This is more subjective than objective, but I think I can make a pretty strong case for AT-off being the most dangerous starting hand in No Limit Texas Hold ’em. This only applies to good poker players. A bad poker player will have a much wider range, which will lead to them limping-in with hands like J9 and QT. A good player will have a tighter range, and if they’re going to play J9 or QT, it will be an open pre-flop raise when they sense weakness from their opponents.

Long-Term Loser

AT-off is a hand you should usually play, but it’s best suited for an open raise. If there has already been a raise, then you’re likely even at best, which is not where you want to be. If there has been a 3-bet, forget about it. Pack your bags and go home. Wait for a better spot. You might want to dabble in a cash game, but you don’t want to mess around in that spot in a poker tournament. You need to preserve your chips. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to attack in the near future. There is no sense in gambling when you’re not sure where you stand.

The reason AT-off is a long-term loser is because its high risk/low reward. The most common way to win with this hand is with top pair. That might win you a small- or medium-sized pot, but small- and medium-sized pots don’t make you big bucks in the game of poker. What do you think happens when you’re up against AK, AQ, or AJ? I don’t know about you specifically because I don’t know how you play (unless I have played with you before), but most players are going to remain committed to the pot if that Ace hits the flop. That means a lot of money will be going out. We don’t want money going out. We want money coming in. Remember, a missed opportunity is always better than a loss. That’s if you want to hang around for a while.

Another big factor here is what many players overlook. Like it or not, the biggest pots in No Limit Hold ’em are won with sets, straights, and flushes. You can’t hit a set with AT-off. You can hit trips, but not a set (they are two different things). A set is much more valuable because your opponents usually won’t see it coming. You can hit a Broadway straight with AT-off, but if that’s why you’re playing the hand, then you probably shouldn’t be playing poker. A flush is also a possibility, but thinking you’re going to hit a flush with off-suited hole cards is like thinking you’re going to be Prom King when you were just voted Player of the Year for Magic: The Gathering.

Conclusion

If you want to invest a lot of money to win a little over the course of your poker career, then keep playing AT-off after a 3-bet. If there was a 2-bet, it should depend on your opponent. If you have position, it’s definitely worth playing. Gauge the interest of your opponent on the flop. If you’re out of position and you’re up against a soft player, that’s another time to play the hand. Otherwise, you should look at AT-off as the devil. It’s not only the most dangerous hand in poker, but the most deceptive. It screams strength, but it’s a trap.


Tyler Nals

If you love poker, then you're in the right place. My poker strategy books are written for the beginner-intermediate player, and many readers have told me that these strategies have helped them turn a profit. My books are easy to understand and written from a macro perspective on how to win as a poker player. You will also find an entertainment angle. Regardless of what level poker player you are, you might enjoy A Fishy Poker Tournament, The Dark Side of the Felt, and The Poker Office. These are poker adventure books, not poker strategy books.

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