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?
Worst Hand in Poker is NOT 7-2 Offsuit
If you answered 7-2 off you're not even close. But 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.
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.
Worst Poker Hand is Specific to You
Other candidates often put forward are problem hands like:
- JJ ("Ouch! Hate it when an overcard flops and die when another hits on the turn")
- 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....")
- K-9 (Mike Matusow's nominee)
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.
Beware of Two-Gappers
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. 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.
Worst Hand is One You Play the Worst
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.