Best Starting Hands In Poker

Introduction

In the poker world, your starting hand sets the foundation of your strategy.

Explore the top 10 best starting hands and learn to play premium, marginal, and speculative hands effectively. Whether you're a beginner seeking basic understanding or a seasoned player aiming to refine your skills, this guide provides actionable tips and strategies to elevate your game and increase your chances of success at the poker table. Let's deal!

Understanding Starting Hands in Poker

In poker, your starting hand consists of the hole cards you receive at the beginning of each round. These cards form the foundation of your strategy and can significantly impact your chances of winning. Here's why understanding starting hands is essential:

  • Strength Assessment: The strength of your starting hand determines how you should play. Strong hands can justify aggressive play, while weaker hands may lead you to fold.
  • Building Hands: Strong starting hands provide the potential to form high-ranking combinations as community cards are revealed, such as Straight, Flush, or Full House.
  • Position and Action: Your starting hand's strength should guide your decisions based on your position at the table. Strong hands can allow for more aggressive plays from any position.
  • Reading Opponents: Knowing the range of starting hands other players might have helps you interpret their actions and adjust your strategy accordingly.

 

How Starting Hands Set the Foundation for a Winning Strategy

  • Hand Selection: Choosing strong starting hands and folding weaker ones can improve overall performance and decline losses.
  • Play Style: Understanding starting hands allows you to balance conservative and aggressive play, depending on the situation.
  • Bankroll Management: Focusing on strong starting hands can help you manage your bankroll more effectively and reduce unnecessary losses.

 

Mastering starting hands is essential for success in poker. By carefully selecting your starting hands and adjusting your strategy based on their strength, you can increase your chances of winning and improve your overall gameplay.

Poker Starting Hands Chart

 

Click Below to view the PDF version of the Starting Poker Hands Guide.

Download Starting Hands PDF Version

Click on each hole card combination to read more about when to exactly play that hand.

starting poker hands

Position Advantage in Starting Hands

A player's position at the poker table significantly influences the choice of starting hands and is an essential aspect of a winning poker strategy. Understanding how your position affects your starting hand selection can help you play strategically and gain an advantage over your opponents. Here’s why position matters in poker.


Early Position (EP)

The early position includes the first few seats to act after the blinds.

  • Tight Hand Selection: Players in early position should be more conservative with their starting hands because they act first in each betting round and have less information about their opponents' hands.
  • Risk: Being in EP is a disadvantage because other players can react to your actions. Play strong starting hands and avoid marginal ones.

Middle Position (MP)

The middle position includes the seats between the early and late positions.

  • Balanced Approach: Players in the middle position should balance aggressive and conservative play. You have more information than those in EP but less than LP.
  • Moderate Hand Selection: Choose your starting hands with care, prioritise strong hands, but consider occasional plays with marginal hands.

Late Position (LP)

The late position includes the seats near the dealer button, such as the cutoff and button.

  • Aggressive Advantage: Players in late positions can afford to play more aggressively because they have the advantage of seeing how others act before them.
  • Wider Hand Range: In LP, you can open up your starting hand selection to include a wider range of hands due to your positional advantage. You can capitalise on the weaknesses of others and control your actions.

Adjusting Hand Selection Based on Position

  • Tightening Up in EP: In the early position, focus on premium hands (e.g., high pairs, high-suited connectors) and fold more marginal hands.
  • Balanced Strategy in MP: In the middle position, loosen up slightly but remain selective with your starting hands.
  • Widening Range in LP: In late position, take advantage of the ability to bluff or raise with a wider range of hands, as you have better information about your opponents' intentions.

By adjusting your starting hand selection based on your position at the table, you can maximise your chances of winning and gain an edge over your opponents. This strategic approach can lead to more successful plays and increased profitability in the long run.


Notations in Poker

Understanding the starting hand notations is crucial for making strategic decisions when playing Texas Hold 'em poker. These notations guide players on which hands to play and how to interpret different hand combinations. Let's explore the poker hand notations and how they work!


Suited and Offsuit Hands

In Texas Hold'em, suited or offsuit are starting hands:

  • Suited Hands (s): Two cards of the same suit, such as K of Hearts and 10 of Hearts or Ace of Spades and King of Spades. The 's' notation signifies that the hand is suited, e.g., AKs for Ace-King suited. 
  • Offsuit Hands (o): Two cards of different suits, such as King of Diamonds and 7 of Spades or Queen of Spades and 9 of Diamonds are Offsuit Hands. The 'o' notation indicates that the hand is an offsuit, e.g., K7o for King-Seven offsuit.

