Best Starting Hands in Poker
When you’re starting to learn poker, one of the first things to get a grip on is the poker hierarchy chart or the order of poker hands. But just knowing the Texas poker hands and which ones are strong isn’t enough to be really good at the game. To be a poker ace, you also need to figure out which hands to play and which ones to toss away, depending on where you’re sitting at the table. It’s super important that you grasp how poker hands change depending on where you’re sitting. And on top of all that stuff about poker hands, good hands to play, and where you’re sitting, a poker player also has to think about a bunch of other stuff before they make a move: how many players are in the game, how the other players are acting and where they’re sitting, and what’s already happened in the game. We’ll provide you with a list of the best starting hands in poker to help you make better decisions when you’re playing at the poker table.
It’s important to note that there is some debate about which hands are the best, and this partly depends on your skill level and how you like to play. Plus, even if you start with a great hand, things can take a turn for the worse if the community cards on the table are not in your favour. The information here is based on what most experts agree on.
When a player has a pair among their hole cards, it’s referred to as a “pocket pair.” And if that pair consists of face cards like jacks, queens, or kings, and they have the same suits, they’re “suited.” If they don’t have the same suits, they’re “offsuit.”
Kinds of Poker Hands
The best poker hands depend on a few things. But most of the time, the good hands in poker fall into these categories: Pairs, Aces, Connectors, Gappers, and Other Strong Hands. Let’s check out the different types of poker hands:
Pairs are always nice in poker, but not all pairs are the same. Some pairs are super strong, like AA, KK, and QQ, while others are just okay, like 99, 88, 77, 66, 55, or not so great, like 44, 33, 22. The really strong pairs are way better than the medium and weak pairs in the poker hand rankings chart.
Premium Pocket Pairs
The super strong pairs like pocket aces (AA), pocket kings (KK), and pocket queens (QQ) are usually good to raise your bet before the cards come out. This way, you keep the weaker hands from getting lucky and beating your strong cards. Hands like TT and above can be raised from any position and can make you money over time. When you’re in a good spot, you should use it before the cards are out and either make a big bet or go all-in. Sometimes, you can also just call someone else’s bet to trick them with pocket aces.
Medium Pocket Pairs
The medium pairs from 99 to 55 are played kind of like the not-so-great pairs and get most of their value when you get three of a kind on the flop (that’s when you have three cards of the same rank). These pairs are okay before the cards come out, but you shouldn’t be too aggressive with them like you would with the super strong pairs. In a game with lots of players, 55 and 66 are the weakest pairs, and you should fold them if you’re one of the first to make a move. The medium pairs are worth raising your bet if you’re sitting in the middle or late spots and no one else has bet yet. They can help you win the pot.
Low Pocket Pairs
The not-so-great pairs from 44 to 22 are not very good when you’re one of the first to bet in the game. But they can be okay if you’re betting later in the game. When you have one of these not-so-great pairs, you might sometimes get three of a kind on the flop (that’s when you have three cards of the same rank).
Offsuit hands come in different strengths, ranging from premium to playable to the weakest. Hands like AKs, AQs, JJ, and AKo are attractive but not as strong as the top pairs.
Best Poker Hands
The premium offsuit hands, such as AKo and AQo, are the strongest in this category. You should raise with these hands right from the start, no matter where you’re sitting, whether it’s a 6-player or full-table game. In a game with six players, you can also consider KQs and AJs as strong hands and start with them.
Hands That Are Sometimes Playable
like KQo and AJo are in a bit of a grey area. It’s best to fold them if you’re in one of the early positions in a full-table game. Other offsuit hands that fall into the sometimes playable category include JTo+, QTo+, KTo+, and A4o through ATo. At the lower end of this range, you have A2o and A3o, which you should only play occasionally when you’re in a late position.
Weakest Starting Hands
The weakest starting hands in Texas Hold ’em, like Q5o, J6o, 84o, and 52o, should never be used to start a bet when you’re one of the first players to act. Selecting the right hands to play from each position is crucial in this game because most starting hands in Texas Hold’em fall into this category. Even though you might encounter these weak hands frequently, exercise caution when considering them for opening bets.
Suited hands can be divided into two categories: connectors and gappers. Connectors are cards that are close in rank and share the same suit, while gappers are similar but have a gap in their rank.
