Poker Tips: Playing "Trap" Hands (KQ, KJ, QJ, A10)
Trap Hands in poker are hands that appear to be really good hands and are usually badly overrated by beginners that lead to outdraws and busting out of games. Many poker players believe KQ, KJ, QJ and A10 are great, premium hands and play them aggressively like big hands such as: AK, QQ, JJ, AQs etc... To increase your poker skill you must first realize that these hands just aren't that great and need to be treated as such, there are distinct methods that will solve common problems when playing these hands like being outkicked, outdrawn, etc... I'll outline a strategy that will help you play these hands to avoid going broke with them and how to play them. First we will take a look at playing them based on position.
1 - Table Position:
Trap hands need to be played with strict table position considerations and you should see your game and "luck" increase when playing these hands. In early position, I recommend throwing away K-J, Q-J and A-10 offsuit as they are not very strong hands however if you are the first in and no one has raised I would probably call half the time and fold half the time. The only trap hands that I would play in early position to open the pot with would be K-Q suited and A-10 suited, all other variations I would throw away. Discipline yourself to let go of Q-J, A-10, K-J and K-Qo in early position they just aren't strong enough. I would definitely let them go if you are 2nd to act and under the gun raises because you will most likely be facing a pocket pair, A-K, A-Q or A-J variations. Even though you may have two overcards to a pocket pair like 8s, 9s or 10s do you really want risk a coin flip situation when they are just as likely to hold ace-king or a true premium hand. I would also fold these trap hands if the poker player under the gun limps because he is likely to have a small pair, high suited connector or a hand very similar to yours which will pose a lot of problems when the flop comes out which we will discuss a little later.
So lets make it easy: Early Position - Fold all trap hands if the poker player under the gun raises or limps in. If its folded to you open the pot with K-Qs, A-10s with a raise, call or let it go on a random basis, the breakdown of how often you should do each should be even and should be done on a random basis. If you are at a tight table, play them more often; if you are at a loose table then fold them more often. Once in a while, depending on what style you consider yourself I will open with Q-J or K-J suited but not very often, if I play this in early position I am playing a loose game at a tight table and will not hesitate to get away from the hand post-flop.
Middle Position - When you are in middle position you can hold on to the same strategy as early position but you can add on the off-suit variations of the trap hands however, if a poker player in early positions enters the pot with a raise or a limp I recommend folding the hand, but once in a while I'll call with a K-Q or A-10 if they only limped. If it is folded to you, I would open the pot with all the trap hands listed above but I will fold Q-Jo, K-Jo and A-10o half the time in middle position. Remember that if a poker player in early position raises that you should seriously consider folding all variations of trap hands, including K-Qs but if you have to play K-Qs or A-10s to a raise its your decision these are merely guidelines. Just keep in mind that K-Q and A-10 are just as bad as K-2 and A-3 if they are up against A-K who hit top pair against you. What you're really looking for when entering a raised pot with a trap hand is to flop a straight or a solid straight draw like an open-ended straight draw (ex. K-Qs the flop comes J-10-2 meaning an ace or 9 give you a straight). Be extremely mindful if you flop two pair with one of these hands because they're all part of high straight draws that are usually part of another poker players draw (ex. K-Qs and the flop comes K-Q-5... The other poker player holds A-J and needs a 10 for a straight which gives them a strong draw that will crush you if they hit it).
Easy explanation of middle position: Follow early position guidelines, but loosen up to Q-J, K-J and A-10 offsuit and suited if it is folded to you. If a poker player in early position enters the pot, fold most of the time with a few ocassional calls when holding one of the better trap hands like K-Qs. If you want to simplify this further, just fold any trap hand thats not suited if anyone enters the pot before you as a general rule. This betters your drawing chances because these are truly drawing hands, not hands that you want to flop top pair with necessarily... K-Qs should be looked at the same way at 7-8s or 9-10s, you are looking to flop a flush/straight draw and draw out on your opponent.