Range Notations with '+'

Another important notation in poker is the '+' symbol. This symbol expands the range of hands you should play based on the hand it follows:

  • Pocket Pairs: When '+' follows a pocket pair, it means to play that pair and all higher-ranking pairs. For instance, JJ+ means play JJ and all higher pocket pairs, such as QQ, KK, and AA.
  • High Cards: When '+' follows a high card hand, it means to play that hand and all higher-ranking combinations. For example, A6s+ means you should play all-suited aces from A6s to AKs.

Types of Poker Hands

In poker, starting hands set the tone for each round and guide your strategy as the game progresses. There are various starting hands, each with strengths, weaknesses, and potential for profitability. Understanding them can help you make informed decisions and improve your chances of winning. Let’s explore the essential starting hands in poker!

  • Premium Hands: These are strong starting hands that offer a high chance of winning, both pre-flop and post-flop. These hands generally include high pairs such as pocket Aces (AA) and pocket Kings (KK) and strong unpaired hands like ace-king suited (AKs) and ace-queen suited (AQs). Playing premium hands involves aggressive betting and raising to maximise potential winnings and protect the hand from being outdrawn.
  • Marginal Hands: It falls between strong and weak, with a moderate chance of winning after revealing community cards. While higher marginal hands are generally stronger, bluffing can also influence outcomes, making the play of marginal hands dynamic and strategic.
    Suited connectors, unsuited connectors, small pairs, and gapped cards are examples of marginal hands.
  • Speculative Hands: These are starting hands that have the potential to become strong hands after revealing community cards, but they are not strong on their own. These hands are risky but can lead to big wins if they connect well with the board. Some common examples of speculative hands include suited connectors, small pocket pairs, suited one-gappers, and suited two-gappers.

Top 10 Best Starting Hands

In Texas Hold'em poker, the 10 best starting hands offer strong potential for winning, both pre-flop and post-flop. These hands have high values and often form strong combinations such as pairs, straights, or flushes. Here's a look at the 10 best starting hands and how beginners can leverage them:

  1. Pocket Aces (AA): The best starting hand in Hold'em. Beginners should play this hand aggressively to build the pot and protect against outdraws.
  2. Pocket Kings (KK): Second only to aces, pocket kings are another powerhouse hand. Play aggressively and be prepared to bet heavily to protect your hand.
  3. Pocket Queens (QQ): A strong pair that fares well against most hands. Raise pre-flop and play assertively post-flop, especially if the board is not high-card heavy.
  4. Pocket Jacks (JJ): While strong, this hand requires careful play post-flop. Look out for overcards (higher cards on the board) that may weaken your hand.
  5. Ace-King Suited (AKs): Known as "Big Slick," this hand is strong enough to make high Straight or Flush. Play aggressively pre-flop and look for opportunities to dominate post-flop.
  6. Ace-Queen Suited (AQs): This versatile hand can form top pairs, straights, or flushes. Raise pre-flop and bet confidently post-flop if you hit the board.
  7. Ace-Jack Suited (AJs): Similar to AQs, this hand offers potential for high combinations. Use it to apply pressure pre-flop and play strongly if you connect with the board.
  8. King-Queen Suited (KQs): It is a strong drawing hand with the potential to create Flush and Straight. Raise pre-flop and stay involved post-flop if you have a good connection.
  9. Ace-King Offsuit (AKo): While not as strong as its suited counterpart, this hand is still a premium holding. Play aggressively pre-flop and assess the board to determine your post-flop play.
  10. Pocket Tens (1010): A solid pair that can hold up well in many scenarios. Raise pre-flop and play cautiously post-flop, particularly against overcards.

Position-Specific Hand Recommendations

Your position at the poker table is critical in determining which starting hands to play and how to play them. Being in an advantageous position allows you to make more informed decisions and maximise your winnings. Here’s a breakdown of position-specific hand recommendations.


Early Position (EP)

In the early position, you are one of the first players to act, so your hand selection should be more conservative to avoid facing re-raises and tough decisions from other players.

  • Strong hands: Play premium hands like AA, KK, QQ, and AK. Raise or re-raise if possible.
  • Solid hands: Play mid-pairs (1010, JJ) and strong unpaired hands (AQs, AKo). Approach cautiously and consider folding if faced with a lot of aggression.

