Ask the Pros (Ep. 3): Favorite Hands

We've all heard players talk about their favorite hands and how they play them. We've seen them win big at times and lose big with them at others. After a big loss, we shake our heads and consider the logic of some of them - 7-2 offsuit as a favorite for instance. After a big win, though, we may see it differently. When they win with that same 7-2o (because no one would be expecting them to being playing that), it makes us stop and think that there must be a method to their madness.

In some cases, you will see people playing their favorite hand repeatedly and remarking, "It's my favorite hand, I have to play it," as they turn over what we would call rags. Personally, I don't have a favorite hand, other than two aces. Any color is fine, but I prefer two black ones, a spade and a club.

But what do I know is that I'm not a pro, and since I'm not, it seems best to ask someone who is. So that is exactly what we did for our third installment of PokerStars Women's Ask the Pros series. The responses that follow were garnered from several of the female pros from Team PokerStars.

A huge thank you goes to all of them for answering our questions and providing so many great tips.

Q. Clare Todd: I play at my local casino two to three times a week, and I constantly hear players saying, "It's my favorite hand." As a very tight player, I don't play silly cards, but sometimes I think I should pick two cards that I will play with every time to try to bluff. Is so, which two should I choose?

Victoria Coren: That sounds like a terrible idea to me. The sort of players at the local casino who talk about "favorite hands" are the kind of people you want to get in a game with, i.e., losers. Never mind favorites, just make sure you've got the winning hand. If you're a "very tight player," as you say, you won't feel comfortable bluffing anyway. You could try opening your range up to play more hands in late position, but bluffing from the off just doesn't sound like your natural style.

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Leo Margets: I think that planning a bluff in advance is not a good idea. A bluff has to be credible. You need to tell a story that makes sense to represent, so my advice is that you shouldn't be too rigid about it. It is way better that you carefully choose the player and the spot. It's also important that the sequence, the betting in each street, has sense for the hand you want to represent.

Maybe you have to give up halfway if you smell your opponent won't fold, or if the board gets too messy and you can no longer represent a strong hand there. Don't try to win the hand no matter what. Make a credible story and put yourself on your opponent's level of thinking. However, if you are stealing pre-flop with a marginal hand, do it with one that has some equity, like suited connectors that have the capacity to flop very strong, rather than a random J-4 offsuit.

Fatima Moreira de Melo: I wouldn't recommend doing that . . . it's just silly. Just bluff in a spot you feel is right.

Liv Boeree: Absolutely do not do that. Poker is about situations, not actual cards. If you bluff with a particular hand often enough, people will catch onto it, and then you'll be in big trouble. Bluffs are best on occasions when there is a lot of money in the pot and when you suspect your opponent has a marginal hand and is more likely to fold. This maximizes the reward (but minimizes the risk).

Natalie Hoff: I'm not a fan of having a favorite hand, especially if it's not a playable hand, like 9-2 offsuit, for example. I think if you always try to play your favorite hand, you will lose a lot of money because you will get into bad spots.

Vivian Im: I personally like to bluff with 8-10 offsuit whenever I get the chance. But the hand itself really doesn't matter when you are bluffing. It's the right read and timing that makes a bluff work. You really shouldn't worry about the hand you have.

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Celina Lin: Generally, I don't think you want to do things in poker every time. It makes you too predictable. Instead of picking hands to bluff with, you are better off playing hands that have great flop equity. Like three-betting with 6-7 suited. With a hand like that, you have a greater chance of connecting with flops while you still have the option to bluff as well.

When you see professionals play junk hands, I'd say more often than not, it's not a favorite hand. They're making a play regardless of their cards because it's a correct decision based on their read. It just happens to be some funky hole cards.

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So there you have it; the pros have spoken. Sounds like those specific "lucky" hands may not be so lucky after all. So next time you're up against those "lucky hand" people, do as Vicky Coren says, and make sure you play those people as often as you can, because as she counsels us, those people "are the kind of people you want to get in a game with."

For more strategy and tips from the pros see the first two installments of our Ask the Pros series here.
Episode 1: Poker as Virtue, Not Vice
Episode 2: Mixing Love and Poker

And for all the latest news on women in poker see the PokerStars Women home page and our Facebook page. And for updates from the world of women's poker, see our Twitter feed.

Finally, thanks again to all the pros who took time to answer our questions in such detail. You're the best!

Rebekah Mercer
@PokerStars in PS Women