Late Position - This is the loosest position and the strategy for this position is usually the way most poker players play these type of hands regardless of table position. You can play most of these hands but I'd still let them go to early position limps or raises. If early position folds and middle position limps in I would tighten up calling the raise most of the time with the suited variants of the hands and folding sometimes. The only time I'd consider calling a middle position raise in late position with an unsuited trap hand would be with K-Qo and if I knew the middle position poker player was more on the looser side.
Simple explanation of late position trap hand play: Play them with more freedom but let them go to early position raisers and limpers, be a little more liberal with your calling if middle position poker players enter the pot and mix up a combo of raising and calling if its folded around to you.
2 - Analyzing the Flop:
An important aspect of poker as a whole, but applied specifically to playing poker is analyzing the flop and knowing when to let go of your hands when the flop is unfavorable to a profitable outcome. There are many times where flopping two pair with trap hands will be very dangerous and you need to analyze the flops carefully and decide if its a smart decision to continue playing. We'll take a look at some favorable and unfavorable flops for certain trap hands so you know when to keep going and when to consider folding, remember that sometimes your hand will still be good on a seemingly dangerous board but that will require extreme development of your reading ability to be able to determine where you are at and for you to be able to place your opponent on draws that just happen to pair your hand.
Your Hand: Ks-Qs
- Flop: Kd-Qd-9s
Explanation: While you flopped top two pair this is an absolutely horrid flop for your hand. Your two pair is part of two straight flush draws, flush draws and two straight draws. The following hands have better draws than you: J-10 suited or off-suit, A-Js, Any two diamonds... You get the point... There are a lot of hands that have you beat as well as a possible open ended straight flush draw and a straight is already possible. In this situation, I would make a continuation bet or take control of the betting and fold to a reraise. If another poker player bets, I would call if I'm being offered good pot odds somewhere in the ballpark of 3-to-1 or better and hope you can draw to a full house. If you call and a diamond, 10 or ace come on the turn I'm done with the hand and strongly advise letting your two pair go.
Your Hand: Q-Jo - Flop: Qs-10s-Ac
Explanation: You flopped middle pair with a straight draw which isn't a bad draw, but at this time your hand probably isn't in front if there are poker players from early or middle position in the pot with you. An ace is extremely possible and K-J already has a straight. I'd either check/fold or take a stab at the pot but expect to be reraised in this situation. Also keep in mind that there is a flush/straight flush draw on the board and if the third spade comes out you're done with the hand. Keep in mind other hands that are likely to be involved in a pot with a flop like this. The following hands have the same draw as you but are ahead at this point: A-K, A-J which are likely, other hands with draws are J-9, J-8 and any two spades. poker players with paint will probably stay in this pot to see if they get lucky, but if you call down with middle pair and you both miss your draw just know that your middle pair is probably beat by an ace or a better queen like A-Q or K-Q.
Your Hand: A-10 - Flop: A-8-J
Explanation: This is a good flop for you because you hit top pair with a decent kicker but you can't be so sure that you're good. A lot of possibilities out there at the rest of the table, with a remote straight draw you must be mindful is a 9, 10 or queen come out and you can't be so sure your ace is good but it is likely. I consider this a neutral flop because while it helped your hand, it may be hidden danger, such as if someone has J-8, A-J or A-8 and you get busted by having too much faith in your kicker. This flop is a prime example of why you don't call raises from early or middle position with A-10 because so frequently the raiser holds A-J, A-Q, A-K that while you think your kicker is good, it'll get crushed if you enter raised pots treating it like a premium hand. A-10 is just as bad as A-6 on a flop of A-8-J when your opponent is holding A-J or better.
