In Texas Hold’em poker, the journey of victory begins straight from the first two cards you’re dealt. Learning to navigate this moment by deciding whether to fold or play matters to your success. Our detailed guide on starting hands in Texas Hold’em explains the art and strategy of choosing the best hand to start your poker game. Read on.
Poker Starting Hands Chart
You don’t need to play each hand you receive from the dealer, and the best players mostly fold. But how do you identify the poker hands to show?
The chart below shows which hand to fold, raise, and call with based on your situation at the poker table. It contains an overview of the cards to be played from EP (early), MP (middle), and LP (late) positions.
Poker Starting Hands Chart:
The best course of action varies based on if you’re the very first player to enter the “unopened pot,” as demonstrated. Also, if there has been a caller or multiple callers (pre-flop, a player decides to call the blinds instead of raising, commonly known as “limping,” and is labeled as “With Limper(s).”), or if there was a rise ahead of you,
This poker cheat sheet also shows that multiple cards can be played from a subsequent position. Unlike in the early position, the number of raises or callers ahead of you affects how you should play the hand.
Grasping Hand Descriptions
Before explaining the hand recommendations, let’s look at their description. As the previous chart illustrates, “O,” “S”, and “+” are well used. Here is their interpretation:
S: signifies that both cards are of the same suit, making them ‘suited.’
O: means the opposite, indicating that the cards are of different suits, called ‘offsuit.’
+: denotes that it encompasses all hands of the same type or rank superior to it.
From the preceding figure, the following are some examples:
- The hand is displayed in the highest row ‘QQ+.’ It’s worth noting that similar hands, like pairs that outrank it, such as KK and AA, are also encompassed due to the inclusion of the ‘+’ symbol in ‘QQ+.’
- Towards the lower part of the chart, ‘A8s+’ is displayed. This denotes a range that includes an ace paired with a suited 8, 9, 10, or J. Notably, AQs have their dedicated entry slightly higher on the chart.
Starting Hands Depending on Position
The starting hands’ chart above shows three aspects:
- The higher your hand ranks on the chart, the stronger it is.
- You should adopt a more assertive approach when limpers are in the hand, but exercise extra caution when facing raisers.
- Compared to other poker table spots, late slot enables you to play more hands.
The third point is a fundamental concept for every new poker player. Acting after other players are known as “being in position.” Consequently, acting ahead of them is termed as “out of position.” This is an essential poker strategy, as viewing what other players choose to do ahead of you gives you an added advantage. Generally, the dealer position shifts with each deal, making no one take advantage of the others.
Various positions at the table have names, and the picture below shows the search for them at a common ring table (add one middle-position player for 10 players). Below are the initials of the abbreviations:
- BB: Big Blind
- SB: Small Blind
- UTG: Under the Gun
- HJ: Hijack
- MP: Middle Position
- BTN: Button
- CO: Cut off
You now know what a position is and its importance. As a general reference for the poker hands to play in different positions, refer to the figure below. Keep in mind that hands that are better fitted are deemed easier to play than those that are not.
Pairs and Suited Hands
|Late or Mid-position|
In the late position, most players opt to broaden their spectrum of playable hands. They adopt a strategy where they consider any hand (except two bad offsuit cards) as suitable for raising in an unopened pot. This approach allows them to collect the blinds without possessing a strong hand, as only a handful of hands possess the required strength to proceed beyond the preflop phase. Late position raises enable players to bypass the necessity for a powerful hand.
The “ideal” poker starting hand relies on various factors. The majority of playable hands can be classified as aces, pairs, connectors, gappers, or other luxury hands.
Here is a detailed explanation of the hand types, beginning with pocket pairs:
Pocket pairs are an intriguing category in Texas Hold’em, but they are not all created equal. They fall into three general categories: tiny pairs (22-66), moderate pairs (77-TT), and deluxe pairs (QQ, KK, or AA). Each of these couples has a considerably different strength.
