If poker players were little children, this article is why they would be put into timeout. Little kids end up getting put into timeout when they do things that they know are wrong, but just can’t help themselves. In poker, there is a group of hands where playing these hands seems only to get you into trouble. This is why they are conveniently referred to as trouble hands.
In this guide, we’re going to do our best to keep you from getting sent to timeout. We’ll walk you through what makes a hand a trouble hand, why they are so enticing and what you can do to protect yourself. If this is a new term for you, we won’t send you to timeout because you don’t know any better. But when you get done reading this article, you’ll have no excuse.
Defining Trouble Hands
By definition, a trouble hand in Texas hold’em is a starting hand that looks great, but sets you up to have the second-best hand. If you know a good amount about playing poker, you know that the worst situation you can be in is having the second-best hand. When you simply have a terrible hand, it’s easy to fold. But, when you have the second-best hand, you’re often going to think you have the best of it. This makes it hard to fold and enticing to put more money in the middle. The end result, though, is always a bad day and an empty wallet.
Let’s talk about which hands fall into this category. The tricky part about definitively defining these hands is that in some situations, they are considered trouble or trap hands, and in some situations, they are great hands to play. In order to get through this, we’re going to start with an overgeneralization and then work to fine tune it down to the specifics.
Our over-generalized range of trouble hands includes all weaker broadway combinations and weaker ace holdings. This would include KQ, KJ, K10, QJ, Q10, J10, AJ, A10 and A9. The reason these hands are on the list is that they look pretty, but they’re easily dominated. When you flop top pair with one of these hands, you’re going to be excited, but you’re going to be easily dominated.
For example, let’s say you have J10 on a J-7-2 board. Are you excited? You might be, but the problem is that AJ, KJ and QJ have you crushed. It’s going to be hard for you to get away from your hand because, let’s be honest, how often do we ever actually flop top pair?
Now, does this mean that you should never play any of the hands on this list? It certainly does not. This was the overgeneralization we were talking about. It all depends on which situation you are in. Let’s look at a few of these exceptions.
- If you are under the gun or in early position, you should look to fold these trouble hands. The problem is that they are a little too weak to open from such an early position. The chances that you’re going to run into a better hand are high.
- If someone opens under the gun, you should not be calling with these hands. It’s too likely that your opponent has you dominated or at the very least beat.
- If you’re the first one to open the pot in middle or late position, these hands are strong enough to play and wouldn’t classify as trouble hands. Yes, you can still be dominated, but it is less likely.
- If you’re in late position facing a middle position raise, these hands could be strong enough to play depending on who the opponent opening the pot is.
- If you’re in the blinds, these hands are definitely strong enough to defend against a late position raise, and some middle position raises.
If you notice a trend here, you’re basically looking to fold these hands when it’s likely that your opponent’s range has you beat or dominated. This seems like it should be fairly easy to do, but in the next section, we’re going to cover why this is sometimes easier said than done.
Why They Cause Problems
Hopefully, you now see the danger that comes with trap hands. It makes sense when the logic is spelled out, but why do we still struggle and find ourselves in trouble with these hands? The reason usually has to do with boredom and a lack of discipline.
Imagine this scenario. You’ve been sitting there for 45 minutes and seeing the most garbage cards under the sun. You are starting to wonder if there are even any face cards left in the deck. Then, you get excited. You’re in late position, and you look down at a real pretty KJ. Wow! Two face cards…AT THE SAME TIME! You try your best to contain your excitement.
Then it happens. The old man under the gun opens the pot for a raise, and it folds to you. Now, you know deep down inside that you’re supposed to fold here. But…but…but…you have two face cards! And you haven’t seen any real hands in almost an hour! You decide to talk yourself into the call, and you take a flop.
The flop comes out K-8-2. Yahtzee! You flopped top pair. The old man leads out for a bet, and you make the call. The turn is another 2 and the old man bets again. You aren’t totally liking it, but you have a pretty strong top pair. You make the call, and the river comes out an off-suit 4. The old man bets again, and you decide on that run out that you have to make the call.
The old man flips over AK, and you lose a big pot. Why? The reason you lost a big pot is because you fell into the temptation of your boredom pre-flop and made a mistake that had huge implications. In other words, you fell in love with a trap hand in a textbook situation.
This is just one example of a situation where a good player can fall victim to cards that look nice when they know that they should fold. It’s possible, though, that the problem runs deeper for you. What if, in this scenario, when you look down at your hand and see the under the gun raise, you didn’t get a feeling that you should fold? What if you don’t realize that hands like this are not premium holdings?
If that’s the case, then this guide is going to be a lifesaver for you.
How to Protect Yourself
We’re going to discuss how to protect yourself from trap hands in two sections. The first section will be for those that realize these hands are not premium holdings and just get stubborn from time to time. The second section will be for those that think hands like KJ are premium hands.
For the Stubborn
You are the “kiddos” that we may need to put into timeout. You know better, yet you allow your emotions and the heat of the moment to get you to make bad decisions. You need to realize that each hand needs to be evaluated independently. Just because you haven’t played a hand in a while does not suddenly increase the value of these cards. If anything, you’d want to leverage that to play a worse hand to get more credit.
Don’t let your boredom or desire to run over a tournament get the best of you. It can be tempting if there is a fish in the game trying to gift their chips away to want to get involved with these marginal holdings. Stick to your guns and play a smart game. If you do find a situation where you have to get involved, don’t be scared to get away from top pair. If you can’t remember the last time that you folded top pair, you may want to opt out of playing these hands even more.
For the Misinformed
Thankfully for all of you that fit into this section, you aren’t going to get sent to timeout yet. The operative word here is yet. Here’s what you need to take away from this: The hands on the list of trap hands are NOT premium hands. They are not in the same family as hands like AK, AQ or big pairs. If you are viewing all of these hands as the same, then you’re making a big mistake.
From now on, we want you to view these hands as a tier down from the premium hands. These hands are good in the right situations, but should not always be played like premium hands. If you’re never folding these hands, then you’ve got a serious leak that you need to plug. This goes for tournament players and for cash game players. You HAVE to separate these hands in your mind or you’re going to fall into these bad situations continually.
The problem that gets people with these hands is that they remember the few times they’ve won pots with them. They remember the times that they called a pre-flop raise with KJ, the flop came King high and their opponent had AQ. They remember the hands like this where they picked up the pre-flop raise and the continuation bet for one street of value. But they love to forget the hands where they called and gave their opponent three streets of value.
Unless your opponent goes crazy or is opening an absurdly wide range, you’re going to have one of two things happen if you don’t follow our conditions from earlier. You’re either going to win a small pot or lose a big one. This is not a good recipe for success. You should be looking to put yourself in opportunities to lose small pots and win big ones. Yes, it’s dumb-dumb common sense, but you’d be shocked how many people ignore it.
The bottom line is this: If you are in this category, you should focus on fixing nothing else in your game other than this. This is no doubt the single biggest problem you have in your game. It’s THAT important.
The Final Takeaway
We can’t stress enough how important this is to the success of your game. You need to take an honest assessment of how you’re playing, and if you have problems here, you need to fix them fast. Sometimes things that may seem like small leaks, and little mistakes can quickly compound into big problems that cost you a lot of money. Don’t let your stubbornness, laziness, lack of focus or ignorance let you fall victim to these trouble situations.
These hands are not the devil, and there are instances where you should be playing them confidently. But, you have to make sure that in the instances where you are likely to be beaten or dominated that you get rid of them. It’s not rocket science, but it does require effort and discipline on your part. Welcome to what it takes to be a long-term winning poker player. Sometimes, you have to make the smart decision instead of the fun decision.