Basic Texas Holdem Starting Hands
A good starting hand is the first and foremost key to winning at Texas Holdem poker, period.
The majority of the online poker community tends to overlook this crucial element essential for winning consistently. Sure, anyone will get lucky every now and then with a 7-2 off suit, but to win consistently you must condition yourself to play only hole cards with the best possible winning percentages.
So what is a good starting hand? Ace/Ace – Ace/King Suited – King/King? There are numerous books and resources on the internet that will give you an anticipated good starting hand along with the win percentages for each, but here is what they don’t tell you: The strength of a good starting hand depends greatly on the number of players left in the game AND the number of callers. If there are 10 people seated at the table, then a good starting hand will be quite different from a good starting hand with only 3 players sitting at the table.
David “Einstein” Sklansky was the first author to have both ranked every 2-card starting hand and group them along with recommendations on how to play them. The top 16 ranked starting hole cards are fundamental to solid play. They constitute about 7% of all hands you will be dealt.
Table 1 – Sklansky’s Group 1 hands AA KK QQ JJ AKs
Ace/Ace and King/King are substantially more powerful than the Queen/Queen.
Table 2 – Sklansky’s Group 2 hands TT AQs AJs KQs AK
The overall power of Ace/King is actually slightly greater than that of King/Queens, so I would reverse the order of these two hands within this Group
Out of the 10 hands in these two groups your decision to raise should not be treated equally based upon the following:
Raising Ace/Ace, King/King, Queen/Queen, and Ace/King should be aggressive before the flop because these cards can lose their value in large multi-way pots.
Raising Ace/King, Ace/Queen, Ace/Jack, and King/Queen should be moderate because they do play well in multi-way pots.
Raising Jack/Jack should only be done on a tight tables in order to run out hands such as Ace/Nine. This type of hand can also lose value in multi-way pots.
Raising Ten/Ten is generally not recommended.
Always consider the fact that your starting hand strength also depends on your table position, or how many people bet before and after you do. As a general rule, you should stick to the conventional best starting hand percentages when there are 8 to 10 players with 2 to 3 callers.
When the field is narrowed down to 5 players or less, you should play your starting hands more aggressively. For example, the Ace/King suited is often considered to be the second best starting hand with a full table. If there are less than 5 players left, any Ace hole card with a decent kicker can give you the same winning percentages as the Ace/King suited would have. The concept is very simple, you are playing the mathematical odds implied via the 52 cards in the deck along with the probability that fewer players will equal less chances that someone will draw an Ace. In short, the fewer number of players holding cards at a table, the greater your chances of winning are.
If you are in a late position at a full table and have seen one player wager a large bet, and there are one or two callers, most often you can bet at the very least ONE of them is holding a strong starting hand with high win percentages (such as an Ace with a high kicker, suited sequence cards, or heavy pocket pairs, etc).
If, at any given point of the game, you have five or more players seeing the flop, then a good starting hand can often times change to small sequence cards such as a five/six or a small suited pairs. Reason? When over half of the players at a table call a hand, the high cards such as Aces, Kings, and Queens are usually tied up as hole cards thus not showing up on the flop, turn or river. This is an excellent opportunity for small pairs, lower straights, or any flush draw to win a big pot.
As a general rule, you should never bet the minimum when you have an excellent starting hand unless you intend to “limp in” and get more callers for the hand. There are times when limping in can win you some big pots, but you shouldn’t let slow playing become a dominant strategy. It is good to bet at least 3 to 4 times the minimum in order to run out any possible draw hands or players who rely on luck and chance to win a big pot early in the tournament.
Once you have mastered the basic concept of good starting hands for every scenario, you will become a better all around Texas Holdem player.