Q-9 and J-8 aren't exactly monsters. In fact, these two hands should come with a warning label because they could cost you all of your chips. I'm referring to situations where you end up with a straight but lose to a higher straight.
Let’s say the flop comes 10-J-K. You obviously have a strong hand with Q-9, but it’s a loser if an opponent holds A-Q.
J-8 gets into trouble when the board comes 9-10-Q. In this situation, someone playing a K-J makes the higher straight. You’ll lose here too unless you’re able to make an excellent read.
Potential second-best straights are always dangerous hands to play. Q-9 and J-8, in particular, are more susceptible to finishing second best. Why? The hands that most players will pay to see the flop with are precisely the ones that will beat you.
Lower cards give you less to worry about. Say, for example, you play 6-3. The flop comes 4-5-7. While it's certainly possible that an opponent could be holding the dreaded 8-6, it's much less likely since players typically prefer to play high cards and fold lower ones.
As a rule, avoid playing the Q-9 and the J-8 against a raise. Calling a raise with either of these hands will cost you in the long run, especially if the raiser is in early position.
Here’s another hand.
A player raises in first position and you decide to call with Q-9. The flop comes K-J-10, and your opponent bets the pot. This puts you in a very difficult situation. It's difficult to know for sure if he has the A-Q, or something like pocket aces, kings, jacks or tens. You’re in good shape against any pocket pair; most players holding Q-9 would raise in this spot.
This could present another problem: What if your opponent reraises? It’s starting to look like he has the A-Q, but he might very well make that move with three of a kind. Folding against trips would be a huge mistake, but putting all of your money in against A-Q would be an even bigger blunder.
You can see why I'm not a fan of either of these two hands.
That reminds me, I'm also leery about playing a hand like Ks-4s.
The king is a strong card but the four kicker is pitiful. When you catch a king on the flop, you'll still be worried about someone having a better kicker. That's not even the worst part about K-x suited hands. If you’re actually lucky enough to catch a flush, it'll often end up being second-best.
It's common to see a king-high flush lose to the ace-high flush since hands like As-10s are regularly played. Unless you’re the Amazing Kreskin, or you possess incredible hand-reading skills, it's going to be difficult to get away from second-best flushes without losing a big pot.
Here’s a note specific to tournament play.
You need to play a lot of hands in order to succeed in No Limit Hold'em tournaments, and hands like Q-9 and J-8 can fit that bill. In tourneys, go ahead and play these hands, but be prepared to put the brakes on if you find yourself looking at a flop that could make your hand second-best.
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