Texas Holdem Best Starting Hands



This hand, which is also referred to as American Airlines is the best starting hand pre flop out of all potential starting hands in Texas Hold'Em Poker. With a hand like this, betting more aggressively is advised. The King, King starting hand is the second best starting hand pre-flop when it comes to Texas Hold'Em Poker. Ever since the early days of Texas holdem poker, players have attempted to analyze and organize the 169 possible two card starting hands found in the game. One traditional way of doing so involves running thousands upon thousands of simulations in which a particular holdem hand is played out against nine random opponent hands. All Texas Hold’em starting hands can be separated into two categories: “suited” and “offsuit”. Suited hands contain two cards of the same suit, like J♣9♣, A ♥ K ♥, K♠Q♠ and 9 ♦ 3 ♦. All other starting hands are in the offsuit category, like A♠8 ♦, 7♣5 ♥ and K ♥ 9 ♦. The least common hands are the suited hands. Each suited hand have four possible combinations. For example A-Ks: A♥-K♥, A♦-K♦,A♣-K♣, A♠-K♠. Starting hands charts. All starting hands in Texas hold'em can be displayed shematically in a chart: All hands, both with suited and offsuited versions are included.

NL Hold’em Starting Hand Charts

One aspect of the game of No-Limit Hold’em that causes beginning players much grief is deciding which hands to play and which hands to dump. NL Hold’em is much more difficult than Limit Hold’em because the value of a hand depends on so many factors other than just the cards in your hand. Despite this difficulty, our coaches believe that following some general guidelines and adjusting from these is a better solution than having no guidelines at all. Given that well over half of your profitability in NL Hold’em is based on hand selection alone, we have developed these charts to help you better determine whether to play or fold.

There are no perfect No-Limit starting hand charts. That is because there are many factors that affect your decision, and charts cannot account for all of them. Some of these include:

Starting
  1. The size of your opponent's stacks.
  2. How loose or tight, passive or aggressive, your opponents are.
  3. Where these opponents are located at the table – for example, does an aggressive player still have to act after you?
  4. Your image at the table – for example, how tight or tricky you are perceived.

That being said, these charts will serve you well in most typical low-stakes No-Limit cash games, such as games with blinds of $1/$2, and home games. These games typically have several loose players at the table, and good opportunities for winning big pots with suited connectors and pocket pairs. With practice, you will be able to be a consistently winning player with these charts as a starting point. As you improve, you'll find yourself making adjustments to these charts based on the factors listed above, and more.

AGAIN: These charts are a good starting point for beginners. Specifically, Chart #1 recommends a significant amount of limping. This is great in loose, passive games but less often seen in tougher games. You’ll find other training material on Advanced Poker Training that may recommend a more aggressive approach for more experienced players.

Note: It would be a serious mistake to apply these hand charts before reading the Frequent Asked Questions first.


CHART #1 ‐ LOOSE, PASSIVE GAME (OFTEN 4-5 LIMPERS PER HAND)
NO ONE HAS RAISED YET

Texas holdem best starting hands and why
  • Raise Always
  • Call from Early Position, otherwise raise
  • Call always
  • Call from Middle or Late Position if the conditions are right (see Frequently Asked Questions)

CHART #2 ‐ TIGHTER GAME (FEWER LIMPERS) OR MORE AGGRESSIVE GAME
NO ONE HAS RAISED YET

  • Raise Always
  • Call from Early Position, otherwise raise
  • Call (or Raise) from Middle or Late Position if the conditions are right (see Frequently Asked Questions)

CHART #3 ‐ THERE HAS BEEN A SINGLE RAISE
(3‐5 TIMES THE BIG BLIND) BEFORE YOU

  • Re‐Raise Always
  • Call from Early Position, otherwise re‐raise
  • Call always
  • Call from Middle or Late Position if the conditions are right (see Frequently Asked Questions)

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

For the hands in yellow, what do you mean when you say to play these hands if the conditions are right? The hands in yellow are speculative hands. They should always be folded from Early Position. From other positions, they can be profitable given the right conditions. Some of the questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are there other players who have called so far (the more, the better)?
  2. Are the players who have called playing poorly after the flop? Will they pay me off if I hit something?
  3. Is there an aggressive player still to act behind me (you might get raised and have to fold)?
  4. If there has been a raise and no other callers, what chance do I have of using my position after the flop to win the hand even if I don't improve (Chart #3 only)?

