayed.

Knowing how to play these hands optimally is a crucial element of any advanced poker strategy.

To sum up, here are 4 underrated starting poker hands every good player should know how to play.

1. Pocket Jacks

Pocket Jacks are considered a premium poker hand, but they can be tricky to play because they won’t flop an overpair as often as stronger premium pairs.

Still, this hand should be one of your most profitable hands over the long run. If possible, try playing pocket Jacks aggressively, especially preflop when your hand is likely to be ahead of your opponent’s range.

2. Pocket Eights

Similar to pocket Jacks, medium pocket pairs like pocket Eights don’t get as much love because they can be quite awkward to play post flop.

Still, pocket Eights can be very profitable if you play them the right way. 

Set mining with pocket Eights has great upside potential, and even if you miss your set, you will often have decent showdown value and use your hand as a bluff catcher.

3. Ace-Three suited

Small suited Aces make for great 3-bet bluffing hands due to their blocker power.

Even if your 3-bet bluff gets called, Ace-Three suited has great playability post flop, with the ability to make nuts flushes, as well as straights.

4. Jack-Nine suited

Suited gappers don’t get as much love as suited connectors, but a hand like J9s still has great nuts potential, with the ability to make both straights and flushes.

J9 can hit a variety of different boards, and your hand strength will often be well-concealed when you smash the flop.


This article was written by Fran Ferlan

Poker player, writer and coach
Specializing in live and online cash games

For coaching enquiries, contact Fran at email@franferlan.com
Or apply directly for poker coaching with Fran, right here

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.