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Mind Over Poker

The trouble with trouble hands

by David Apostolico |  Published: May 01, 2010


The Trouble With Trouble Hands
Most of us recognize the inherent danger of playing so-called trouble hands. I’m talking about hands like K-J and Q-10. These hands can cost the inexperienced player a lot of chips when they hit a flop. Even with top pair, you could run into real kicker problems. The flip side of that is that if you do have the best hand, you are unlikely to win much of a pot. Thus, the value of these hands often warrants a preflop fold. There are times to play them and play them with authority, but this column is not about those times.

Instead, I’d like to address a problem that I see way too many players encounter. The situation goes something like this: Our victim is in the big blind with Q-10. He’d like to see a flop with this hand, especially since he hasn’t played a hand in a while and two high cards are looking pretty good to him. A player in middle position raises to three times the big blind. The button calls, and the small blind folds. The big blind believes that he is now getting pot odds to call, and he makes the call.

Now, I’m not going to criticize anyone for making the call here if he has the discipline not to lose a lot of chips even if he hits the flop. What I see, though, is that players who would readily fold Q-10 on the button to the same raise will call here because they have a big blind invested. So, now they are out of position while playing a trouble hand. As you might guess, that leads to trouble. Players hit a flop such as Q-8-2 and can’t get away from their hand. They will call all the way down to the river with a losing hand, or they will bet and then call a raise. More tricky players will try a check-raise value-bet to take advantage of a continuation-bet, and to see where they are in the hand. Even this play is ripe with danger, though, since better opponents may see vulnerability and keep using their position as leverage.

Even if an experienced player can get away from this hand when he hits a flop, it will cost him some chips. In the scenario above, many hands are playable. I’d much rather play 7-6 suited than Q-10, as I am much less likely to get into trouble. When playing the big blind, remember that the blind is your cost of doing business. Once posted, it is no longer yours. You are out of position in the big blind, so it is not the time to get yourself into trouble. A key component in any decision is pot odds, but you shouldn’t allow them to drag you into peril. Play smart and disciplined poker, and remember the trouble with trouble hands. Spade Suit

David Apostolico is the author of Tournament Poker and The Art of War, as well as his latest book, Compete, Play, Win: Finding Your Best Competitive Self. You can contact him at