Relative Poker Hand Strength

PokerStarsSchool | 6 months ago in Poker Theory and Concepts

When you’re playing online poker and you look at a hand rankings chart it seems pretty obvious what a strong hand is and what is not. At the top of the hand rankings you have straight flushes, quad and full houses. Then you have weaker holdings like two pairs, one pair and high cards down at the bottom. But looks can be deceiving. Sometimes in poker a strong hand like a full house can be beaten, and sometimes a weak hand like Ace-high can be the best out there. Learning how to spot when things are not as they seem is an important skill in poker – read on to find out more…

When you are dealt a hand pre-flop the strength of that hand is absolute. For example, it’s a fact that pocket Aces is the best hand you can be dealt, and that 7-2 is statistically the worst hand you can be dealt. However, once you add in other factors to the hand – such as the flop, turn and river and the playing styles of your opponents – things become much more complicated.

Let me use an example to illustrate what I mean. You have a full house holding 3-3 on a 3-A-K-K-Q board. When you’re up against a weak opponent, Player A, who overcommits with hands, you should treat this as basically the nuts. However, if you’re up against a good, tough player (let’s call them Player B) and face a lot of aggression then suddenly your hand loses a lot of its appeal. When Player A is in the hand pocket Threes are so strong because you could get paid off, or even raised by, inferior hands like any Ace, trip Kings, straights or perhaps just a Queen. In this instance a full house lives up to its literal billing as a very strong poker hand.

That’s not the case when playing Player B. There’s still a strong chance you have the best hand, but if you face any aggression in this spot you definitely have to proceed with caution. That’s because strong players will only commit significant chips here when they also have a full house, holding hands like A-K or K-Q, a straight, or perhaps a strong King such as K-J. As you can see, this is a much narrower range of hands that will give you action – and many of these hands beat you too!

For our next example of relative hand strengths, let’s move all the way down to the bottom of the online poker hand rankings and look at high-card hands. In general, you aren’t going to get very far by frequently calling with Ace-high. In absolute terms, it’s a very weak hand that cannot beat even one pair. However, there will be instances when the situation at the table means this hand suddenly goes from being an easy fold to a spot where you should call because it’s good. At the $25,000 High Roller event from this year’s PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Charlie Carrel pulled off a stunning call with Ace-high that gave him a big stack early on. His opponent, Anton Astapau, had shoved on the river of a Js-8s-8h-7c-3h and now Carrel had a decision to make. He thought it over for a few minutes before calling with A-K; it was good versus Astapau’s Q-T. So how did Carrel pull off such a great call with a weak hand? The first factor is that he knew his opponent was aggressive enough that there was a chance he could be bluffing. The second important factor is that the board was one where Astapau was likely to have a very strong hand (trip Eights or a straight), or complete air. It would be unlikely for him to bet so big with just a Jack because so many other hands that Carrel could have beat that. After weighing up the evidence Carrel decided that his lowly Ace-high was probably the best hand.

The aim of this article is not to make you go around folding full houses and insta-calling with Ace-highs all the time. Instead, it’s to make you think that sometimes a strong hand is not so strong and sometimes a weak hand is all you need to win. Once you realise this, suddenly a whole new world of possibilities at the poker table will open up!

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