We’ve all been there – short stacked and blinded half into oblivion with nothing but cold cards coming our way. Then, suddenly, we look down to see queen-jack unsuited. “A monster,” we muse, and limp into the first pot we’ve played in a half hour.

But when the hand is over, more often than not we’re left with that same greasy, unsettling feeling that comes after downing a double-quarter-pounder with cheese.

Much like a big, juicy fast-food burger on a television commercial, there are hands in poker which look amazingly delicious, but are in reality terrible for you. It seems as though both of these apparitions come along when we’re at our weakest, fooling us and giving rise to poor decision making. But whether it’s the hunger for food or the hunger for cash, we must keep our appetites in check, lest we affect our long-term health.

Fortunately for you, I’m here to help. Consider me your poker conscience, and read over my list of ingredients that make up an unhealthy hand.


This is a big one. If you’ve been catching nothing better than J-9 for most of the night, A-10 can look like a monster. While this may be a decent combination at a short-handed table, it’s a recipe for trouble at a full one, especially when played form early position. Consider this: If your opponents hold any face-card combination (A-J, A-Q, A-K), you’ll be dominated. There are a large number of other scenarios which will not bode well for the A-10. If the flop comes A-5-3, you could lose to A-5, A-3, 5-5, 3-3, or A-A. And that doesn’t even take the wheel-straight draw into account. Bottom line: There are just too many outs for your opponents. The only way to feel safe with A-10 is if you flop two pair or manage to nail a straight.


Most novice players get into trouble with this one. On first glance, it appears to be too strong to fold, but not quite hearty enough to raise with. Listen to your poker conscience – If it’s not strong enough to raise with, then it’s not strong enough to play. Think about it. A-A, K-K, Q-Q, K-Q, A-K, A-Q, and A-J all have a good chance of sending you to the loser’s circle. Even a lackluster pair of pocket jacks will have you dominated if another jack hits the board. I would only play this hand from late position in a hand without much action.


Perhaps no other hand has caused more agony than the dreaded pocket jacks. Especially when faced with a pre-flop all-in, this can make for an excruciating choice. And you know what the worst part of it is? I can’t tell you what to do with it. It depends on your opponent. If you know they’ll chase a flush (perhaps holding a suited ace and low kicker), then it may be worth a call. But there are just so many hands that beat this combination. You can make a lot of money on this in certain situations. But most of the time, pocket jacks are trouble.


See A-10. It’s a lot like that, but worse.

There are plenty of other hands which may cause you grief, but these are the most common stumbling stones I’ve witnessed. Play smart and be mindful of the opposition, and you may be able to keep these unhealthy ingredients out of your poker diet.

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Handfuls of Trouble
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