Suited Connectors are hands where two cards are close in rank and have the same suit. For instance, some of the best-connected hands include AKs, KQs, QJs, JTs, and T9s. These hands have cards of the same suit but different ranks. AKs is considered a premium hand that you can play from any poker table position. KQs is also a strong hand, much like AKs. QJs, JTs, and T9s are good hands that work well from most positions and have the potential to make straights and flushes, which can lead to winning big pots.
On the lower end, we have 76s and 54s. You can consider playing these hands by raising if you’re in a late position, but it’s best to fold them if you’re in one of the early positions.
You can play offsuit connectors in a similar way, but they are generally weaker hands. If the offsuit connectors are relatively high cards, your opponents aren’t very strong, and the pot isn’t too big, like 89o+, you can choose to call or raise from a late position.
Suited Gappers are those where the cards are of the same suit but not very close in rank. For example, KJs, QTs, T8s, and 75s are gapped hands. While gappers aren’t as strong as connectors, you can still connect them with the community cards on the table to win big pots. When playing gapped hands, exercise more caution if there’s a significant gap between the card ranks. Some hands have a smaller gap, such as KTs, Q9s, and 74s, while others have a larger gap, like K9s, Q8s, and 73s. It’s usually best to play the top-gapped hands, like KJs, by raising when you’re in the middle or late positions. Hands with two or three gaps, like K9s and Q8s, are better suited for play from late positions only.
Best Starting Hands in Poker
A-A | Ace-Ace or Pocket Aces
A pair of aces, which people sometimes call “pocket rockets” or “American Airlines,” is the best starting hand for Texas Hold ’em. Just be careful if many other players join the game because that makes it more likely someone might beat your aces. Pay attention to the flop too. Even though you have the best pocket cards, you can still lose if two pairs of any other cards show up. On average, you’ll get this combination once in every 221 hands.
K-K | King-King or Pocket Kings
The second-best starting hand is a pair of kings, also known as “cowboys” or “King Kong.” This hand is only worse than a pair of aces. You’re in good shape, but if an ace appears on the flop, things get risky.
Q-Q | Queen-Queen or Pocket Queens
A pair of queens, sometimes called “ladies,” is the third best starting hand in Texas Hold ’em poker. Players often feel disappointed when they get this hand because it looks strong but has been beaten before, especially if an ace or king shows up on the flop.
AKs or Ace-King (Suited)
Now, let’s talk about a suited ace-king, also known as “big slick.” Some people argue it’s the fourth-best starting hand for Texas Hold ’em. However, it’s not very strong until you start building a flush, straight, or pair with the flop. But you do have a good chance of getting a nut flush (a flush with an ace as the high card) or a royal flush (ace, king, queen, jack, 10 in the same suit), not to mention a straight or a high pair.
AQs or Ace-Queen (Suited)
Next up is the suited “big chick” or “little slick,” nicknames for a pocket ace-queen, which is fifth on the list. You have the potential for a nut flush, royal flush, straight, or high pair. In poker, many players actually value AQs (Ace-Queen suited) even more than J-J (a pair of jacks) and 10-10 (a pair of tens). They consider AQs to be the second-best drawing hand. When you have AQ suited, it increases your chances of winning to about 20%.
J-J | Jack-Jack or Jack-Jack
Number 6 in the list of best starting hands in poker is a pair of jacks, also known as “hooks” or “fishhooks.” It’s a strong pair, but it can be beaten by pairs of aces, kings, or queens, so be cautious if those cards appear on the flop.
A suited king-queen, a royal couple, is the next powerful starting hand in Texas Hold ’em poker. You might get a flush, but it won’t be the strongest flush unless the suited ace shows up on the flop.
The ace-jack suited combo, sometimes called “blackjack” or “Ajax,” takes the eighth spot in the list of the best starting hands in poker. You have a chance for a nut flush, royal flush, straight, or high pair.
In poker, there’s only one combination of cards that isn’t the same suit and is considered one of the best starting hands – it’s called the “big slick,” which consists of an ace and a king. However, it’s not as likely to form a flush as when the cards are of the same suit.
10-10 | Ten-Ten or Pocket Tens
In Texas Hold’em poker, pocket tens are seen as a good hand because you have a chance to win even without getting another 10 when the first three community cards are revealed. But sometimes, it’s a better idea to fold pocket tens before the first three cards are shown if many other players have been betting aggressively before it’s your turn.