Same Hand, Different Game Vol. 7: Paint Cards


In poker, sometimes the hand you hold has differing capabilities depending upon the game that you’re playing. What would be a great hand in one form of poker will, in essence, be total junk in another discipline of the game. In this continuing series of articles, we’ll examine particular hands and what strategies a player should put in place because the same hand isn’t always the best in different games.

Paint Cards – The True Anna Kournikova Of Poker

For many years, some in the world of poker have called Big Slick (A-K) the “Anna Kournikova” in that, much like the longtime professional tennis pro, it looks good but rarely wins anything. In my thoughts, however, Paint Cards – and in this situation we’re talking about K-Q, K-J and Q-J – the “Anna Kournikova” analogy is much more accurate. Most players, when seeing two Paint Cards in their hand, will overplay them tremendously, seemingly forgetting the factor that, even if you hit one of your cards, you may be crushed by a similar pair with the Ace kicker. There are times and places, however, where the Paint Cards can be a strong holding and other times when you definitely want nothing to do with them.

  • Texas Hold’em

If you find your Paint Cards in an early or middle position, you definitely have some thought as to how to proceed. While a strong holding, you still have a great deal of action behind you that more than likely will make the attempt to get you to muck your holdings. Limping in is an option but, to play the hand correctly, a raise is the better option. Besides, if you limp in and call the big blind, what are your defenses against a player in late position who makes a raise? If you fold, you’ve simply donated some of your precious chips. A raise may push out those late position players with a baby or middle Ace and potentially steal the button, giving you an advantage as the hand plays.

If the hand comes to you in the late positions (hijack, cutoff or button) or the blinds, there are several more options that you can consider. If there is no action in front of you, a raise may very well take down the hand without a fight. If there is action in front of you – say a raise, raise and call or raise and three bet – then you can easily release the hand. Depending on previous action, Paint Cards in the blind may be worth a call at the minimum.

Post flop is where playing Paint Cards becomes somewhat easier. If the board comes with no paint, the hand is easy to release in the face of a bet. If the action comes to you as a raiser, you can make that continuation bluff and attempt to take the hand right there. But you have to be mindful of your situation and beware if someone plays back at you.

Of course, if your Paint Cards are suited, then there is a great opportunity to make a big flush or straight, but be mindful of the board texture. In the case of a flush, you may make the second nut, only to see someone on a baby or middle suited Ace outpip you. In the case of a straight it, once again, may only make the second nut. Always be aware of potential ways that your Paint Cards, if they hit, can be outdone and proceed with a bit of caution.

This doesn’t mean that you should fold in the face of a bet, however. Most important to remember is to keep a potential pot small until you’ve reached the point where you are fairly assured of having the best hand. At that point, then you can attack your opponents with your Paint Cards with veracity.

  • Omaha Hold’em

As is the case with the game of Omaha, it is always important what the other two cards are along with your two Paint Cards. Having a “run,” such as an A-K-Q-J, K-Q-J-10 or something along those lines, is a powerful starting hand, especially if double suited. It gets a bit murky if you’ve just got your two Paint Cards and a couple of rags, however. To reduce the chance at big losses, sometimes it is best to let those Paint/rag combos go and wait for a better hand.

In Omaha Hi/Lo, the combinations are again critical to knowing whether to proceed or not. A combination such as K-Q-3-2, for example, has the potential for hitting on the right hand but, in most cases, you’re going to be left drawing for only half the pot in making a big hand or hitting the low just right.

Be mindful of the action around you in Omaha (and, as it is an action game, there will be plenty to see). If there are raises in front, let the hand go rather than contribute your hard earned chips to another player’s stack. If you’re first in, however, you can take the shot. Sometimes it is best to let the Paint Cards go in Omaha because there are better card combinations/situations that will allow you to maximize your winnings.

  • Razz

The axioms with pairs that we have talked about in earlier editions of this series apply when it comes to the Paint Cards in Razz. Because the goal is to make the worst hand possible, starting with two Paint Cards such as (Q-x) K, is the worst possible position to be in. Although you could hit your remaining four cards perfectly, it is an extremely rare occurrence when a King, Queen or Jack low will take down a pot.

There is some bluff potential if the Paint Cards are hidden. For example, if you have (Q-J) 2, you can posture that you are building for an excellent low and perhaps steal away a pot. There is one thing to remind yourself about bluffing: the story has to be consistent. If you fire away on the flop, you have to continue to tell the story the rest of the way, which requires putting more of your chips in the center of the table in the face of adversity. It is a form of attack that can either pick a player up a big pot or seal their doom when looked up.

For the most part, Paint Cards in Razz aren’t worth the effort in trying out your bluffing skills. Put those cards in the muck and move on to the next hand!

  • Seven Card Stud

In the Stud games, Paint Cards are arguably the trickiest. Because you’re playing your own set of cards – versus a board in the community card games – you have several options to look at. How many paint cards have been exposed? Do I have a solid shot at drawing to the straight? How many of the suit are left (if the Paint Cards are suited)? Only through having a serious amount of memory skills can you play the Paint Cards effectively.

It is possible that, if you hit your hand great like (K-Q) Q-K, you’re going to win the hand. For the most part, however, you’re looking to build that straight or flush and make a winner. By Fifth Street, you should have an excellent idea what the strength of your hand is and how it is doing in relation to your opponents.

In Seven Card Hi/Lo, all of the comparisons to Omaha Hi/Lo are applicable with one exception. If you are able to craft two pair with your Paint Cards, you likely have a strong hand that could win a high half fairly easily, but you’re going to be splitting the pot if someone builds a low. In addition, if someone is working a straight or flush against you, your two pair suddenly shrinks up. Continue to pay attention to those up cards from your opponents and don’t become married to a two pair combination with strong draws building from opponents.


Paint Cards are highly difficult to play because, while they have a modicum of strength, they can also easily be defeated. Many a player has made a second flush, second straight or two pair only to be eclipsed by an Ace high flush, bigger straight or flopped set, resulting in a stunning loss of chips. Tread warily when playing Paint Cards because, like the former Russian tennis pro, they look good but are easily defeated.

In the next part of this series, we will look at one particular connector that has always been popular with players, the J-10. One of the most argued about single hands in the game of poker, the J-10 deserves its own treatment as it can also be one of the most misplayed hands in the game.

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Earl Burton
Earl Burton is a veteran journalist in the poker industry, having covered the game since 2004. He has played the game much longer, however, starting out playing in family games at a very early age. He has covered tournaments across the United States, including the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker and various charitable events. Earl’s background includes writing for some of the top poker news sites in the industry as well as other poker media outlets that include Poker Player Newspaper and Canadian Poker Player Magazine. Earl keeps an unblinking eye on the poker world, offering coverage of news from the industry, tournament action, player interviews, strategy and his opinions on the game. Whenever possible, Earl will also step to the tables to demonstrate that there’s more than just writing talent behind his poker game!


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