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.
The Dreaded J-10 – So Many Options, So Few Outright Wins
Arguably one of the most difficult hands to play in the world of poker is the J-10. The appeal of the hand is several-fold: it is the only two card combination that can create four nut straights (Broadway and King, Queen and Jack high), it can be a very sneaky hand on the right board and, in some instances and betting sequences, can be an excellent hand to bluff with. Most players, however, will overplay the hand – even if it appears that they have the edge – resulting in a huge loss of chips when the J-10 doesn’t come home.
It is tremendously important to remember the game you’re playing and what circumstances are at stake before you get too trigger happy with the J-10. As you will see, while there are several opportunities for fortune with the hand, it can also set you into a tremendous tailspin from which you may not recover.
The J-10 is perhaps most popular in Texas Hold’em because it can be a powerful hand in the right situation. Pre-flop, a suited J-10 is in the Top 20 for hand selection (remember, there are only 169 potential combinations of two cards); if it is off suit, however, it drops down to the bottom of the Top 40. Your position at the table AND how many opponents you have to face could be key components to whether you should play the hand or not.
Contrary to popular belief, the J-10 is not a hand that works well against multiple opponents. Whether suited or unsuited, against a single opponent it is only going to win (by the mathematical breakdowns) between 46-49% of the time. If you have as many as three opponents, however, that drops down to 23-26% of the time. Thus, if you’re going to play the J-10, you have to play it strongly.
But when and where? This is where your read of the table will come in handy. If you are playing at an aggressive table, you can comfortably release the J-10 in early position. In middle position, you have a bit more leeway and even more if you’re in the cutoff, on the button or the blinds. Your bet, however, is the further question.
If in late position, you can call a raise and look to hit your J-10. Beware the “squeeze play,” however; a player in the blinds may see your call of a raise as weak and attempt to push you out of the pot with a three-bet. The J-10 doesn’t stand up well against this, especially on an aggressive table where the original raiser may make it four to go. (At a passive table, you are at least going to take a look.)
Of course, you’re looking to hit one of those four straights with your hand, but you have some strength if the flop comes J-J-x or 10-10-x. You have to be mindful, however, of someone holding a bigger kicker which could pull the hand out from underneath you.
The J-10 is also one of those hands whose play can differentiate between Limit and No Limit Hold’em. In a Limit game, you probably want to see what it can do, especially if you’re building towards a straight possibility, but, in No Limit, you have to take into consideration whether you want to proceed to the river – and the expenditure of chips – searching for your straight.
Many of the axioms talked about in the Texas Hold’em section also apply to Omaha but, as always, you have to be mindful of those other two cards you have. You have tremendous options if you have a run hand – a K-Q-J-10 or Q-J-10-9, for example – than if you have just the J-10 and a couple of rags. Being double suited here is also an advantage as it gives you redraws to a bigger hand in a decent strength flush.
Here is the downfall of the J-10 in Omaha, however. The strongest hand you’re logically going to make is the Broadway straight. If the board pairs, all of a sudden you are subject to an opponent who is sitting on a pocket pair, flopped a set and has, on the turn or river, now crushed your straight with a boat. Proceed with caution if there is a pair on the board, otherwise a good deal of your chips may end up in someone else’s stack.
In Omaha Hi/Lo, you will win the high hand in most cases with a straight on an upaired board. If you make your Broadway, someone could make the low, especially in the case of an A-K-Q-2-3 (or similar combination). In reality, you want to hit that King high straight and guarantee that there aren’t two low cards (eight or lower) that will give someone half of your hard earned pot.
This is a game where the J-10, in extreme cases, can be something that wins on occasion. The Jack is definitely the highest card you should be looking at to make a Razz hand and, even then, you have to depend on any opponents you’re facing to pair up their cards to make your Jack good (not a likely option against good players). In reality, it is much easier – and kind to your chip stack – to put the J-10 in the muck in this game and wait for something that actually gives you a better opportunity.
Seven Card Stud
The J-10 in Seven Card Stud is a hand that, in most cases if played, you’re going to be taking to the river. If you start with a hand such as (J-10) Q, for example, you do have three-fifths of a powerful straight that you can be aggressive with. It is your powers of observation here that will tell you whether to continue on or not.
If you have noticed several of your outs (Aces, Kings, nines, eights) in your opponents up cards, the probability of making your straight is reduced greatly. Although you can still make a decent hand by pairing two of your three original cards, you’re going to need a great deal of help through the next four streets. Controlling the betting is important, as is getting free cards whenever possible. You also have to watch for opponents building that flush, no matter how small, which will eclipse your straight or two pair.
In Stud Hi/Lo, the J-10 presents even worse options. Although you can win with your straight or perhaps two pair, you are also going to be splitting the pot on many occasions. Remember the axiom – scoop, don’t split – and let that J-10 alone for potentially another time…and another game!
Several years ago Annie Duke, who was co-host with Phil Hellmuth of the “Best Damn Poker Show” on Fox Sports in the United States, called the J-10 “the most overplayed hand in poker.” While this may be true, its potential is what draws players to take it to battle. When it hits, it will normally hit big but when it misses, it can devastate a stack. This is where the attention you pay to your opponents will be most valuable because you can determine how far you want to go with the dreaded J-10.
In the next part of this series, we will take up the subject of connector cards. Whether suited or unsuited, they can be a valuable tool to play in your arsenal but, if played incorrectly, can leave you on the sidelines watching the game instead of playing it!