Your Hand: Ac-10c - Flop: 8c-10s-As
While you flopped top two pair it happens to be a part of the nut-straight draw and is also part of a spade flush draw that you don't hold. Hands like K-Q, K-J, Q-J all have straight draws needing one card to fill it and any two spades also have a better draw than you. Your best bet here is to either continuation bet if you raised or probe bet if no one has bet yet to see how well of you are. If you're called you can probably put your opponent on a straight draw or perhaps a lower ace. If you're reraised at this point, you're facing a big hand like A-K or A-Q that you fortunately have crushed at this point in the hand there also is the possibility that your opponent has a set of 10s or 8s but lets not look into that too much for now unless you are very strong at reading and can put an opponent on a set when they bet the same way someone with top pair would. If you are called and a spade, queen, king or jack come out I'd probably let the hand go if anyone bets. If you bet again it is even more likely that you get reraised and if you do than the hand is over. Keep in mind that if you bet and are called its increasingly likely that someone has a better two pair if a face card comes out. Let's say the turn is a jack, the following hands have you crushed at this point: A-J, K-Q, 8-8,10-10, A-A, J-J. Not too many hands but these hands are likely to be out at the table somewhere and that jack gave a lot more hands more outs to draw to a straight. Hands like Q-J, K-J, Q-10, K-10, A-K, A-Q all have straight draws with a pair to kick and if any of them have any of those suited of spades they're probably going to stay in the hand. So you check and a poker player behind you bets huge and you decide to call and the river is a spade. Now there's a straight and a flush on the board and you have top and middle pair. Unless you get ridiculous pot odds I'd let the hand go, with the way opponents have bet during the pot should lead you to believe they hit their draw either with the jack on the turn or the spade on the river. Again, there are times that you'll call and your 2 pair will be good having beaten a hand like A-8, J-10, A-Q, A-K or any other trap hand that hit a pair and missed their draw, but more times than not your hand won't hold up in this situation. This is a neutral flop that went seemingly bad so when you're in this situation analyze your opponents carefully and try to determine if they have pairs or strong draws or a combination of the two. When the scared card comes and you think it filled their draw just fold, no harm done in folding other than your pre-flop call or raise which is way better than going all-in over the top with your two pair to lose to a spade flush on the river or a straight on the turn when K-Q calls you.
Your Hand: Kh-Qh - Flop: Ks - 4h - 8h
Explanation: This is one of the best flops you could ask for with a trap hand like this. While I consider K-Qs the top trap hand, it should still be treated as a high suited connector rather than being treated like a big slick or ace queen. You hit top pair with 2nd kicker and the 2nd nut flush draw. This is a monster flop for you and you have enough outs to call or raise just about any bet. The only problem here would be if you miss your heart draw and are faced against big slick. Since no obvious straight possibilities are out there if you spike two pair on the turn I'd be very confident that your hand is best and bet accordingly. If you hit your flush you most certainly are good, you will ocassionally lose to A-x of hearts and lose to the nut flush but if that happens just suck it up and move on, it wasn't your night.
Your Hand: Qd-Jd - Flop: 10d-9s-2d
Explanation: This is a monster flop for your hand. You flopped a decent flush draw and an open ended straight draw. Any diamond, eight or king will complete your draw to a straight or flush which will most likely be the winning hand. You can either bet this draw or check and try to get a free card, if your opponent bets analyze the pot odds accordingly but since you are 1/4 twice on your flush draw plus the 6 outs (not double counting the king or 8 of diamonds) for a straight you should definitely call if offered 2-to-1 (you will be offered these outs with a pot-sized bet or less). If the pot is over bet you're probably facing A-10, K-10, 10-9 or two high diamonds that want to protect their hands so if you want to gamble go for it, you have a myriad of outs.
Your Hand: K-Jo - Flop: 10-Q-9
Explanation: This is
the best flop you could ever hope for with a trap hand. You flopped the 2nd nut straight and have an opportunity to draw to the nut straight. You definitely are not folding this hand at this point no matter what. The only way I'd fold is if you are strong at reading opponents and you pair on the turn or river and are positively sure that your opponent has A-Q, A-J or A-K and hit the nuts on you. Even then you're probably still going to make a crying call and hope he doesn't show you the nuts.
