Hold'em Starting Hands
Hold'em, more than any other type of Poker has less Luck (or as the Pros say Standard Deviation) and is consequently less likely to give you as many bad streaks as most other games. We are assuming here that you are playing correctly and have not developed any bad habits or have become careless with your strategy.
The most important decision you can make in Hold'em is whether to play the first two cards. In an effort to make your life a bit easier and hopefully more profitable, we offer a simplified starting hand system for your consideration.
Please note that there may be many games you will play with significant variation, based on the players in the game; however, most of your playing time could be improved by applying this starting strategy most of the time.
Basic Texas Hold'em Strategy
Basic Hold'em Strategy consists of mostly playing the following starting hands in cash Limit games. This is not designed for tournament or no limit games, where strategy would differ.
AJ's =SUITED ONLY
A,10's =SUITED ONLY
KJ's = SUITED ONLY
QJ's = SUITED ONLY
Please note that this strategy consists of playing most of the top 17 hands out of a possible 169 hands. This translates to playing roughly 1 out of 10 hands or the top 10% of all hands. (We are aware that we actually listed 20 hands above; however, the 4 suited hands only combine to equal only one unsuited hand as you will only get these hands roughly one quarter as often as unsuited hands. So you are in actuality playing only the top 17 whole hands or 10% of a possible 169 hands.)
While we are aware that strictly percentage wise some other starting hands will fall into the top hands you could play, but our recommendations are that, most of the time, you will benefit from choosing to play mostly the above hands. We feel they offer you the most opportunity to win consistently while keeping your opponents from figuring out your play.
Provided you play these hands to the river and bet aggressively thus chasing out a few players, you should win a fair number of pots. Keep in mind you are only playing the top starting hands and are generally beginning as the favorite to win as many players depend strongly on luck at the flop just to continue.
We are sure you noticed that we left out a few starting hands that are the favorite of many players, lets take a look at a few:
A9 or A and anything small: This is a hand you will often see played by most pros; however, this is also a hand that needs to hit an ace or two, a straight or a flush to win most of the time and then, even if you hit an ace, you could still be beat by a player with a larger kicker, remember your kicker is 9 or smaller. Recent computer analysis indicate that this is just not a profitable starting hand most times.
J,10 or J, Q suited or unsuited: Even suited this is just not as good a starting hand as most players think. If you don't hit the straight or the flush, it probably will not win for you and can hook you into chasing to hit the straight or flush. This hand will normally win a small pot or lose a big pot for you. Since our goal is to minimize your losses, these hands should be played carefully and in the right games. Yes, we know you see this played all the time on World Poker Tour, but as we said, this strategy is not for tournaments or no limit, but for limit poker.
6,7's or any suited connector will not win most of the time when played to the river and is a big under dog to the top 17 hands. Will someone play it against you and win big? Sure, but consider this. How would you like to play a 6,7's as your only hand against players who only played the above 17 big starting hands and played them aggressively, seldom folding and frequently raising even when you bet strongly to drive them out?
Why do we suggest you include hands like 22 or 33 in your top 17 hands rather than other top high card hands? There is the obvious answer. All pairs are superior to all non- pair starting hands if played to the river. Sure, we know that it is a very small advantage to a hand like AK or AQ (about 52% for you and 48% for them.) True, that it is a small advantage, but that is not the primary reason we suggest playing small pairs. The much more important reason is that you are playing only the top hands, which includes most of the high cards in the deck. It would not take long for most of the other players to notice your high starting hands and bet into you when a flop came with low cards. Thus, when you play pairs like 22, 33, 44, 55, and 66 and bet them aggressively, your opponents are put into the position of never knowing what you have, even on a low card flop, you will sometimes get trips. Another consideration, with low pairs, you sometimes get a full house that is virtually impossible to spot and at worse, you still have a pair, which is still better than any non-pair.
Although you are playing less hands, once you do play we suggest you play them aggressively and often to the river unless you have reason to believe you are beaten. It is most important that if you decide to follow this strategy, you must play every hand exactly the same, you must aggressively bet and raise each hand with confidence. Sure you will lose a lot of hands, but you will win a lot of hands too and, if played correctly, you should be able to make a good profit from most games, tight or loose.
If you play this strategy, it is also our recommendation that, every so often you include a few other hands to play, just to keep your opponents from thinking you are a bit too predictable.
Do we guarantee you will win with this strategy? NO, but then poker is not a game that gives guarantees. Just keep in mind that virtually all successful poker pros combine two traits, selecting good starting hand and playing aggressively when they choose to play a hand..
Senior Poker Columnist
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