Why does Chart #2 say to sometimes raise with the hands in yellow, but Chart #1 does not? We have different goals in mind. Using Chart #1, we want to call to encourage additional players to enter the pot. These hands will be immensely profitable when our loose, passive opponents enter the hand, and get trapped when we flop a set, or make a well-disguised straight. When using Chart #2, however, we want to size up the opponents still to act. If they are tight, we can raise. Sometimes, we'll pick up the blinds. Other times, our pre-flop aggression will allow us to take down the pot on the flop.

What's the difference between AKs and AKo? AKs means an Ace and King of the same suit. AKo means an Ace and King of different suits.

What are early, middle, and late position? Early Position is generally the first 2 (in a nine player game) or 3 (in a ten player game) positions after the blinds. Late Position is the “cutoff” position (to the right of the dealer), and dealer button positions. Middle Position is everything in between.

How much should I raise? As a general rule, raise 3 to 4 times the big blind, plus 1 extra big blind for every player who has called before you. So if there are 2 callers already, raise between 5 and 6 times the big blind.

What if someone raises after I call? Whether you call the raise depends on how much money the raiser has for you to win, how many other players are involved, and what type of hand you have. As a general rule, if you have a pocket pair, lean towards calling. If there are a lot of other players (and therefore a big pot), lean towards calling. In general, fold suited connectors from early position. Fold hands like KQ that don't play well against a raiser.

How do I play from the blinds? From the small blind, play the same hands you would play from late position, plus a few more. But don't call with junk hands like T5o, just because it is “cheap”. From the big blind, if there is a raise to you, play like you would if you had already called from early position.

The chart says to fold KQo to a raise. Really? Yes, this hand performs very poorly against typical raising hands. Against AK, AQ, AA, KK, QQ, you are a big underdog. Other typical raising hands like JJ, TT, 99, AJs, are slightly ahead of you as well. The only time you might call or re-raise is from late position, if the opener was in middle or late position, indicating they might have a wider range of hands.

I was told to fold AJo from Early Position, why do you say to call with it? Folding AJo is not a bad idea in many games. We included it because, at low stakes tables (even tight or aggressive ones), the players are often playing badly enough after the flop that it can be profitable. We used data from millions of hands of low-limit poker to analyze this. The same could be said for KQo, ATs, and KJs – you can make a small profit in the long run at most low-stakes games, but folding would be perfectly acceptable from early position.

Can I use these charts in a NL Hold'em tournament? The charts would be best applicable to the early stages of a NL tournament, when everyone has a deep stack. In the middle and later stages, they should not be used.


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You don’t have to play Texas holdem for long before you start doing a little reading about the game.

One of the first things you’ll learn is that you need to have starting hand requirements.

You can find various charts and tables for this sort of thing, but you’ll also learn quickly that you have 169 possible starting hands.

The best of these is pocket aces, and the worst is 27 offsuit.

But how do you rank the starting hands in-between?

You’ll find plenty of quality and insightful advice regarding Texas Holdem when searching online, but here’s some information presented in a way that it should be easy to absorb and remember from the professionals.

How to Play Pocket Pairs Preflop

One of the first books I read about Texas holdem was co-written by Phil Hellmuth, and it was titled Play Poker Like the Pros.

He has a top 10 starting hands list that consists of any pair of 7s or higher, along with ace-king and ace-queen.

He suggests that if you’re new to the game, you play super-tight and limit yourself to these hands.

So, obviously, pocket pairs are important pre-flop in Texas holdem.

But how do you play them?

You start by subcategorizing these hands:

  • Huge pairs – aces or kings
  • Big pairs – any pair of 10s, jacks, or queens
  • Medium pairs – any pair of 7s, 8s, or 9s
  • Little pairs – all the rest – any pair of 6 or lower

How to Play Huge Pairs Preflop

It’s hard to lose money when you have a pair of kings or a pair of aces pre-flop in Texas holdem. These hands can often win unimproved. It doesn’t matter what kind of game you’re in – passive or aggressive, loose or tight, huge pairs practically play themselves.

These hands are easy to play pre-flop, especially when playing Texas Holdem online.

Bet with them, raise with them and re-raise with them.

Here are the huge pairs in list format:

  • AA
  • KK

How to Play Big Pairs Preflop

Big pairs are still great hands, but not as great as aces or kings, obviously.

