You probably know that 7-2 off-suit is the worst starting hand in poker. The good thing, however, is that the rules let you just get rid of it and wait for better times. A 7-2 is almost never going to cost you a significant amount of your stack.
Conversely, an A-J or an A-10, even if off-suit, is a very good starting hand. And herein lies the inherent problem with A-J or A-10. It is a very good starting hand. What that usually translates into is that you are not going to fold it like bad hands, and it will often be beat subsequently by great starting hands like A-A or A-K.
Poker requires a lot of patience because most of the cards you are going to see are unplayable and should be folded at the outset. However, the really premium hands are very rare – you are going to enjoy pocket Aces only about once every 221 hands, and Big Slick (A-K) once every 84 hands. After a player has continuously folded rags for a couple of rotations, she can be excused for thinking it is Christmas when she sees an A-J in front of her.
However, you should be careful with A-J and A-10. These hands are notorious for getting out-kicked. If there are more than six players at the table when you pick up one of these hands, be very cautious.
The goal is to find out where you stand before your opponent shows his cards at the end. Get a read on what your opponent is holding and put him to a decision for chips before the hand plays out all the way.
If there's an Ace on the board and your opponent keeps betting, and you just keep calling with A-10, well, then you are not just asking for trouble, you are begging for it. Raise your opponent to find out where you stand in the hand. If he's got A-Q or A-K, figure it out before the cards are turned over, not after. You have to bet to get a read on your opponents. That way you prevent digging yourself into a bigger hole afterwards.
The important thing here is to manage your expectations. You will very rarely win a very big pot with an A-J or A-10 (especially if they are off-suit). If you raise big pre-flop, you will only get called with monster hands. If you only bet modestly and hit your Ace on the river, your opponents will be scared away if they don’t have it. If you only hit high-pair jacks or tens, then all the low cards on the board most likely present all kinds of straight opportunities. You only major winning situations is someone overplaying a Ace hand with an even lower kicker, or you outdrawing a better starting hand (like hitting an A-J or an A-10 on the flop versus someone with an A-K).
So next time your hand is A-J or A-10, remember to be cautious. Fire a few bets to see where you stand, and if you have any major doubts, don’t hesitate to get away before it gets too hot.