1. A-A: Pocket Aces are the best hand in poker but because of that simple fact they can be tricky to play. You could go the route of trying to limp in and trap players or you could simply make a raise. Either way, you need to do what needs to be done to isolate.
How to Play: Do whatever you have to do to get the pot down to 1-2 other players. Aces win against a random hand around 85% of the time but that number decreases ridiculously fast the more people are in the pot. The value of aces depreciates greatly in a multi-way pot so play accordingly. Raise them based on table position and not their strength, ex. raise more in later position.
2. A-K: Big slick is another hand that I see a lot of players have trouble playing and I see a lot of people busting out of tournaments because they overplay the hand.
How to Play: The hand should be a raising hand in most situations but occasionally you should limp in with this hand just to mix up your play. In early position you should obviously raise with it, same for middle position but in late position and the blinds this is a good spot to occasionally limp. Now if you raise with it and your hand misses the flop you should make a continuation bet (a bet around 1/2 the pot) to try to take the pot right there. If you get called or encounter raising or a lot of fighting back then get away from the hand. Remember, if you don’t hit a pair with A-K all you have is Ace-high, learn to fold the hand when it misses if you face resistance when you bluff with it.
3. K-Q: This is a hand that I place in a group of hands called “Trap Hands.” These types of hands get a lot of beginner and intermediate players in trouble because they treat these like premium hands when they really are just high suited connectors and should be played as such. The reason this hand gets players in trouble is because they often enter raised pots against true premium hands like high pocket pairs, A-K and A-Q and when you hit a pair you face kicker issues from facing A-Q or Big Slick. What you really want is to flop a straight or flush draw with this hand.
How to Play: In early position, you can call with this hand if you’d like, the suited variations of this hand are particularly strong and I consider them raising hands but offsuit variants should be either called or folded in early position, preferably folded if you’re at a loose table. In middle position K-Q is again a calling hand but if an early position player raises or calls than your fold percentage should increase meaning you will throw it away more. In late position I would call a standard raise or a call from middle position and sometimes early position players depending on the dynamics of the table.
4. A-10/A-J: These two hands are another two hands I consider “trap hands.” Most players treat them like premium hands and again they simply are overplayed and overvalued horribly by the average poker player. A-J suited is the only hand that I consider any real strength and A-Jo and A-10s and off-suit are just calling hands. Treat them like calling hands and you’ll be good, you don’t want to enter raised pots against premium hands, hit your ace only to loose all your chips because someone holding Big Slick had you outkicked.
How to Play: Unless you have A-Js these are simply calling hands. I wouldn’t advise entering raised pots with these hands very often. Once in a while you should raise with these just to mix up your play but you have to be very cautious with these hands if you get called. You are really looking to hit a straight or flop two pair so you don’t have to worry about kicker problems because if you’re in a raised pot and you hit your ace your ten kicker is very vulnerable.
5. K-K: Pocket Kings are pretty tricky especially if you play against weaker players. Phil Hellmuth describes this situation the best “I know i’m going to pick up kings and one of you idiots is going to call me with ace-deuce.” That just about sums it up, weaker players are going to call your raise with ace-rag and if the ace comes out you’re going to have a difficult decision.
How to Play: Raise aggressively pre-flop regardless of table position, your bets still should vary based on position however. The closer to the button the higher your raise should be, but don’t get ridiculous cap it off at 5-6x the big blind unless there’s a lot of limpers. If there’s no ace on the flop then bet hard unless its a very safe board (all low cards, no straights, no flushes) but do NOT under any circumstances give a free card for a player to outdraw you. The only way you give a free card is if you flop a set and are trying to trap. If an ace comes on the flop and you encounter resistance than be done with the hand as hard as it may be to throw away a sexy hand like K-K.
Honorable Mention: Low-Middle Pocket Pairs: These aren’t that tricky but I felt the need to mention them at the end here. These are tricky because a lot of players like to enter raised pots with these and they get in trouble a lot by overplaying them. I’ll try to give you some basic guidelines.
How to Play: I limp a lot with 8s and below often and follow a strategy called “set or die.” This means you check/fold unless you flop a set or the board is all unders with no flush possibilities. This is a surefire way to keep from losing a lot of chips. If you set than analyze the flop and slow play if its a favorable situation or make a bet and hopefully you’ll get paid off big time. For just about any pocket pair thats not paint (face cards) basically just lay it down if there’s overs on the board and you don’t set. You can raise with 7s and up in late position if you want, maybe even middle position but it is usually advised to limp in early with them.
Congratulations you now know how to play the top 5 trickiest hands in Poker.