But like the huge pairs, you can often win just on the strength of this pair alone. And a big pair plays well in any kind of game, too.

You should bet or raise with these hands unless someone has raised before you. Even then, it’s usually the right move to re-raise.

The only time you wouldn’t re-raise with a big pair like this is if you’re acting after multiple raisers and re-raisers. In that case, you should consider the possibility that your opponent is ahead.

The correct play here gets trickier. It might make sense to call a raise and a re-raise here if you know the other players’ tendencies and see what happens on the flop. If you’re against a tight player, it might make sense to just fold in the race of multiple raises.

Here are the big pairs in list format:

  • QQ
  • JJ
  • TT

How to Play Medium Pairs Preflop

If you can reduce your competition to just a couple of people, these pairs play well – but mostly if those players are loose and probably have weaker hands than you do.

If you can get into a pot with 5+ other players, you have an opportunity to win big on the occasions when you flop a set. With 5 players in the pot with you, someone almost always has a pair, and they’ll usually play it aggressively.

Playing a medium pair depends a lot on your position.
Texas

Limping from early position is appropriate, and raising from late position is also appropriate, but only if you’re trying to thin the competition. If multiple players have already limped, you should limp to so that you can get more people in the pot.

This hand is strong enough that you can afford to call a single raiser and try to hit a set on the flop, but you need to be ready to fold if you don’t – especially against tough opponents.

Here are the medium pairs in list format:

  • 99
  • 88
  • 77

How to Play Small Pairs Preflop

It’s hard to win a hand with a small pair unless it improves on the flop, turn, or river. The profits from this category of hand come from the occasional sets and full houses.

Your goal should be to get into the hand as cheaply as possible and with as many opponents as possible.

If the game is loose enough, you’d be justified calling a raise pre-flop, although multiple raisers and re-raisers are trouble. Position matters a lot when playing in person or at online casinos.

Some players are going to put a lot of money into the pot regardless of what happens on the later rounds, so even if you can’t get into the pot with 5+ players, these are playable hands.

Just don’t overplay small pairs. And be ready to let go of them when you miss the flop.

Here’s a list of the small pairs:

  • 66
  • 55
  • 44
  • 33
  • 22

How to Play Suited Cards Preflop

Suited cards are cards of the same suit. They can be great hands, mediocre hands, or lousy hands, depending on the ranks of the suited cards.

How to Play Suited Broadway Cards

The strongest suited cards are the broadway cards. These include the ace with a king, queen, jack, or ten. This category also includes king-queen suited and king-jack suited.

You can win multiple ways with this category of starting hands. The most common way you’ll win with these cards is when you hit a big pair with a strong kicker. You can also often hit a flush with a big card.

These hands are similar to the big and huge pairs – they’re great to play regardless of the game conditions.

Instead of automatically raising with these cards as you would with the big pairs, though, you should usually only raise if you’re the first one in the pot. If you have raisers in front of you, let your opponent’s tendencies guide your decision. Against a loose player, call. Against a tight player, at least consider folding.

Even though these are strong hands, they’re still drawing hands. You won’t often win unless your hand improves on the flop, turn, or river.

Here’s a list of the top suited broadway cards:

  • AKs
  • AQs
  • AJs
  • A10s
  • KQs
  • KJs

But not all suited broadway cards are premium starting hands like the big ones listed above.

Queen-jack suited, king-ten suited, queen-ten suited, and jack-ten suited are also broadway cards, but they’re considerably weaker. They’re harder to win with because it’s easier for your opponent to have a stronger hand.

Your goal is to win against weak opponents or to hit a really big hand and win a large pot with a lot of opponents. You’ll win those pots when you hit your occasional straights and flushes.

These are good hands to limp in with, and you can raise with them in late position if everyone in front of you limped.

These are good hands to limp in with when playing at real money online casinos, and you can raise with them in late position if everyone in front of you limped.

If someone raises, though, make sure you can get multiple players into the pot with you before calling. It won’t usually be profitable to get heads-up with a small suited broadway hand.

Here’s a list of the smaller suited broadway starting hands:

  • QJs
  • K10s
  • Q10s
  • J10s

Big-Little Suited

Big-little suited hands are any suited ace with a 9 or lower or any suited king with a 9 or lower.