Middle Position (MP)

In the middle position, you have some information from early-position players but also face the possibility of later-position players acting after you.

  • Strong hands: Continue to play premium hands like AA, KK, QQ, and AK. Raise to build the pot.
  • Solid hands: Play mid-pairs (1010, JJ) and strong unpaired hands (AQs, AKo). Consider playing hands more actively, like AJs and KQs.

Late Position (LP)

You have a significant advantage in late position as you act after most other players. You can afford to widen your starting hand range.

  • Strong hands: Continue to play premium hands (AA, KK, QQ, and AK) aggressively.
  • Solid hands: Play a broader range of hands, including AJs, KQs, AKo, KQo, and mid to small pairs (Nine-Nine, Eight-Eight, and Seven-Seven). You can also include suited connectors and one-gappers (such as 98s or 109s) for their potential to form straights and flushes.

Small Blind and Big Blind

These are forced bets. You have to put money in the pot before seeing your hand. Play cautiously and protect your investment.

  • Strong hands: Play premium hands (AA, KK, QQ, and AK) and strong unpaired hands (AQs, AKo).
  • Solid hands: Include hands like mid to small pairs (99, 88, 77), AJs, and KQs.

Defend your blinds with a wider range of hands, especially in the big blind, when facing smaller raises.


Poker Cheat Sheets

Starting with a solid foundation in poker is essential for success, and having a cheat sheet for the best starting hands can give you a strategic advantage. While general principles apply across various poker variants, it's crucial to recognise the specific dynamics of your game. In this case, we're focusing on Texas Hold'em, the widely popular poker variant.

In Texas Hold'em, each player receives two hole cards. Through rounds of betting, community cards are gradually revealed, which every player can use along with their cards to form the strongest possible five-card hand.

Here's a breakdown of the top starting hands in Texas Hold'em, listed in order of strength:

  1. Pairs from Aces (AA) down to 10s (1010)
  2. Ace-King (AK), Ace-Queen (AQ), Ace-Jack (AJ), Ace-10 (A10)
  3. King-Queen (KQ), King-Jack (KJ)
  4. Queen-Jack (QJ)
  5. Jack-10 (J10)
  6. Suited connectors such as 910s, 89s, 78s, and 76s


Understanding the hierarchy of starting hands can significantly enhance your decision-making process during gameplay, whether online, in a casino, or in a prestigious tournament.


Common Mistakes to Avoid

Here are some mistakes you should avoid:

  • Playing too many cards: This is called the beginner’s trap. You have to be selective and focus on hands with high potential to win. Based on your position, you can make a starting hand chart and start playing tight and loose up as you gain experience.
  • Overvaluing suited connectors: Unless you are in a good position consider folding these hands as they may make strong straights or flushes but are weak in pre-flop rounds.
  • Limping: Limping (minimum bets) with weak bets shows weakness and also keeps the pot small. In case you get a strong hand, you might miss a good opportunity to make a high pot.
  • Ignoring positions: If you keep playing the same hand regardless of your position at the table, you may either lose all your money or miss a good opportunity to win big.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best starting hand in poker?

The best starting hand in Texas Hold'em is Pocket Aces (AA).

How many poker hands do you start with?

There are 169 different possible starting hands in Texas Hold'em. The number of starting hands available for you depends on your position.

Who is the first to bet in Texas Hold’em?

The first player to bet is the one sitting to the left of the button, i.e., a small blind.

How many different starting hands are there in poker?

When you consider both pocket pairs and unpaired hands (suited and unsuited), there are 169 different possible starting hands in Texas Hold 'em.

What percentage of poker starting hands should I play in Texas Hold’em?

The percentage of playable poker starting hands depends on your position at the table and your playing style, but typically, you might play between 15-25% of starting hands.

What poker hands should I fold?

When out of position, it is generally advisable to fold weak hands, such as offsuit low cards, disconnected hands, and unpaired hands with low ranks.

What hands should I play in poker preflop?

You can play strong hands such as pocket pairs, suited connectors or Broadway cards (A-Q-K-J).


Conclusion

In essence, your starting hand in poker shapes the course of the game. Understanding the significance of starting hands is crucial for making informed decisions and increasing your chances of success at the table. So, next time you're dealt your cards, choose wisely and play smart.

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