PokerStars Ambassador Jennifer Shahade is always an interesting follow on Twitter. For example, this week she posed a question to her followers with a poll to find out how they would answer.
Shahade’s question contains a kind of hold’em “puzzle” or “riddle” that has been around for a good while, although it is one that might be unfamiliar to many players (even to some experienced ones).
In fact, among the replies to Shahade’s tweet were a couple indicating the AKo vs. JTs vs. 22 problem was a new one to some.
I never heard of this problem but intuitively I’d never choose JTs or expect most to consider choosing it. So I think deuces is best. Metagame would be fun for multiple games though. As a single run, definitely deuces, IMO!
— Daniel Ospina (@Dustuseven) July 7, 2020
There are several reasons why Shahade’s question and poll are intriguing.
First, the three starting hands really do resemble the rock-paper-scissors situation.
In rock-paper scissors game, two players simultaneously “throw” either rock (a balled fist), paper (an open hand held flatly, palm down), or scissors (two fingers out like a pair of scissors). Thus…
To determine the winner, rock beats scissors (smashes ’em), scissors beats paper (cuts it), and paper beats rock (covers it). If two players make the same choice, it is a tie and they “throw” again.
Meanwhile, if you arrange the three hands Shahade mentions into three different all-in heads-up situations, you discover a somewhat analogous relationship between them.
Ace-king offsuit has an edge against jack-ten suited in preflop all-ins (around 58%). Jack-ten suited has an edge against pocket deuces (around 54%). And pocket deuces has an edge against ace-king offsuit (around 53%). (The precise suits do affect these percentages, by the way, nudging numbers up or down a little.)
In a heads-up spot, then, in which you have to pick just one of these three starting hands and your opponent has to pick one of the three as well, the situation is sorta kinda similar to the rock-paper-scissors one.
There is a difference, however. In rock-paper-scissors, rock always beats scissors, scissors always beats paper, and paper always beats rock. With the poker hands, the hands are only favorites and underdogs to win.
No, I understand, but there’s no flop in rock, paper, scissors
— Craig Berger (@CIBerger) July 7, 2020
Incidentally, in a three-way all-in involving these three hands, it’s a pretty close race, with ace-king offsuit leading (~36% to win), jack-ten suited next (~35% to win), and deuces last (~29% to win).
However Shahade wasn’t simply asking her followers to solve a math problem. She was asking them to solve a people problem.
Note how in her question she specifies the opponent is a “poker reg” — that is, someone who regularly plays and who therefore has some knowledge of preflop equities.
Which of the three hands — AKo, JTs, or 22 — do you choose? Which one do you think a knowledgeable poker player would choose?
Below are a few of the interesting replies to the question. And keep scrolling to see what the poll results were among the 1,000-plus who voted.
If the suits are all random, one thing you could do is look at your watch and play 59.35% deuces, 24.05% AK, and 16.6% JT.
— Jerrod Ankenman (@hgfalling) July 7, 2020
Against a randomized strategy, AKo has to be best play with the best cumulative EV across all matchups.
Dominates JTs and takes a slightly losing flip v 22.
22 dominates nothing, and JTs is for degens.
So of course, AK polls in last 🙄
— Jason Rivkin (@jayriv2) July 7, 2020
Anyone who picks AK or Deuces obviously is used to winning flips and I hate you
— Thallo (@ThalloPoker) July 7, 2020
Here are the results:
Instead of rock, paper, scissors, you find yourself in a high stakes game of Ace King, Deuces, Jack-Ten-Suited. What do you throw first vs a poker reg?
— Jennifer Shahade (@JenShahade) July 7, 2020
So I’ll ask again… which hand did you pick? Which hand did you think your opponent, the poker reg, would pick?
(If you think about it, your answer to the second question should dictate your answer to the first.)