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Holding the Nuts in Poker
Poker is full of wonderful names and phrases that it picked up over the years. The nuts is one particular favorite, if only because of its meaning. Holding the nuts means you have the best possible hand; no other hand can beat you. Some people call this the stone-cold nuts for dramatic effect, but the end result is the same.
Nobody is 100% sure why poker players use this term when describing the best hand. The most popular theory stems from back in the days where players would remove the nuts from their wagon’s wheel to make a large wager. Doing so prevents him from fleeting quickly if he lost the bet! Wherever the phrase came from, having the nuts is a fantastic position to be in.
Always Be Aware What The Nuts Are
The nut hand is easy to work out, although you sometimes have to be careful not to miss it. For example, a board reading Ad-6s-9d-4s-3d, the best possible hand is a diamond flush. Therefore, Kd-Xd is the nuts.
The Ad-6s-2d-4s-3d board looks strikingly similar to the previous example, but it changes the nuts entirely. A straight flush is possible, so the nuts are 5d-3d.
Holding the nuts does not have to be the absolute nut hand. The nuts on a Qh-Th-8h flop are Jh-9h for the straight flush. An opponent cannot hold Jh-9h if your hole cards are Ad-Jh. Similarly, pocket kings on a 7c-2s-Ks-Kd-3c board would make quads. Someone holding Kh-7s knows they have the nuts because it is impossible for someone else to have pocket kings.
How To Play With The Nuts
Improving to the nuts is a great feeling because your hand is unbeatable. You making a bizarre fold is the only way you lose the hand. Extracting the maximum value from your hand is your number one priority. Doing so is not always as simple as you think, however.
Super strong hands are difficult to disguise from your opponents. Flushes, for example, are easy to spot. Straights are a little more disguised, but observant players can see them from a mile away.
Furthermore, making the nuts with four-of-a-kind often means you have the board tied up. Raising with Ks-Kc, receiving a caller, and the flop falling Kd-Kh-4c is excellent in theory, but what range of hands does your opponent have that you can extract value from?
Betting out and showing/continuing your aggression is often the best play. Keep things simple. Leading out is the better option against an opponent who rarely folds to a continuation bet. Also, firing a c-bet is a good idea in three-bet and four-bet pots where your opponents have shown legitimate signs of strength.
Remember, the nuts change until after the river. Finding yourself on a 4h-5h-9s flop with 9d-9c in your hand is a great spot. Think about potential turn cards that can devalue your set. A three or an eight improves anyone holding 7-6 to a straight. Any heart gives someone sticking around with Ah-6h or similar hands a flush. What if you raised with pocket nines preflop and were three-bet. Any picture card is now a danger, too. It is best to bet if your opponent has a chance to improve to the nuts on the next street.
It Is OK To Slowplay
Look back to our example where we flop quad kings. This is an excellent spot to slowplay your hand by checking instead of betting or checking behind. There are no cards that can come on the turn that weakens your hand. Checking here gives your opponent to improve to a second-best hand, one that will turn out to be very expensive.
You should only do this when you have the absolute nuts and cannot lose the hand regardless of the cards on future streets.
There is a rule to be aware of when it comes to the nuts in poker tournaments. The World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour have rules stating players must raise on the river with the nuts. This is to prevent soft-playing and collusion in a tournament setting. There is no reason not to bet or raise on the river when you have an unbeatable hand, is there?