Straights are most important hold’em hand

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As a pro player for more than 35 years, an author, teaching professional and radio personality I’ve found one of the most often overlooked segments of Texas Hold’em is hand rankings. Look at the chart on the left.

I’d venture to say most players don’t know a straight has the best winning percentage of any hand in hold’em. With 19,600 possible three-card combinations on the flop, all but four of them can make a straight by the turn card, other than paired or three-of-a-kind flops. It is, of course, possible to flop a straight as well. When the board flops K-8-2, K-8-3, K-7-2 or Q-7-2 no straight can be made by the turn.

What is important is all hands above the line (top-five hands) are “visible” on the board; straights often are concealed to average players.

When 7-8-9 is flopped most players realize J-10 or 5-6 could be in play. The problem is when the board flops 6-9-Q and a 5 or 10 turns. Has anyone ever played 7-8? This type of hand isn’t often given credit by a player who holds K-Q, a pair or two pair.

By adding this to your arsenal and becoming aware of the hidden-straight factor, your game will become much stronger.

Please notice a straight is the best hand below the line, and seldom visible to the player who is in love with their hand. All good players will see the above-the-line hands as they are obvious to a player paying attention to the board.

Next time you play make a note to see how many hands below the line win. Then see how many hands above the line win. You’ll quickly see about 87 out of 100 hands play below the line.

Most professionals know straights make up a large portion of their big pot wins. You also will often acquire your largest pots with straights.

Let’s say you’re playing in a $2-$5 NLHE cash game and you’re in middle position with A-K offsuit. You’re the first to bring it in with a raise to $15 and only the button and the big blind call. The pot has $47. The big blind is a loose-aggressive player and the button is a tight player who seldom raises preflop. Knowing these players and, how do you feel about your hand?

The flop is {a-Clubs}{q-Clubs}{10-Diamonds}. The big blind bets $30. What is your play? You have top pair and top kicker and there’s still a tight player to act behind you. A loose-aggressive player (the big blind) is capable of playing any two cards preflop; he may be holding K-J or J-9 or A-Q or A-10 or Q-10. Since this player only called preflop it seems doubtful you are up against pocket kings or queens, however pocket 10s are a possibility. And the button looms a danger since he’s a tight player who would not have entered the hand to a raise without a strong beginning hand.

The pot is $77; you’re getting 2.5-1 odds to make the call. Is this a good call? Let’s factor three important things. You may be beat; there’s an active tight player behind you who has yet to act; and you’re between an loose-aggressive player and a tight player who has you out of position for the remainder of the betting rounds. What do you do?

I wish I knew! There are so many factors to consider at this point. Let’s examine them.
How is my chip stack compared with my opponents? If my hand is good, how many outs do I have to dodge to win if my hand doesn’t improve? Can I stand a raise from the button, and possibly a reraise from the loose-aggressive player? If I call and the button calls what do I really know about the hand? Should I raise the big blind’s $30 bet and hope to get the button out of the hand? Will the big blind shove if I reopen the betting with a raise when the button folds?

I’ll sum it up: The only thing I really know is I have one pair and top kicker. I’m below the line and can only beat a bluff or a smaller pair at this point. There are too many unknowns to risk playing a big pot. I never want to play a big pot with only one pair.
Stay close to the line and you’ll prosper.

— Antonio Pinzari is the host of Poker Wars Live, which airs Mondays from 7-9 PM (ET) on WBZT-AM 1230 Radio from West Palm Beach, FL and streams live at www.pokerwars.info.