When it comes to the cards players are dealt at the beginning of a poker hand, known as hole cards, some combinations are more common than others. While the strength of these hands can vary depending on various factors, including the player’s position and the style of play, here are the most common starting hands players receive:
Pocket Aces (Ace-Ace): Known as “pocket rockets,” this is considered the strongest starting hand in poker. It gives players a pair of Aces right from the start, providing a strong chance of winning the hand.
Pocket Kings (King-King): Often referred to as “cowboys,” pocket Kings are highly valued starting cards. They provide a powerful pair of Kings, making them one of the best starting hands in poker.
Pocket Queens (Queen-Queen): Pocket Queens, also known as “ladies,” are another strong starting hand. While they fall slightly behind Aces and Kings, they are still considered highly valuable.
Ace-King (Suited or Unsuited): Ace-King, commonly called “Big Slick,” is a powerful starting hand. It offers the potential to form either top pair with a strong kicker or strong suited connectors.
Pocket Jacks (Jack-Jack): Pocket Jacks, often called “hooks,” are a strong starting hand but can be vulnerable against higher pairs. Skilled players know how to navigate this hand effectively.
Ace-Queen (Suited or Unsuited): Ace-Queen, known as “Big Chick” or “Little Slick,” is a solid starting hand. It has the potential to form strong top pairs and can be played aggressively in certain situations.
Pocket Tens (10-10): Pocket Tens, often referred to as “dimes,” are a good starting hand, but they can be sensitive to higher pairs or overcards on the flop.
Professional players often have their own favourite hands based on personal strategies and experiences. Some may prefer aggressive hands like Ace-King or suited connectors like 9-8 suited, which offer potential for straights and flushes as per poker sequence. However, it’s important to note that professional players’ strategies can vary significantly.
Best and worst hands to play
In terms of the best and worst hands to play with real money, it largely depends on factors such as position, table dynamics, stack sizes, and opponents’ playing styles. While strong starting hands like pocket Aces and Kings are generally favourable, weaker hands like 7-2 offsuit (known as the “worst hand in poker”) are typically best to fold. Hands with low connectivity or low potential for improvement, such as 9-2 offsuit, are generally considered weak and should be played cautiously or folded.
Along with the basics of how to play poker, it’s crucial for players to learn how to take decisions based on their position and the actions of other players. Skilled players understand the importance of adapting their strategy based on the specific circumstances and making informed decisions to maximise their chances of success.
The most historic hands in poker
Poker has had its fair share of famous incidents involving memorable hands. Here are a few notable examples:
“The Moneymaker Effect” – In 2003, an accountant named Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event after qualifying through an online satellite tournament. His victory, with a starting hand of 5-4 offsuit, had a significant impact on the popularity of poker, leading to what became known as “The Moneymaker Effect.” It inspired a surge in interest and participation in the game, particularly online money earning games.
“The Dead Man’s Hand” – The term “Dead Man’s Hand” refers to a specific poker hand: two pairs consisting of Aces and eights. The hand earned its name from an incident involving famous Wild West figure Wild Bill Hickok. Legend has it that he was holding this hand when he was shot and killed during a poker game in Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1876. Since then, the hand has become synonymous with bad luck in poker.
“The Royal Flush Heard Around the World” – During the 2008 World Series of Poker Europe Main Event, Norwegian poker player Annette Obrestad made history by winning the tournament with an extraordinary final hand. She was dealt a 7-2 offsuit, widely regarded as the worst starting hand in poker. Despite the unfavourable hand, Obrestad managed to bluff her way to victory without ever revealing her hole cards. Her accomplishment stunned the poker world and solidified her reputation as a skilled and earless player.
“The Battle of the Aces” – In the 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event, there was an intense showdown between Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel. Both players were dealt pocket Aces, an extremely strong starting hand. The drama unfolded as Chan slow-played his Aces, hoping to trap Seidel into committing more chips. In the end, Seidel fell into the trap and lost a substantial pot, leading to Johnny Chan’s second consecutive Main Event victory.