Now you should have an understanding of how to treat trap hands and what sorts of flops to analyze when trying to make a decision on whether or not to let go of a truly mediocre holding. Disicipline yourself to treat these hands how they should be treated, do not overestimate their value and end up going broke when you hit your queen with Q-J only to lose to A-Q or flop bottom pair and a straight draw against someone with a better pair and the same draw or someone who already has it. Remember with a flop of Q-J-10 when you hold Q-J isn't good when you consider the most likely raised holding in this situation is probably A-K. The best you can hope for is to turn or river a full house which is the best situation, but please don't go broke calling raises and reraises of your two pair trying to draw to a full house because they'll outdraw you more than you'll outdraw them.
For a fantastic explanation of playing these sorts of hands as well as explanations of pot odds to help you decide if you're getting the right odds on your money to stay after a draw or to test your two pair on a scary board I urge you to pick up the first two volumes of Harrington on Hold'em. Below are two boxes that will take you directly to a page to pick up a copy from Amazon.
Now that you have a nice boost to your poker game try it out at one of the top poker rooms!
Top U.S. Online Poker Room (Full Tilt Poker) | Top Non-U.S. Online Poker Room (Titan Poker)
Slow Playing / Trapping
Slow playing or trapping is an advanced strategy used to lure in other poker players ideally very aggressive poker players into betting into you after you have flopped a monster hand. In this section we will be looking at some examples and other guidelines for when to slow play or trap. This is not a strategy that should be overused and there are some poker players that refuse to slow play because it can become very dangerous if it backfires and your opponent draws to a better hand.
Slow playing is simply checking your monster hand to represent weakness and hoping your opponent bets into you and you can just call them down then depending on what you believe they have you may be able to check raise or put in a big bet that could possibly be called on the river. Ideal situations for slowplaying are: flopping a straight on a rainbow flop, flopping a set (three of a kind) on a rainbow flop, flopping a full house, and flopping a high flush. Slow playing should not be overused because it is a rather risky situation because it could lead to you giving your opponent a free card that could beat you which you should worry about more with flopping sets moreso than a straight or full house. Nonetheless, when this strategy works you're likely to get paid off big time and if you refer to my blog you will find post I wrote about my personal success utilizing trapping techniques with small to mid pocket pairs. Let's get into the examples of when to slow play a big hand and when not to slow play.
Your Hand: 5-5
The Flop: 5c-8h-As
Slow Playing Situation: Yes
Explanation: The flop was the most monster flop you could hope for with pocket 5's. You flopped a set and unless someone has 8-8 or A-A you have the best hand at the table. If this pot was raised pre-flop I like to sneak into the pot if the raisers raise was somewhere in the range of 2-4x the big blind because I know if I hit my set they will pay me off if I set and at worst you'll win their continuation bet if they fold on later streets. So you called from big blind in this situation and you're first to act so to slow play this hand since there's no flush and very remote straight possibilities this is a safe flop to try a slow play. Check over to the other poker players in the pot and hope they bet. You check and your opponent makes a continuation sized bet of half the pot. Now do NOT jump the gun and throw in a monster re-raise that is defeating the purpose, that strategy you will utilize if the flop hit your hand but your hand is very vulnerable, like if there was a flush or straight draw possible. Just call their bet and wait for the turn card. The turn comes out 9s and that card poses no obvious threat at this time in the hand. Check again and your opponent should probably bet again. You do so and your opponent bets again, and once again you should just call. Fight the urge to reraise from the excitement of probably having the best hand. You call and the river comes another 8 improving your hand to a full house. You check again and our opponent bets. At this point a reraise is the recommended play because your opponent is saying he has something, in this case he probably has A-K or A-Q by the way he's played the hand throughout. The object here is not to overbet to the point where you shove your opponent out, but just enough to get a call. If they have A-K you'll probably wind up with all their chips because they'll likely push all in over the top thinking their A's and 8's with a king kicker is the best hand. Your reraise should be in the range of 2-3x their river bet. You reraise 2x his bet and he calls. You show a full house and he shows A-K as we thought before and your slow play works perfectly.
