Any player who’s been around the block at all has heard that the starting hand seven-two offsuit is the worst hand in NLH poker.
But with all the bad hands that you see in any session of Holdem, why does this one stand out as the ultimate pile of junk?
Well, the short answer is that it’s a complete stinker.
We’re gonna get just a bit more specific. Don’t worry.
If you’ve read any of my starting hand analyses or strategy articles, you’ve likely caught onto the fact that I am a very mathematically-based player. You don’t have to be exactly “math savvy” to understand why 72o is such a miserable starting hand. The fact of the matter is that 72o is the lowest valued hand that is separated by at least four other card ranks. That means it has almost no chance of making a straight (none if using both hole cards), and its high card value is remarkably low. I’m going to show you some race odds statistics to illustrate how the hand holds up against random and specific hands. Then we’ll talk about how and when to play the hand. That won’t take long; you’re just not going to be inclined to put your chips at risk very often with this “peach” unless you are a masochist (or a sadist who wants to lay down the hammer on his opponents in grand fashion).
First, let’s assume that we are at a full table with an average of three players seeing each flop. Even if your opponents have not looked at their hole cards and the cards can be considered completely random starting hands, you are still at a decided disadvantage. With three players seeing the flop, two random hands and yours, the odds of your 72o winning the showdown are only about 18% — that’s worse than 4 to 1 against. The two random hands are each going to win almost 40% of the time, with a small percentage of showdowns going to various ties. With three players involved you would like to be able to win at least 33.3% of the time just to roughly break even. So, you see, not only are you losing money in each hand on average, but the other two players are actually making out by your very presence in the hand.
Now, let’s assume that your opponents have the very worst types of hands that might actually want to see a flop. Let’s see what happens when one of your opponents holds an unimpressive Q9s and one has a pocket pair of twos. You’ve turned the Q9s into a consistent money maker, the pocket twos will win about their fair share, and you are a huge dog in the hand. The percentages are: 53% for the Q9s, 30% for 22, and 16% for 72o.
Even in a heads-up confrontation your 72o fares substantially worse than par. Against even a single random hand you are a 2 to 1 dog. If we define your opponent’s hand a bit we can see how far behind you might be calling a raise against a single opponent. Let’s put our opponent on 98s; that gives you a “whopping” 27% chance of coming out on top. If your opponent has J8o you’re in roughly the same condition. If your opponent has a pair, even if it’s lower than your seven, you are only going to win about 30%. If he holds a pair of eights or higher your miracle will come about 11% of the time, leaving you almost a 9 to 1 dog.
Another problem with playing 72o is its post-flop playability. Let’s contrast the hand’s playability with one of the more valuable starting hands to play, AK. If you pair the flop with AK you will have made top pair top kicker. You will have the highest pair, with the highest possible card to go along with it. That makes it fairly likely that you have the best hand, and it also makes it possible that an opponent has made top pair with a worse kicker. That’s how players go broke in NLH. You both think you have the best hand, but one of you is wrong; we don’t want to be that guy. Well, what happens when we hit the flop with 72o? You’ve either made lowest pair (necessarily) with your 2 and a pretty weak kicker, or you’ve made a very vulnerable pair of sevens with the worst possible kicker. Even when you are lucky enough to out flop an opponent with your seven deuce, you won’t be able to proceed with any certainty in the hand, particularly if you encounter a lot of resistance. Therefore, even when your 72 is ahead in a hand it can be difficult to take a pot down.
Now, let’s talk about some possible situations where you might be inclined to take a flop with 72o. Again, this should be a short discussion. You should only call with 72o when you are looking at absolutely irresistible pot odds. I am a huge advocate of always completing the big blind when you are in the small blind and the pot is unopened. And this is one time when I will definitely see a flop with 72o. If you are playing a tournament and the blinds are at 10 and 20, there will be 30 chips in the pot to begin with. If you are in the small blind you can play at a considerable discount. It will only cost you 10 chips to see a pot of 30 chips. You’ll be getting 3 to 1 on your money with no reason at all to believe that you’re anything like a 3 to 1 dog in the hand. Just pay and pray. Put the money in and hope to out flop or out play your opponent.
Winning with the Worst Poker Hand
I remember actually busting a player at a tournament with 72o in Vegas last December. The tournament had started with around 100 players and we were down to the final two tables of eight. The blinds where at 200-400 and I was sitting pretty with almost 9,000 chips. I was in the 400 chip big blind with a player with a very short stack in the small blind. The small blind raised all-in; after meeting the 400 chip big blind he only had another 700 left. I didn’t even hesitate to call. The short stack held KTs, but was unable to win the showdown after I flopped a pair of sevens. That player called me an idiot, and I heard a lot of similar babble from a few of the other players at the table. “You called an all-in bet with the worst hand in Hold’em? Why on earth would you do that?!”
Well, they were all wrong. That’s about all there is to that. I didn’t argue, or explain myself. If there’s one thing I’ll never understand it’s why anyone would want to help their opponents to become stronger in the middle of a game. The fact of the matter is that I was getting a great price on my money, I had the chips to risk, I had two live cards, and I had a chance to bust a player (and isn’t that what it’s really all about?). Hey, don’t threaten me with a good time! Give me a chance to take out a player, better than 2 to 1 on my money, and a couple of live ones, and I’ll play whatever you put in my hand.
So there are, of course, instances when the pot odds are so good that the cards in your hand are completely irrelevant. But, by and large, you just want to throw your 72o into the muck where it belongs. It’s also noteworthy that 72o is a 2 to 1 favorite to beat 62o, and plays against 53o with an 8% edge. These are only heads-up situations though, and if you consider the implied odds of each set of hands and the post flop playability, the edge 72o has over some other crap hands doesn’t exactly shine it up. But, the hand is not always behind – there are a few hands that 72o is in front of before the flop (don’t play those either).
So, is 72o really the worst starting hand in Holdem? The short answer is YES, 72o really is the worst starting hand in hold’em. Just muck it. Until next time, Good “Luck!”