“The One Drop Extravaganza” – In 2012, the Big One for One Drop tournament was held at the World Series of Poker, featuring a massive $1 million buy-in. The final hand of the tournament pitted Antonio Esfandiari against Sam Trickett. Esfandiari held pocket Aces, while Trickett had King-Queen suited. The flop brought three diamonds, giving Trickett a flush draw. However, Esfandiari turned a set of Aces, effectively sealing the victory and the largest prize in poker history at the time, a staggering $18.3 million.
“The 2009 WSOP Main Event Final Table” – In the final hand of the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event, Joe Cada and Darvin Moon faced off. Moon held pocket Queens, while Cada had pocket Nines. The flop came 5-4-2, giving Cada a set of Nines. The turn and river didn’t improve Moon’s hand, and Cada’s set of Nines secured him the victory and the coveted Main Event bracelet.
“The ‘Busting the Pros’ Hand” – In 2009, amateur player Steve Dannenmann had a memorable hand during the World Series of Poker Main Event. With a starting hand of Queen-Nine offsuit, he called a raise from professional player Phil Ivey, who held pocket Kings. The flop came 10-Q-3, giving Dannenmann top pair. The turn and river didn’t improve either hand, and Dannenmann’s Queen-Nine was enough to eliminate Ivey, earning him a reputation as a giant killer.
“The ‘Tiger Woods’ Hand” – During a high-stakes cash game in 2006, poker professional Phil Ivey found himself in a hand against businessman Andy Beal. Ivey held the 10-2 offsuit, a hand that became associated with him due to his successful play in previous instances with it. Beal held pocket Aces. Despite the apparent disadvantage, Ivey managed to bluff Beal off his hand and take down a massive pot, further cementing his reputation as one of the best real cash game players in the world.
“The ‘Straight Flush vs. Quads’ Hand” – In 2008, during a televised poker cash game, a remarkable hand unfolded between professional poker players Phil Hellmuth and Tom Dwan. Hellmuth held pocket Aces, while Dwan had pocket Kings. The flop came 6-7-8, giving Hellmuth a straight, and Dwan quads (four of a kind). The players’ chips went all-in, and despite Hellmuth’s strong hand, Dwan’s quads held up, resulting in an epic clash of monster hands.
Poker hand analysis
It is important to determine the probability of different hand combinations and evaluate the strength of your hand relative to your opponents before deciding about whether to bet, call, raise, or fold. Here are some key concepts and calculations used in poker hand analysis:
Pre-flop Hand Selection: Before the community cards are dealt, you need to evaluate the strength of your starting hand. This assessment involves considering factors like the rank of your hole cards, their suit, and their relative value in different positions. Tools like starting hand charts provide guidelines for selecting playable hands based on their expected value.
Outs and Odds: Outs are the cards that can improve your hand to a stronger combination. Calculating the number of outs can help you determine the odds of hitting your desired card on the next street. The Rule of 2 and 4 is a common method used to estimate your chances of improving. Multiply the number of outs by 2 (for the turn) or 4 (for the river) to get an approximate percentage of hitting your hand.
Pot Odds: Pot odds compare the current size of the pot to the cost of your bet. Along with the basic Poker rules, you must know how to compare the pot odds to the odds of completing your hand to determine if a bet is mathematically justified. If the pot odds are higher than the odds of completing your hand, it may be profitable to make the bet.
Hand Equities: Hand equity refers to the share of the pot that your hand is expected to win on average. It takes into account the strength of your hand, potential draws, and the likelihood of improving compared to your opponents’ hands. Calculating hand equities can help you assess the profitability of your betting decisions.
Expected Value (EV): Expected value is the average amount you can expect to win or lose from a particular decision over the long run. To calculate the expected value, multiply the probability of each possible outcome by the corresponding value and sum them up. Positive expected value decisions are generally favourable, while negative expected value decisions are less desirable.
Range Analysis: Range analysis involves estimating the possible hands that your opponents might have based on their actions and the community cards. By narrowing down the range of hands your opponents could hold, you can make more accurate assessments of your hand’s relative strength and adjust your betting strategy accordingly, regardless of whether you play poker online or offline.
This analysis provides a mathematical framework for evaluating poker hands, but it’s important to remember that this is not foolproof. Poker is a game of incomplete information, and factors like bluffing, table dynamics, and opponent behaviour can impact the final outcome. Nevertheless, incorporating these calculations into your decision-making process can enhance your understanding of hand strength and improve your overall poker strategy.
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