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PMC General Counsel
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New Respect for J-10 Suited
by Michael Cappelletti
I have heard that in the early days of hold’em (the 1960s and 1970s), many good players considered J-10 suited one of the best starting hands. That was probably because J-10 suited often wins a big pot in limit hold’em by hitting a draw against several opponents who are playing typical high-card holdings. Note that J-10 is the only two-card holding that can make four different straights in which all of them are “nut straights” (no higher straight possible). For example, one of the straights that can be made with a 10-9 is with K-Q-J on the board, which would lose to an A-10.

In more recent times, most big-money players who play a tight, aggressive style strongly prefer to play high-card starting hands (with aces, kings, and queens), especially from early positions. If they do play what they consider a marginal starting hand such as J-10 suited or Q-J suited, it is mainly to vary their style and disguise their otherwise tight strategy. Most experts do not expect to make money in the long run by playing hands like J-10 suited from an early position in a sophisticated high-stakes hold’em game in which there are seldom enough players seeing the flop to make drawing hands profitable. These lower “royal drawing hands” (such as J-10 suited and Q-J suited) lose much more money by being outkicked than they win by hitting their draws.

But now in 2005, a new day has dawned and the face of poker has been substantially made over by the emergence of no-limit hold’em on television and in online tournaments. No-limit hold’em strategy is considerably less straightforward than limit hold’em strategy, and it is sound to occasionally play marginal and even lesser hands, especially in the early stages of no-limit hold’em tournaments. And no starting hand in hold’em has better drawing potential than J-10 suited. So, nowadays, in the early stages of no-limit hold’em tournaments, most players routinely play J-10 suited even from an early position.

Just recently, another interesting advantage of J-10 suited came to my attention. Suppose that in a heads-up all-in confrontation, your opponent turns over a low pocket pair — say, two red threes. You do not have a pocket pair. Of all the possible hands without a pocket pair, which would win most frequently here? A-K suited? No. J-10 suited in either black suit.

The following chart gives the results of simulating the indicated suited holdings (one million times using Caro’s Poker Probe) against two fives and two threes. Of all non-pocket-pair holdings, J-10 suited has the greatest advantage over small pocket pairs; 10-9 suited is a close second. Also note that big slick, A-K suited, is a slight underdog to small pocket pairs (because A-K makes fewer straights). So, maybe J-10 suited is a better holding than many of us thought.




The downside of going all in with J-10 suited is indicated in the following chart, which gives the percentage of J-10 suited wins against some typical unsuited starting hands. If you find yourself all in with J-10 suited, you are most likely to lose when your opponent has pocket queens.


 

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I am happy to see another loer of the suited JT. I have won more hands than lost when played appropriately. I am not a big advocate of playin it from an early position, but it is my favorite blind stealing hand from late position and semi-bluff hand on the blinds and when it just seems right to play with.
 
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