Sunday, August 05, 2007

"I hate (jacks) (queens) (kings) (aces) (ace-king)"

I am SO tired of hearing poker players complaining about getting premium hands. You've all heard it, too: "I hate ace-king." "I hate queens." Or whatever. Among all the things you can say at a poker table that show just how stupid you are, this ranks high on the list.

Let's look at this objectively--mathematically. At a typical table of ten players, if everybody stays in the hand until the end every time, you obviously average a 10% chance of winning any given hand. Put another way, before the cards are known, you have a hypothetical 10% equity in the pot that will develop.

If you are dealt AA, however, your equity jumps to a whopping 31%. That is, even if nobody ever folds, you will win the hand 31% of the time, while all the other random hands have their equity drop from 10% to about 8% against your bullets. The glass-half-empty types will note that that means losing 69% of the time. Yeah, but before you looked down and saw the aces, you expected to lose 90% of the time, right? Seeing that AA staring back at you suddenly tripled your chances of winning against nine random hands, and since you know that not all nine of them are going to stay in until a final showdown, your equity in the pot keeps going up every time one of your opponents mucks.

(For an excellent, free, downloadable tool you can use for running this sort of calculation, go to

I think I hear the "I hate ________" gripe most often with respect to ace-king and pocket jacks. This, too, is highly irrational. Suited A-K begins with 21% equity (double your usual value with a random hand), and unsuited A-K has 17%, against everybody else's approximately 9%. What--you don't like having more than twice the chance of winning as your opponents? Then you're an idiot.

Even the much-despised pocket jacks have 19% equity against everybody else's 9%. On average, you will be getting twice as much money back from this hand as you put into it. If that's a situation you hate, you need to have your medications adjusted.

Notice that people never use the "I hate _________" line for little pairs, such as 5-5. But that hand has only 12% equity in the pot, against everybody else's 10%. It's a tiny, tiny margin, compared to what the premium hands give you. So why doesn't anybody say that they hate being dealt pocket 5s? The answer is pretty clear: It's because they know how to play that hand with a single, simple, dichotomous decision. You try to see the flop cheaply, and if you hit three-of-a-kind you stay in, and if you don't you muck it.

So beneath the surface, players who say they hate jacks or kings or queens, but don't say they hate small pairs, are actually telling you, "I don't know how to play premium hands for good value." Whether they know it or not, they're actually saying, "I'm a really bad player."

The other day when I was catching up on some back issues of Bluff magazine, I was pleased and surprised to find a column by Angel Largay in which he says just about the same thing I always think when I hear that tired old complaint (March, 2007, issue, p. 100):

What preconceived notions and flat out self-deceptions about your poker
skill and knowledge are you clinging onto, and how much are they holding you
back? I guarantee that you can absolutely become a better poker player than you are now. Absolutely guarantee it, and here's how: Just cut through whatever B.S.
you're feeding yourself and get honest. Some of the stuff might be brutally
simple--like you hate pocket jacks. Well, pocket jacks have a positive
expectation. Yes, really, even in your $3-$6 game. If you don't like a hand that
has a positive expectation--then you just don't know how to play it correctly.
That's the truth. If it's your truth, then admit it, and you are well on your
way to fixing that problem. Deny it and you'll continue to find reasons to hate
a hand that should be making you money.

Well said.

And here's a thought: If you really hate your aces, or ace-king, or queens, or whatever other premium hand you've decided the poker gods are punishing you with, then do two things. First, throw it away when you get it. You'll be happy because you won't have to make any of the difficult decisions later in the hand that are obviously beyond your mental capacity, and I'll be happy to have you relinquish your lion's share of the pot, because it leaves me with a better chance of winning with my weaker hand. Second, just shut up about it. I would consider both actions to be a personal favor to me.

1 comment:

Grange95 said...

Very well said. I actually like JJ better than KQ (my personal bugaboo of a hand).

A closely related phenomenon is the old "my favorite hand is x-x" where "x-x" is usually something like 7-8s or 3-5o ... a hand the player got lucky with to win a big pot at some point in the past. I usually say, "My favorite hand is pocket aces, but that's just me."