- Premium pairs should typically be raised before the flop. By using this strategy, you can prevent lesser hands from outdrawing your stronger ones. In most instances, your goal is to inflate the pot size before the flop, perhaps even going all-in, as seizing the opportunity when you have a strong hand is crucial. Occasionally, choosing to call a preflop bet to set a trap can be a viable tactic, but it’s generally recommended only with pocket aces. (Notably, slowplaying KK and QQ to set a trap is risky, as a single ace on the flop can undo your strategy.)
- Medium pairs share similarities with small pairs in that a significant portion of their value hinges on the possibility of flopping a set (concealed three-of-a-kind). However, these pairs can also win pots without needing further improvement. Therefore, they are suitable for a mid to late-position raise when the pot hasn’t been previously raised.
- Small pairs have the potential to win substantial pots, but they often require the arrival of a third card of the same rank to form a set. It is similar to a bluff in which the objective is not to draw a caller when one raises an unopened pot from a late range via a small pair. However, if you do encounter a caller, you hold a slim chance of upgrading to a set, which is a very strong hand. When there are preflop limpers, calling with a small pair becomes more attractive, as the additional chips in the pot improve your pot odds of hitting that crucial third card and forming a set. This technique is commonly known as ‘set-mining.’ Nevertheless, it becomes pretty expensive in the face of multiple preflop raises and substantial aggression, and folding is the prudent choice.
Other Premium Hands
Hands like AKs, AQs, JJ, and AKo fall into this group; they are certainly attractive, but not quite as good as premium pairs.
When holding such hands, a strategic approach often involves raising from a late position. This move is prudent because you frequently possess the best hand before the flop, with the potential to enhance it further on the flop. Depending on your table dynamics, you might even consider raising or re-raising from positions other than late.
However, it’s crucial to remember that these hands can swiftly lose their luster if the flop isn’t in your favor. JJ, for instance, is a potent preflop, but should an overcard appear on the flop, your confidence in the hand wanes. Likewise, AQs, AKs, or AKo are often the most potent hands before the flop, but if they fail to connect with the community cards, you’re left with only a high card and vulnerable to being defeated by even the smallest pair.
It’s important to resist getting overly attached to these hands, despite how seductive they may be. If you don’t find the connections on the flop and encounter robust opposition, assessing your chances and making informed decisions realistically is imperative.
Suited connectors are pairs of cards closely ranked, like 34, 78, or 9T, all of the same suit. The ability to create a straight or a flush gives these hands power. However, in practice, except for flopping very little, you’ll often find yourself with a small piece like a pair or a gutshot draw. Flopping a significant hand with suited connectors is a rarity, and occasionally, you might end up with a weak flush or straight that’s challenging to fold.
Conversely, when you assemble a formidable hand with suited connectors, you’ll possess a well-concealed hand that could win you many chips.
Given these considerations, it’s advisable to play suited connectors when it’s economical. With drawing hands like this, preflop raises and 3-bets are usually hard to prove only if the stacks are deep and you have a substantial edge over your rival.
Furthermore, suited connectors tend to perform far better when you have a position (acting later in the betting round) rather than being out of position. Consequently, while it’s sensible to raise them when in a late position, initiating a raise from an early position is generally ill-advised. Additionally, while we usually advocate for minimal preflop calling (if you intend to play a hand, it’s often better to raise; if you don’t think your hand merits a raise, folding is a reasonable choice), suited connectors might be one of the few hands worth considering for a passive approach, like limping into the pot.
Offsuit connectors follow a somewhat similar approach but are typically less favorable. Raising or calling from a late position may be justifiable if the cards are relatively high (e.g., 89o+), the pot is small, and the opposition appears weak, but exercising caution is crucial.
In this context, we’re focusing on aces that are neither paired nor part of the premium category, which includes hands like A2-AJs or any offsuit ace except for AKo.
Nonetheless, non-premium ace hands, especially those lacking a strong kicker, carry a unique vulnerability. Oddly enough, the primary peril arises when you flop an ace. This is because any other aces on the board will likely possess a superior kicker, rendering your hand dominated and destined for defeat.
