The art of playing troublesome poker hands



What is a troublesome hand? It’s a hand that can get you into a lot of trouble.

Here’s an example: K-4 suited. Let’s look at what often happens with this holding. You’re in late position, two players call before it comes around to you and you notice, with a quick glance to your left, the button is about to call, too. I hope you’re constantly looking to pick up tells like this. With favorable implied pot odds, you call. You suddenly remember you made a full house on the turn with this hand a couple of sessions ago.

Wait, let’s stop right there. This is the kind of thinking that has no place in a serious player’s thought process.  It does not matter what happened before. Past events have no bearing on the next turn of a card. There’s simply no possible connection. So let’s get back to our example. You’re pleased with yourself for cheaply getting into what is sure to be a big pot. And then the big blind raises. That’s when you say the fatal words, “Well, I’m already in,” and then you call. There’s your second mistake. Two mistakes and you haven’t even seen a flop.

It gets worse. You flop a king and are starting to envision the pot of the day being pushed your way. Unfortunately, you assume the two rags that accompanied the king on the flop were of no consequence.

And another king comes on the turn. When the big blind bets, you have your chips in hand, ready to raise. Then something unexpected happens. The other remaining player raises before it gets to you.

So now comes your third mistake. You timidly drop your chips on the felt as you mutter to yourself, “The pot’s too big to fold.” This is another example of the type of thinking you should avoid.

The river brings an inconsequential card. The player who raised bets and you and the other opponent make a final, crying call.  

All that money wasted because of the initial mistake of playing a troublesome hand. So what was the outcome? The big blind had A-K, so you were behind the whole way with a miserable three outs. But he didn’t win, either. The winner started with two suited connectors and flopped a straight.  

The good news is you can be happy when you observe other players at your table playing hands like that. Just make sure you aren’t one of them.

Oh, yes, be sure to add ace-rag to your list of troublesome starting hands.

— Willy Neuman divides plays at Hollywood Casino in Aurora, Ill., and Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz. Email

Chris Cosenza

Chris Cosenza