Your Hand: K-10
The Flop: Qh-Jc-9h
Slow Playing Situation: Yes & No
Explanation: Slow playing your straight right now is a debatable and risky situation because there are two hearts right now and there is a small chance someone could draw to the nut straight if they hold something like A-10 or A-K and you pair the board giving them a straight. There is also a chance to split the pot when the fourth straight card comes out on the turn or river. With a higher straight draw, flush draw and split pot chances it is questionable whether or not to slow play. If it was a rainbow flop (3 different suits) I would recommend slow play if you aren't the lead bettor (pre-flop raiser) because a check can look suspicious to better poker players if you raised preflop. For this example however, you decide to attempt a slow play and check the flop and the maniac acting after you puts in a hefty bet. At this point, I would consider speeding up this is a more aggressive sort of a semi-slow play that will at worst force your opponent out of the hand. You decide to check-raise twice his raise and he pushes all-in. You call and he shows 10-8 of hearts with the queen-high straight and flush draw. He misses his flush and you win the pot. Even though his chips got into the pot after the flop, that is far more favorable than just calling and letting him dictate the price for catching his heart. Say he didn't have hearts and you check and he checks and the heart or king come out giving him a winning or tying hand.
Your Hand: 8-8
The Flop: 7d-8d-9h
Slow Playing Situation: No
Explanation: While you flopped middle set this actually is a horrible flop for your hand. Not only are there two diamonds out there making four to a flush but there's also an open-ended straight draw on the board. This definitely is not a great situation for slow-playing, if you are not in favorable position I may advise a check-raise but if you are in position and someone bets you have to speed up with a hefty raise. I wouldn't play games and get cute with flops. Hands like J-10, Q-10, Q-J, 5-6 or any two diamonds either have better draws or already have a better hand than you (J-10, 5-6). While 5-6 is highly unlikely in this situation, J-10 is a pretty common holding and the possible hands that have two diamonds is pretty large. So to keep it frank bet the flop very hard in position, if you think other poker players will bet perhaps you could try a check-raise but this is risky because they could easily give themselves a free card to beat you. If your reraise is called and the fourth straight card comes out like a jack or a ten you should seriously consider being finished with your hand. As hard as it is to let go of a set, you should let it go if the third diamond or fourth straight card come out on the turn and you are bet at. If no scare card comes on the turn you need to again bet aggressively and at this point should take control of the betting in the hand. Keep in mind that a straight may already be made and you may already be beat so even if a scare card does come and your bet is called or reraised on the turn, don't be surprised that if it reaches showdown they show a straight. There is a reason they stayed in the hand to a raise or check-raise from you post-flop and another bet after the turn unless they are known to be calling stations you should be cautious.
These examples should suffice for displaying when slowplay should and should not be used, if it did not the general guidelines below should make things clear.
When to Slow Play:
-Flop a full house
-Flop a set when the flop has no straight or flush draws
-Flop a set when the flop has no flush draws but maybe a remote or gutshot straight draw possibilities
-Flop a straight with no flush draw
-Flop a straight with a flush draw on the board vs. 1 to 2 opponents.
-Flop a King or Ace-High flush, or a Queen/Jack-High if the ace and/or king are on the board.
When NOT to Slow Play:
- Flopping a set when a flush draw and/or straight draw are present (like in example 3).
- Flopping a low straight in a multi-way pot, especially if a flush draw is also present.
- Flopping a straight when the flop has 2 or 3 suited cards.
- Flopping a low flush.
In conclusion, slow playing and trapping is a very profitable situation when it works but very crippling when it backfires. It should not be used everytime a favorable situation arises, but it is most useful and profitable when the situation arises in a pot against very aggressive poker players that like to throw chips around. When you get a favorable situation with one of these maniacs or aggressive poker players, throw them the bait by checking and let them bet at you, call and let them keep betting then fire at them on the river. When an unfavorable flop comes, like bottom set with a flush and straight draw possible you must analyze the flop and your opponents betting patterns slowly to be able to place them on a draw or made hand and bet accordingly. Do not give free cards on unfavorable flops and if they play back aggressively by coming over the top on the flop or turn try to find a way to get away from your set unless you're 100% sure they do not have the straight or flush.
Now that you have a nice boost to your poker game try it out at one of the top poker rooms!
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