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Dumping the Second-Best Hand

In blackjack, everyone grimaces at being dealt a sixteen. It's the worst possible hand and odds are you are going to lose your money. The hold'em equivalent to a sixteen is a [[cards 7d 2c]], which is considered the worst possible hand. However, with a [[cards 7d 2c]], odds are you will lose nothing (because you will fold preflop) or just your blind. In fact, I don't even mind being dealt [[cards 7d 2c]] because I know what it's worth. I'm much more afraid of being dealt [[cards As Ah]] because that hand has the potential of costing me a lot of money. The paradox that a good hand is to be feared much more so than a bad one centers on the most important concept of poker: Relative Hand Value.

Everyone knows that to win at poker, you must maximize your wins and minimize your losses. Maximizing your wins is fairly easy. Slowplaying and trapping help accentuate these wins, but the reality is that any fool can win a decent amount when he has a good hand. What generally separates a winning poker player from a losing one is how the two players lose their hands. The winning poker player knows how to dump his second-best hand while the loser will call it down and lose at the showdown.

To me, the psychological difference is generally that the losing player must satisfy his need to know what the other guy had. The desire to be a policeman and make sure his opponent isn't bluffing and to make sure he didn't lose what he could have won causes him to call when he shouldn't. The winning poker player has overcome this innate desire and forces him/herself to play well.

Now that I have brought your attention to what the second-best hand is, how do you play them? It really depends on Limit vs. No-Limit poker.

Limit Poker
When you play a fixed-limit game, calling with the second-best hand won't kill you quickly. You will notice your negative bank balance only in the long run because you will win sometimes in the short run. Generally, the best way to minimize your losses from second-best hands is through preflop play. Don't go in with hands without a decent kicker (i.e dump K8, A7) because those are often dominated hands. Having a dominated hand means that you're up against an opponent with a similar hand but one will almost always beat the other. Some examples are AA vs. AQ or AK vs. A9. The hand that is dominated has 3 outs or less (AQ must catch two queens without an ace hitting or a straight to win). Thus, correct preflop play can minimize second-best hands because you call less with dominated hands due to kicker.

Flop play is a bit different. Suppose:

Your Hand

You definitely have second-best hand potential, but how do you tell? Well, generally the best way is to bet or raise at flop and see what happens. If you encounter a lot of resistance, you're done for. Also, if there is a large multi-way pot, go ahead and fold. Someone is bound to have the Ace.

No-Limit Poker
When you play no-limit hold'em, it's a totally different ball game. In a fixed-limit game, you won't lose too much on one second-best hand, but you can easily lose your whole stack at no-limit. That's why, in a no-limit game, it's best to play the nut-like hands more. In other words, pocket pairs go up in value because of their ability to hit a set and so do connecting cards because of their ability to hit straights. Ace-suited goes up in value too because of the nut flush, but people are generally very aware of the flush potential and will shut you out at the flop when you hit a flush draw.

Since these hands go up in value, what goes down? AQ, AJ, KQ, KJ, etc. These hands are the ones that can get destroyed at no-limit poker. These hands will win small pots with top pair, but will lose large ones when someone else hits a set or a straight.

The key to no-limit poker is not necessarily dumping these second-best hands preflop. It's sniffing out what other people have on the flop. Do not simply call bets with the second-best hand; you must raise to see where you are. When someone bets at you, they are threatening your whole stack (if the bet is a signicant one). You must reciprocate by threatening theirs.

Your Hand

In this example, you could be in a lot of trouble. Someone betting at you could have JT or TT. It's important to figure out their relative strength by raising them at the flop.

Now, many will ask, "Well, couldn't they just bluff reraise me?" Of course they could, but that will cost them a lot when you finally get the nut hand. Simply call the reraise and then zap them out of the rest of their stack on the turn and river.

Next Article: Dynamic Hand Value

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