Suited aces hold a bit more allure due to the potential for crafting the coveted nut flush, but it’s wise to approach them as drawing hands. The key strategy is to aim for a cost-effective glimpse at the flop, refraining from heavy chip commitment.
Gapper hands resemble connectors but feature a gap between the two cards. Due to the one-rank difference between the cards, hands such as TQs and 79s are frequently referred to as “one-gappers.” These one-gappers can develop into strong, concealed hands when they connect with the board. The larger the gap between the cards (for instance, 96s would be termed a ‘two-gapper’), the more disguise the hand carries. However, it’s essential to remember that these hands won’t often form significant connections with the flop.
Nonetheless, when gapper hands do manage to connect with the flop, they can create unexpected and difficult-to-predict hands. Hence, it’s worth considering playing them under the right circumstances. Like connectors, you should look for situations where the card values aren’t too low, the cost to play isn’t excessive, and having a position is advantageous. Furthermore, having them suitable offers a big benefit, similar to connectors.
Dynamics of Tables in Hold’em
Mastering when to hold, fold, or raise is crucial in your journey as a Hold’em player. However, it’s vital to recognize that every poker table has unique dynamics, and your hand selection should always be influenced by the overall table atmosphere.
Tables can exhibit various dynamics. Some may lean towards a passive style, characterized by numerous preflop limpers and multiway pots. Conversely, others might be populated by loose-aggressive players who frequently raise and 3-bet, creating an environment that discourages limping and leads to more substantial pots with fewer participants.
Whether you’re playing live or online at a reputable casino like Bet999, it’s a good idea to check the temperature of the table prior to taking the first seat at it. Once you’ve gauged the general game feel – the table dynamic – you can tailor your strategy to exploit the prevailing conditions.
Generally speaking, at a really loose table, we advise playing a little tighter than usual. This approach positions you to extract maximum value from strong hands. In this context, it’s advisable to concentrate on the top end of your hand range and avoid committing too many chips with hands like gappers or low connectors.
Conversely, adopting a slightly looser-than-average approach can be advantageous at a very tight table. Tight tables often yield opportunities to pick up many small pots and blinds because you’re less likely to encounter significant resistance. Therefore, you can expand your range to include more suited connectors, gappers, and bluffing hands in such an environment.
Deciding how and when to approach each potential poker hand in the pre-flop phase is an important skill. Following these instructions will provide you with a strong basis for becoming proficient in it. It’s essential to understand that numerous decisions will hinge on your opponents and the situations you encounter. Over time, experience will prove invaluable in discerning opportunities and sidestepping errors. It’s crucial to remember that even the top poker players encounter losses more frequently than victories. The secret is to always take the best possible decision when the chance presents itself.
In Texas Hold’em, who places the initial wager?
The player positioned directly to the left of the big blind in Texas Hold’em is the one who is first to act prior to the flop. The remaining players in the betting round will be determined by this player’s decision to fold, call, or raise.
Which hands are excellent to play in poker before the flop when playing Texas Hold’em?
When determining good starting hands in Texas Hold’em, it’s advisable to focus on high pairs like AA, KK, and QQ, strong aces such as AK and AQ, and suited connectors like 89s or 67s. These hands often have the potential to make powerful post-flop combinations, providing a strategic advantage.
What does the term “preflop” mean?
“Preflop” refers to the first part of a poker hand that occurs prior to the first three community cards—also referred to as the flop—being exposed on the table. Players must make a crucial decision at this point regarding whether to put money in the hand or fold, this is called bank management in poker.
In poker, what is the number of possible opening hands?
There are 169 distinct starting hands in poker, considering various combinations of suits and card ranks. This range offers players different strategic options, from strong pairs to suited connectors and high cards.
In Texas Hold’em, what proportion of starting hands can I play?
The percentage of poker starting hands to play in Texas Hold’em can vary but generally falls within 15% to 20%. It’s crucial to prioritize strong hands, like high pairs and premium aces, while selectively including other hands that offer potential for post-flop success. This balanced approach optimizes your chances of winning over the long run.