The Worst Hand in Poker

The Final Hand

What’s the worst hand in poker?

Not enough thought has been given to this topic so let’s run through some ideas.

Anyone who disagrees can click on the comment button and fire back.

For starters, let's limit ourselves to moderate stakes No Limit Hold em (from about $.50/1 to $5/$10).

At lower stakes some things change and at higher stakes everything changes.

Let's also recognize that what I'm focusing on isn't the + or - EV of each hand played but the EV of each hand dealt!

Okay?

It's Not 7-2 Offsuit

If you answered 7-2 off you're not even close. Yeah, 7-2o is awful.

Any pair is likely beat, you can't make a straight or a flush without giving away one of your cards and when you do it's often beaten by a bigger flush or higher straight.

But that's exactly why it isn't such a terrible hand. You practically never play it.

You don't limp with it; you don't call with it. You just dump it. Most of the time it doesn't cost you a farthing.

Jamie Gold
It's not the cards, it's you.

Then, every once in a while you get to play it for free when you're the big blind and a limp-fest breaks out. And every once in one of those whiles you hit some magic.

Flop two pair or trips and there's an ace or a king on board and some poor bastard is holding a weak ace or king and is gonna pay you off.

And you just recouped some loose change --- almost certainly more than you gave up those times when you had it in the SB and (wisely) mucked it or got raised off it in the BB.

It's likely that serious poker players are, over their lifetime, in the black with 7-2o or damn close.

Other candidates often put forward are problem hands like pocket jacks ("Ouch! Hate it when an overcard flops and die when another hits on the turn") or K-Q ("What do I do when the ace hits?"), J-Ts ("Yeah, I know I'm not really getting the right odds to draw here but well, maybe in 'implied' odds....") or K-9 (Mike Matusow's nominee).

It's Specific to You

Indeed, these are good "worst hand" candidates but, when the dust has settled, the worst starting hand is the one you play the worst.

It's the one you get into the most trouble with.

The one that you have the most difficulty getting away from when you suspect you're beat, the one that creates situations that you are uncomfortable with, where you are prone to making poor decisions.

For most of the poker junkies who dabble in the range of game we're looking at here, it is likely that your worst hand is one where you call a raise with some combination of unpaired "big" cards, especially one- and two-gappers.

These hands are so awful because of the many situations that pop up that can make you very uncomfortable.

Suppose you call a raise with K-T or Q-T and hit your top card. You can't feel really happy. Even if it's top pair, you might have kicker problems.

If you paired the under card you may already be way behind. If the board comes up all babies you're behind any ace. And there is the lethal tug to peel one.

How about the raggy ace? Although it's losing whatever thin veneer of strength it may have once had, there are still those will play 'any ace'.

Consider the Flopped Draw

Consider A-6. Hit your ace and you could be in big trouble. Hit your six ... well, trust me, you don't want to hit the six.

Let's look at another example, the flopped draw. The problems here aren't in the play. They're buried in the tilt factor.

There are lots of ways to go on tilt but one of the sneakier is to miss a whole mess of draws. You know you're on this kind of tilt when you stop 'doing the math' and start believing that 'you're due' (you're not).

How about the off-beat hands, like 8-7o or 7-5s?

In the past, these 'junk' cards were regarded as close to deserving "worst hand" status and conventional wisdom was to instamuck.

But as some have learned, they don't actually play that badly.

Daniel Negreanu
Know thyself.

If you miss and the situation doesn't offer options, they're easy to release - easier than K-J where you may have two post-flop over cards.

If you catch a piece and it's cheap, you can hang around and see what develops. If you catch big you can trap.

They are relatively sneaky hands and hard for opponents to put you on and they have significant metagame impact.

Know Thyself

Which of these starting hands can be played? Which can be pulled from the 'worst hand' dustbin?

If you're skilled at getting away from problem situations, don't mind occasionally mucking what just might be the best hand and are exceedingly sensitive to position, you can play any of them, with great care.

The deeper message? Again, it's one of my favorites, "know thyself."

The worst hand in poker is the one you play the worst.

Take a look at the series of columns we did on "Post Flop Play" for more on this issue.

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bacchys 2015-12-19 21:16:58

99 hates me.

Evan 2011-08-03 10:30:46

JTs used to be considered the best hand for no limit cash games by most of the best players in the world...

I think 99 is my least favorite hand. I've lost a lot of money betting it as an overpair...a lot of ways to lose doing that. Just checked, and sure enough, it's my worst hand in terms of BB/hand.

Arty Smokes 2011-06-19 00:01:57

I've not been playing professionally long enough to be sure of the -EV hands for me personally, and I also haven't yet invested in one of those hand analysis tools that can calculate all sorts of clever statistics. I've read on various forums that AJo is one of the most problematic hands, along with the infamous AQ that is mentioned in an article on this site. I've heard that AJo has a long-term negative expectation, but AQ is profitable, particularly if you play it well.
For me - a tight ABC player - the hands I really hate are suited baby aces. A2 suited in the small blind is perhaps my least favourite. Even with a flop like AJ5 that gives me top pair, a four-flush and a gutshot, I'll usually lose, and it's horrible to have to play that hand out of position.

Issac 2010-09-30 17:11:15

I play all all big hands and Suited connectors call upto 3 bet I have found that playing suited connectors offer a lot even though most just muck these cards. Pocket Pairs are the worst when they don't hit and toughest to fold its just a waste of call most times.

Oliver 2010-09-28 22:24:02

But what is the worst hand?!?!? ie which hand loses the most money on major poker sites? Couldn't help but find this article as unsatisfying as it is interesting when it didn't say.

Jack 2010-09-23 13:08:51

The ugliest hand in my opinion is 8 2 off

mihai 2010-08-05 01:12:49

My thoughts exactly. The worst hand you could have is the worst hand you ALWAYS play, no matter what. For instance, a pair of... 7s, let's say. Most of the people tend to fold pockets 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, even 6s, especially when you play a bigger table. But 7s... you tend to play it and will probably lose.

Ian 2010-07-08 19:44:13

The best advice to all of you is, "All the money in the world can not change the flop!"

Ron E. 2010-06-21 17:57:16

GR8 advice. I see by some of the comments that introspection is still a hard sell. I can remember like it was yesterday, learning to play in the 50's, "Do you EVER know why you do things you do at the tables?"

Actually, I remember the 50's BETTER than yesterday, these days.....

1...That "you're due" is classic!! I've heard the Big Guys, as they rake in a couple of 'all-ins', explain why they made such a horrible call on the turn to catch their 1-outer on the river: "I was due, boys..."

2... What "box"?

Vincent 2010-05-30 22:51:21

Wow! What a great article. I am a poker baby, playing for less than a year, but I am learning to play in Ukraine where the culture of poker is completely different from the culture of poker in America. In my opinion, the unpaired, non-Ace/ high cards are the most difficult to play. Harrington calls this the "tragedy of the commons" since often times two or three players all get into a pot with high cards. All three of the players hit something and the one that cannot let go of their hand easily often loses a big pot. One player might have top pair, a second player has two pair, and the third player has flopped a straight. Next thing you know, two players are without chips. These hands KT, QT type of hands are extremely difficult for me unless I flop trips against someone that gets a smaller piece of the board, but that is rare. I prefer the 7,8 - 8,9 suited type of hands that can be hidden much easier as long as you don't hit the bottom end of the straight against the top end.

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