The bigger the kicker is, the better. The aces are far stronger than the kings, too.

The aces work out well against a lot of loose players because you’ll often pair the ace. Many times, this means the kicker will make all the difference.

But even if you pair the king, you have a lot to fear when an ace shows up on one of the later rounds.

Your goal with a big-little suited hand, though, is to get into a pot with a lot of other players cheap and hit a flush.

Here’s a list of big-little suited hands:

  • A9s
  • A8s
  • A7s
  • A6s
  • A5s
  • A4s
  • A3s
  • A2s
  • K9s
  • K8s
  • K7s
  • K6s
  • K5s
  • K4s
  • K3s
  • K2s

Suited Connectors

These are hands starting with 10-9 suited and going down from there, with or without gaps.

Suited connectors without gaps, for example, are 10-9 suited, 9-8 suited, 8-7 suited, 6-5 suited, and 5-4 suited.

Here’s a list of playable suited connectors without gaps:

  • 10-9s
  • 98s
  • 87s
  • 76s
  • 54s

(You’ll notice that 32s isn’t playable.)

Suited connectors with one gap, on the other hand, are jack-9 suited, 10-8 suited, 9-7 suited, and so on, down to 6-4 suited.

Here’s a list of playable suited connectors with one gap:

  • J9s
  • 10-8s
  • 97s
  • 86s
  • 75s
  • 64s

(Notice that 53s isn’t playable.)

You can also have suited connectors with 2 or 3 gaps like queen-9 suited or 9-6 suited (or in between), or queen-8 suited, and jack-7 suited.

The list of playable suited connectors with 2 gaps is shorter:

  • Q9s
  • J8s
  • 10-7s
  • 96s

And the list of playable suited connectors with 3 gaps is even shorter still:

  • Q8s
  • J7s

Regardless of which suited connector you’re looking at, it’s a hand that needs to hit hard on the flop to bet worth continuing with. In other words, you want to get in before the flop for a minimal investment and with multiple opponents.

You should only play suited connectors from later position.
Texas holdem best starting hands and why

Otherwise, suited connectors aren’t really worth playing pre-flop.

Also, you’ll notice that this category doesn’t include suited broadway cards, as they’re played a little differently.

Unsuited Cards Before the Flop

The only time you’ll play unsuited cards pre-flop is if they’re both broadway cards.

For example, ace-king offsuit, ace-queen offsuit, ace-jack offsuit, and king-queen offsuit are all playable.

These hands play the same as the other speculative hands. Get in cheap with a lot of other players so you can win a big pot. Be ready to fold them.

Here’s a list of playable unsuited cards:

  • AK
  • AQ
  • AJ
  • A-10
  • KQ
  • KJ
  • K-10
  • QJ
  • Q-10
  • J-10

Unplayable Starting Hands

If you’re running a naked bluff – which I don’t recommend to beginners, anyway – any 2 cards might do. If you notice how many starting hands are included in the lists above, you’ll see that you have 66 playable hands in these admittedly somewhat arbitrary categories.

You have 169 possible starting hands in Texas holdem, which means that I’m recommending you only play the top 39% of the possible starting hands.

But this doesn’t mean you should always play any of these hands.

Texas Holdem Ranking Starting Hands

Often these hands aren’t strong enough to play if someone has bet or raised in front of you.

Texas Hold'em Best Starting Hands

When you account for the folding you’ll do when you have less than a premium holding, you’ll more likely play between 15% and 25% of your starting hands, depending on table conditions.

Where to Get More Guidance About Starting Hand Categories

I leaned heavily on Ed Miller’s book, Small Stakes Holdem when writing this post.

But you’ll also find Phil Hellmuth’s book, Play Poker Like the Pros helpful – especially when it comes to starting hands for no limit players.

Doyle Brunson’s Super/System also has excellent insights into how to play various starting hands in no limit holdem.

Holdem Poker for Advanced Players, by Mason Malmuth and David Sklansky, has a grouping of starting hands by category that might also prove useful.

Finally, check out this blog on preflop Texas Holdem Poker strategy.

Conclusion

The easiest way to get started playing well in Texas holdem is to put your starting hands into categories. Most new players play too many hands pre-flop, and they don’t fold often enough when their hands miss the flop.

You’ll know better than to make those mistakes now.

But starting hands are just the start of Texas holdem wisdom.