Starting hands in poker

People come up to me all the time, beginners and experts alike with questions they have about they’re game. They range anywhere from basic poker strategy to how they played specific hands. As poker players, we should always look towards improving our game. So with some of these queries in mind I begin today’s column. I will focus on one major question in each one of these monthly sessions. Today’s question is : What starting hands should I play?

In the movie Rounders, mike says to only play premium hands. That’s a fine strategy, but it’s also ultra-conservative and makes for very boring poker. Also, it makes you quite predictable and other players will learn quickly what types of hands you have. There are 169 possible starting hands in Texas Hold’em, and at least half are considered to be unplayable.

The following are what I consider to be playable starting hands:

Any Pair – These have high pair, trips (set), full house, or four of a kind possibilities. Raise and reraise with high pairs to protect their value. As with all poker, you should take all variables into account with pocket pairs. Remember, pocket pairs are good starting hands and usually must be improved in order to win with them. Often times players tend to slowplay their big starting hands, only to get outdrawn at the end. Keep this in mind and avoid this money-draining pitfall.

Ax, Kx, Qx, Jx, and Tx Suited – These have high pair, trips, flush, straight and straight flush possibilities. Any Ace, King or Queen suited can be played for flush possibilities, depending on position. These are also good starting hands but these must always be improved for them to win. Suited cards that result in a flush can be highly profitable if you make your hand. Don’t make it too predictable that you are drawing towards a flush so as to confuse your opponents. If you make it obvious you are going for a flush and you make it, you may not maximize your profit. This is why I recommend making bets while on a flush draw. This gives the impression you have already made your hand and are trying to push flush draws off theirs. Then when you hit, you’ll make some money. Otherwise, when you miss, you can still bet on the river forcing an opponent to fold even if you have nothing because of your prior betting action.

Ax, Kx, Qx, Jx, Tx Unsuited – These have high pair or straight possibilities. Only play unsuited cards with a combined value of 21 or higher. These cards require much help to win with them so you should pay too much money to play them. If you are facing opponents who raise and re-raise the blinds, you may be paying too much for these hands.

9x and Lower Suited – Two suited cards that are consecutive (suited connectors) or one-gapped can potentially be played. These have mostly flush or straight possibilities. Suited connectors are powerful in that they can be the David in many David vs. Goliath starting hands. However, these require much help and skill to play and be profitable with them. You should pay too much pre-flop to see what you catch but if you do and catch something, can ready for a nice payoff.

I recommend folding any starting hand that is not listed above. You should expect to fold before the flop the majority of the time (n my experience, playing “tight” means you’ll see the flop with approximately 25-33% of the hands you’re dealt. Playing strong hands, depending on position and situation, will increase your winnings and minimize your losses in the long run. Patience is key when it comes to winning in Texas Hold’em. But keep in mind that any starting hand can be beaten. A strong starting hand increases your chances of drawing to a winning hand, but be prepared to fold if your hand does not improve and another player is representing a better hand.

Along with what starting hand you are dealt, position at the table is also key. Next time, I will discuss that topic in great detail.

Until next time, may the chips fall your way…