Pocket aces is the best starting hand in poker. When you’re dealt pocket aces you’ve got the best hand pre-flop, period. One of the best things about pocket aces is that you dominate other strong starting hands like KK, QQ and JJ so there’s huge potential to win a massive pot. On top of that you may also have to play out of position post-flop if you are called. Because of all these disadvantages, it is generally best to have a strong hand before the flop. Looking at all these factors will give you an idea of the best hand you can play in pre-flop. In general, the best hands to play in pre-flop will be big pocket pairs (Ace-Ace being the best), big.
Even if you are a neophyte to the game of poker, there are some basic tenets that you have before you even pick up a stack of chips to bet. One, when you get pocket Aces, you pound your opposition with a pre-flop raise otherwise everyone and their brother gets to play the hand and potentially crack your bullets. Two, you don’t need to play “special” hands like a 7-2, universally recognized as the worst hand in poker. Finally, there isn’t a such thing as “funsies,” 99% of the time you’re playing poker for a reason – normally to make some money.
Beyond that, the education of a poker player gets a bit grey. Here’s a basic thought on some hands that new players will play simply because “someone told them it was worthwhile” or “but (insert professional player here) always plays this hand” or even “I had a feeling.” If you can put these into your repertoire of hands you need to fold pre-flop, you’ll potentially find that your sessions are more profitable.
Jack-10 (Suited or unsuited)
At first glance, J-10 is a pretty sweet looking hand. It holds the potential to make four nut straights, the only two card combination to be able to do that, and it can let you float a bet on the flop if they are suited and two of that suit hit the felt. The problem with J-10 is that it doesn’t play well after the flop.
If you get a flop that contains a Jack, then you have issues with the kicker that, in most cases, is going to be dominated by an opponent playing Q-J, K-J, or A-J. If you pair the ten, then the same situation is in play with a similar number of options that beat you – A-10, K-10 and Q-10. If they are suited and the two matching suit cards that come on the flop are under the ten, then there is a chance (a slim one, about 1-in-592) that an A-K, A-Q, or K-Q is out there to clip you. And let’s not even get into the potential for straights (K-Q, Q-9, 9-8) should you flop two pair.
There are two options here: hit perfectly and hope someone ignores the straight potential of the board, calling your bets all the way, or missing and having to let the hand go. If you get a flop like K-Q-x, about the only people who might come with you are pocket pairs (King, Queen or “x”) or those that have you beaten (A-K, A-Q, K-Q, any King or Queen combination and the pairer for the “x”). If the flop comes empty – say A-7-4, for example – then you’re left with air to bluff with; most wouldn’t consider chasing it any further with this dismal holding.
Everyone loves to potentially crack a big pair by playing a small one – between deuces and fives – and set mining their way into the lead. But what happens when you’ve completely missed with your little ones? It gets pretty ugly in this case.
In pre-flop action, the baby pairs don’t hold up well if there is a great deal of action in front of you. Say you’re sitting on deuces on the button when someone fires a bet out of middle position, the hijack calls and the cutoff three-bets the situation. Your pocket deuces don’t look so good now, do they? There’s nothing wrong with sending the hand to the muck here and, in fact, it is the proper play with the flurry of activity ahead of you.
The baby pairs don’t hold up well if the cards on the flop are all higher cards, at best giving you the fourth-best hand after the flop. They also don’t work well as a straight filler. For example, if you have pocket treys and fill out a 2-4-5 flop to make it an open ended straight draw, there are other potential players that crush your baby pair or could best you in a straight situation.
Extremely Gapped Suited Cards
If you were to get dealt two extremely gapped cards – say a K-2 or a Q-3, for example – there would, for most players, be little hesitation in putting those in the muck. Why then, if there is the same symbol in the corner for each card, does it make a difference? While their suited nature does open the potential for a flush, it isn’t going to do much in any other circumstance.
If that flush draw comes, then you’re committing with weak holdings – sneaky for the flush potential, yes, but weak otherwise. If you flop a King, then you have kicker issues that come up and the same works if you hit the kicker – your top card might not be enough to win at showdown unless you make trips with the kicker.
We sometimes have to play hands we’d rather not play on certain occasions. But if you can control when you voluntarily put chips in play to hands, making sure they have strong potential (not always, mind you, but more often than not) instead of weaker holdings, you should find more success on the tables. And isn’t winning hands – and the chips that go along with those hands – why we sit down at the table?
The Strongest Poker Hands – Before and After the Flop
Before the flop is dealt, the strongest hands are easy to spot. Aces, Kings and Queens top the list – with Ace-King not far behind.
The relative strength of poker hands in Texas Hold’em changes as the community cards are dealt. While all sorts of starting hands can hit the flop, there are certain categories which are more likely to turn into hidden monsters.
This page covers the top 10 poker hands, before the flop – and then all the way to the river. This includes:
- Starting Hands: Top 10 hands that every play would love to be dealt before the flop
- Flop Betting: How the first 3 community cards have a huge effect on the ‘relative’ strength of the bet pre-flop hands.
- Turn and River: Draws can complete, or high cards can hit as the community card board is completed.
- Top Hands and Position: Why being dealt a top 10 poker hand alone is not enough to win big.
- How to Tell: If you can spot those times an opponent has a monster hand, you’ll be in a great position top get away from 2nd best holdings.
