Poker Tips by George: The Curse of a Second Best Hand

By George Epstein
March 28, 2023

One of the worst things that can happen to a skilled hold’em poker player is ending up second best. An opponent scoops a big pot that you had hoped would be yours. You were so confident, but he was lucky. Much like not getting the best NFL odds on a sports bet, turning up with the second best hand in a poker showdown can be costly –  very costly.

You start with a good starting hand and stay to see the flop. The flop improves your hand, enough so that –  with lots of good outs – you decide to stay to see the turn. Of course, you have no control over the cards. Nor can you control luck. The chance that a particular card will be dealt out that gives an opponent the winning hand is not under your control.

An Example of a Second Best Hand

Suppose you are playing $4/$8 limit hold’em and start with Ad-Qd from a late position. This is a great starting hand from any position. With four opponents paying to see the flop, you decide to just flat call and wait to see what the flop brings.

The flop is Kd-10d-9s. That gives you four to the nut flush and a chance to catch the Ace-high straight flush. What more could you hope for?

Ad-Qd –  Kd-10d-9s

An early-position player opens the betting. There are three callers to see the turn. You decide to just call along ($4), hoping one of your outs is dealt. You have two shots at it – the turn and the river. Then, with the bets doubled and so many opponents still in the hand, you can build a huge pot. That’s your thinking at this point.

Ace Queen Suited

The turn is the Jh, giving you the Ace-high straight. That’s not the big flush you were looking for, but it sure looks like the best hand. You may also improve it further on the river. The early position again opens the betting at $8 and gets two callers, no raises. You are so confident in the strength of your hand that you decide to raise it up to $16. Your two remaining opponents call your raise. Hopefully, your straight will be good enough to win the pot; better yet if you catch your flush on the river.

READ ALSO: Poker Tips by George: The Education of a Poker Player

Your eyes focus on the dealer’s hands as he burns the top card and then deals out the river card. It’s the 10h, putting a pair of 10s on the board. The early position again opens the betting and is called by a middle position. Now, it is your turn to act. You are still confident with your big straight, so you raise it up. Surprise, the early position reraises you. Oh my! What could he have? You know he is a fairly tight-aggressive player. Perhaps he too has a straight – hopefully, lower than your Ace-high straight; or, perhaps he caught trip 10s, both of which you can beat. But there is still some doubt. So, you just call his bet.

He turns up his hole cards – pocket 9s, giving him a full house, 9s full of 10s. You shake your head from side to side: “How could this happen to me?” But it did. Ah, second-best is for the birds…

Your Move

Could you have avoided this disaster? Had you raised early in the hand, it is not likely that would have forced any of your opponents to fold their hands after the flop. Perhaps looking for tells may have given you a hint. What do you think?

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Written By.

George Epstein

After a long and productive career as a leader in the aerospace industry, upon his retirement in the 1990s, George Epstein chose poker as his “second career.” George has been widely recognized for his many significant accomplishments and contributions to our society. These include pioneering and innovations in various materials, testing and manufacturing technologies for […]

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