What is ‘Second Best’?
‘Second best’ in poker refers to the best losing hand of the game. When used at the showdown, it simply refers to the hand that came closest to beating the winning one. It can appear when discussing strategy at any point of the game, as a player could still win the pot with a second best hand, as long as they play it correctly.
‘Second Best’ Explained
If a poker player refers to a hand that is ‘second best’, they mean that it was not the strongest hand at the table but it was the best of all the losing hands. For example, in a game of 2-2-3-3-4, 2-5-7-9-J and 4-5-6-7-8, the two pair hand is the ‘second best’ hand. The third hand has made a straight and if the game comes to a showdown, it will take the pot. This does not mean that the straight will necessarily be the winning hand – one or both opponents might successfully bluff that their hand is stronger, and get the best hand to fold.
Some players will fold a hand early if they believe it to be second best, especially in stud games where there is no limit and the chance to lose a lot of money on a bad gamble. Limit games make second best hands a safer bet, as there is a limit on what can be lost with the bet. Players who can identify their best chances instead of risking gambles on second best hands are generally more successful, but a player who can bluff well can do well on second best hands. A hand that is second best will often find itself in a heads up challenge with the best hand, as neither player knows for sure if their good hand is better or worse than their opponent’s until the showdown.