The Hammer: What Is It and Why Is It Useful?

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Judicial gavel and casino chips.
BetMGM Jan 02, 2024, 4:34 AM

Poker is an exciting game that mixes skill, luck, and psychology. The best players dedicate an incredible amount of time to studying the best tactics and theories. These strategies are vital for beating the opposition and winning big pots.

If you want to be successful when you play poker online, you’ll need to understand many different terms and concepts. But this blog post will be a little more fun than most. Here, you’ll learn all about a hand known as “the hammer,” including what it is and how to use it. 

What Is the Poker Hammer?

In the poker lexicon, there are terms used to describe almost all kinds of situations and hands. One that’s commonly used by poker pros is “the hammer,” which refers to a specific hand in Texas hold’em that’s quite literally the worst possible holding. The hammer is, of course, 7-2 offsuit. 

While this hand includes a higher card than 6-2, 5-2, 4-2, and 3-2, those at least have the potential to make a straight. On the other hand, the hammer has almost no redeeming features. The best you can realistically hope for is to try and catch two pairs. But even then, it’s not exactly a lock.

Playing the Hammer

Most players would rightly fold the hammer as early as possible, as it has little value. There’s no drawing potential, and a seven high or paired seven will lose to most ranges by the time you reach the river. 

Having a bad hand doesn’t mean you have to concede defeat and fold, though, even if it’s often the best course of action. There’s nothing more exciting than bluffing your opponents with the hammer. In poker tournaments and cash games alike, anything can happen.

The great thing about this game is that you don’t necessarily need strong poker hands to win, as bluffing is an effective strategy. Moreover, showing a 7-2 offsuit after taking down the pot is enough to tilt many players.

The Hammer as a Side Bet

Whether during a friendly amateur home game or a high-stakes cash game between professional players, this hand is often subject to side bets. There is often a penalty paid by players losing to 7-2 offsuit or a bonus awarded to the winner. It’s a fun side bet designed to generate action.

One famous example occurred on the popular show “High Stakes Poker,” in a hand between Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow. All players could receive a special $1,000 prize for winning any hand with the hammer. Matusow was dealt a pair of kings, while Hellmuth had the infamous 7-2 hand.

Despite the massive difference in strength between K-K and the hammer, Hellmuth played his hand perfectly, bluffing with a heavy raise early on before checking on the flop. The poker game continued with neither player sure of what the other would do next. Hellmuth again made big bets on the turn and the river, and Matusow folded to give up the $90,000 pot. 

Making the Most of a Bad Hand in Poker

In the long term, playing the hammer will cost you more than you’ll win. That’s just the nature of the game. However, it’s still a fun hand to play. 

There are a lot of underrated poker hands that players will often fold without thinking. While many players consider these bad hands, they have some potential if you use the right strategy. Here are some tips to help you make the most of a bad hand. 

Knowing Your Position

Your position makes a massive difference to your chances of winning in poker. Those who have to act first are always at a significant disadvantage. To play a bad hand effectively, you need to be in a later position, as you’ll have more information available. 

It can often be a good idea to play bad hands from the poker blinds, too. If you give up your blinds too often, you’re likely losing money in the long run. It’s important to defend at the right frequency, regardless of how poor your hand may be. 

However, you should always fold a bad hand from the earliest positions after the blinds, like when you’re under the gun.

Play Conservatively

Playing conservatively is usually the best approach when holding a bad hand. You’ll want to see the flop as cheaply as possible. In other words, you should check often and fold to any big bets. 

Focus on trying to pick up smaller wins rather than big pots. Wait for the right opportunities while avoiding risky moves that could cost you. Remember that folding and waiting for the next hand is typically the best course of action unless you’re sure you have your opponents beat. 

Pay Attention to Your Opponents

Poker is a game played against humans, so it’s important to be mindful of what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. Pay attention to how they play, including the actions they take and how they’ve behaved previously in the game. 

Use this information to inform your strategy and beat them. Look out for common poker tells that will help you understand their potential ranges. If they appear weak, it could be an excellent time to make a move with your low-quality hand.

Bluff When Possible

Bluffing is a difficult skill to learn, but one that can turn a bad hand into a win. The best poker players have mastered the art of bluffing and can hide their hand’s strength from their opponents. 

The key to bluffing is appearing strong when you’re weak and appearing weak when you’re strong. When holding a bad hand, you’ll want to bet and raise at the right moments to force your opponents to fold. Bear in mind that bluffing should usually be avoided in multiway pots. 

Manage Your Bet Sizes

The size of your bets will make a big difference, and you should choose them strategically. Bigger sizes are often used when bluffing or trying to bully your opponents out of a pot. However, you can also use small bets defensively when you’re less sure of a situation. 

Whatever you do, be sure to mix up your strategy to avoid becoming predictable. This will keep your opponents guessing about your ranges and intentions. 

Play the Hammer Online at BetMGM

In most cases, playing the hammer is a bad idea. However, winning a bluff with a terrible hand is always great fun. It’s also an excellent way to challenge yourself and develop your bluffing skills. Be sure to pay close attention to your opponents for the best results. 

Register with BetMGM to start playing online poker today. Here, you can join hundreds of poker tables and play real money tournaments. And, if you’re feeling brave, you can even try to pick up a few pots with the infamous hammer.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.