Starting Hands: The Top 10 Hands Before the Flop
Pocket Aces rule the rankings before the flop. If you are dealt this hand, you’ll win 80% of the time against any single hand your opponent could hold by the river.
Here are the top 10 hands pre-flop in Texas Hold’em:
- Pocket Aces: There is no better feeling in Hold’em than looking down at a pair of aces. Especially if there has been a raise ahead of you.
- Pocket Kings: With aces so rare, it is usual to assume that your pocket kings are the best hand pre-flop. You can always reassess if you face multiple re-raises. With no aces on the flop, you can hope to win a big pot with this hand.
- Pocket Queens: There is a risk that opponents have aces, kings or ace-king when you are dealt Queens. With no ‘card removal’ for those hands as when you are dealt A-A or K-K. Pocket Queens is still a very strong hand and should be played for a raise.
- Ace-King: This hand is even stronger when suited, though plenty strong enough with just the high card value. If you make a pair on the flop, you will have the top kicker to go with your top-pair.
- Pocket Jacks: As you get down the rankings, even strong starting hands start to become vulnerable to over-cards on the flop. Jacks are often good enough to win unimproved, though you need to be cautious when an ace hits the board.
- Ace-Queen: Again, a suited version is much stronger than an unsuited one – as you’ll be able to make the nut flush on occasion. This hand becomes stronger if your opponents are prone to overplaying aces with weaker kickers.
- Pocket 10’s: This is the last pocket pair which is more likely than not to be an over-pair on the flop. It has hidden value, blocking straights and allowing you to hit a set (as with all smaller pairs) on boards which look ‘safe’ for the higher pairs.
- King Queen Suited: This hand has a lot of potential multi-way. Heads up against one of the premium hands, it does not do as well. If you find yourself with king-queen suited in position in a multi-way pot, you can often make a hidden monster and win a big pot.
- Ace-Jack / Ace-Ten: These hands are vulnerable, though suited versions can make the nut flush, if you don’t make 2 pairs, there is always a chance of a Broadway straight.
- Mid-Pairs: Finally, mid-pairs can make sets – giving them a lot of deceptive strength. When someone has aces, and bets strongly, you can often win their whole stack with a hidden pair or 7’s (for example).
Relative Strength of Poker Hands on Different Flops
Key to success in poker is not to get married to the top 10 starting hands after the flop. There are several factors to consider. While you can often assume that your premium starting hand is still best (and bet it accordingly), a clear assessment of the risks is always useful.
When you see a flop, think about the following:
- How many opponents saw this flop (what is the risk that some random hand connected!)?
- Does this flop have the potential to hit many drawing hands (straights and flushes)?
- Is this the type of flop that will not connect with hands my (tight) opponents are likely to play (low, unconnected flops fit this category)?
- Are there cards on the board which are higher than my pocket pair?
These questions highlight an error that many new players make with premium hands. If you limp or call, instead of raising with those aces – you can end up in a tricky spot. You could see a wet flop (lots of potential draws available) with multiple opponents who might have random holdings. If you have to act first in the betting, the situation looks even trickier. Here your hand is too strong to give up on, though if you get a lot of action on subsequent betting rounds, you could be in trouble!
Playing good hands strongly, and raising a few outside the top 5 for balance, is a great way to avoid too many tough spots on the flop.
Turn and River Cards: How Likely my Opponent Hit?
When the turn or river card completes a flush (for example) and your opponent comes out firing with a big bet, you need to ask yourself how often you are beaten.
The wrong question to ask here is ‘how often do players make flushes by the river?’. You have some additional information. If your opponent called a bet on the flop, or even raised, then they are likely to have some kind of hand. If they continued all the way, only to re-raise you at the end when their card hit – you might just be in trouble.
Poker Flop Odds
Getting ‘married’ to over-pairs can be expensive in these situations. What is demonstrates is that even the top 10 starting hands can be losers in certain run-outs. You’ll need to use your judgement to decide whether your opponent might be bluffing in the scenario above. This can be based on the player, their bet sizing in the hand and your history with that opponent. In my experience, players at the smallest stakes are not bluffing frequently enough in this type of spot to make this a profitable call.
Playing the Top 10 Poker Starting Hands in Position
With the dynamics or poker hand strength changing as the community cards come out, playing in position is a great way to optimise your profits. This simply refers to acting last in the betting on the flop, turn and river betting rounds. The player with the ‘Dealer’ button position acts last – though keep in mind that acting last relative to the raiser pre-flop is a different factor.
When you are last to act, you can get away from hands when there is a raise and a re-raise ahead of you. It is always an option to bet out and steal a pot you might otherwise have given up on when everyone checks to you as well.
Position strategy goes a lot deeper than this. When you are starting out, keep in mind that acting last + having a top 10 poker hand is the best spot to be in!
How to Tell If Your Top Hand is Beaten?
Pre Flop Poker Strategy
As you gain experience playing on different board-textures, and against different types of opponents – spotting those times when your pocket aces are second best becomes a lot easier.
Pre Flop Hands
While some opponents keep betting at any pot where they have a piece of the board (or a draw in some cases), other opponents are more cautious. If someone who usually limps and calls suddenly wakes up with big bets, this is a great sign that you could be beaten. I have seen opponents play passively for hours, and suddenly check-raise when they made the top flush. If you pay those types off, it is down to you not paying attention – rather than bad luck.