Introduction to Poker Starting Hands
As soon as the blinds have been placed and the dealer draws the preflop cards, the game is on. At this early stage, some players will already want to raise the pot. Others may throw their cards away, not even waiting for what cards the flop will bring. The flop can always turn the tables, but how do these players already know what to do before even having a base? The starting cards can easily dictate a player's actions, even from the get-go. Here, we will look at the different types of starting hands that you can be dealt, with and how you can use them.
Before diving straight into all the different 2-card combinations you can draw, you must analyse your position at the table. The position changes with every round, and the betting cycle moves in a clockwise motion, giving everyone at the table a chance to raise the pot.
- Small Blind
- Big Blind
- Under the Gun
- Middle Position 1
- Cut Off
In this example, 8 players are sitting at the table. If there were only 6, you can cut out the two middle positions. In the case of larger tables, simply add 1 or 2 players to the middle position.
The player in the small blind sits to the left of the dealer and has to place an ante bet before any of the cards are drawn. This starts the round. In terms of tactical position, this is one of the worst places to be as you have to place money before knowing what you have to play with.
The only position worse than the small blind is the big blind, as they need to place the full starting stake on the table before receiving any cards.
Under the Gun
Once the cards are drawn, the player Under the Gun has to make the first decision on the pot. Aside from the blinds, this is one of the weakest positions as the player does not know how the other players will react.
The middle positions can observe what the first player does and can take the game from there. If the pot has been raised, they can fold weaker cards.
Sitting two (or more) places away from the dealer, the player in the hijack position is in a great position to raise, providing they have strong cards. The pot has probably already been raised by this point, and they can increase the stakes.
This player is two places ahead of the dealer (when the cycle comes back around). They have watched all the players raise, fold or call, and are in a prime position to make a move.
The button is the most desirable position as they are the last in each betting cycle. After analysing what the other players have done, they can start their action.
Types of Hands
There are 169 different combinations of 2-card hands that you can be drawn in Texas Hold'em poker. This includes 13 pocket pairs, 78 suited hands and 78 unsuited hands.
A high pocket pair is the best hand you can be dealt. Ace-Ace, King-King or Queen-Queen are considered premium pairs, and with these, you already have a strong base. Medium pairs are anything from a pair of 7s up to a pair of 10s. These are still valuable but you would not want to play as aggressively as if you had premium pairs. With a pair of 2s up to 6s, you have a decent chance, but you should not go out of your way to raise. If a player is making big raises in the pot, then throwing away a pair of small pairs is not a bad option.
You will only know if your suited hand gives you a huge advantage after the flop has been dealt. The opposite goes for offsuit hands, as those three communal hands can suddenly open up the possibility for a flush, and if you have an offsuit hand you are immediately at a disadvantage. Suited hands cannot be pairs, but if they are in a sequence then this can give you a small advantage.
If you have two cards in a sequence, such as 8 and 9 of hearts or King and Queen of clubs, these are connectors. The possibility of making a straight is greatly increased as now you only need 3 of the 5 communal cards to bring you your hand. Despite having such good potential, the possibility still suggests that you would be better off with a pocket pair. After the flop, you can usually make a judgment call on whether the odds to form a straight are in your favour or not.
Gappers are even more dubious, as these are sequential cards with a gap in the middle. 4 and 6 or 7 and 9 are one-gappers whereas 4 and 7 or 7 and 10 are two-gappers.
With both connectors and gappers, you are far better off with suited hands. This opens up the possibility to form a flush as well as a straight, and in the best case scenario, even a straight flush.
When to Raise/Call/Fold
Now that you are familiar with some of the possible starting hands, it is time to move on to strategy. This all relates to your position at the table too. A late position at the table will always be more beneficial than the starting position, and you should adjust your strategy accordingly.
The pot has not been opened, which means that no raises have been called. You should always raise if you have a late position at the table. With a middle position at the table, if you should raise unless you have a pair of suited connectors that are lower than 5-6, offsuit connectors lower than 10-Jack, suited gappers lower than 6-8, or suited two-gappers lower than 8-Jack. Also, if you have a suited Ace-2 connector, then you should fold this.
An early position at the table is the biggest disadvantage, so it is better to immediately discard low hands. Suited connectors under 5-6, offsuit connectors lower than Jack-Queen, suited gappers under 10-Queen or two-gappers under 10-King are all undesirable. Any offsuit gappers under 10-Ace should also be discarded.
If there is a limper, this means that there is one or more players in front of you that simply call the pot. They have not raised, and are therefore “Limping” their way to the flop. Always raise with pocket pairs, unless you have a pair of 2s, in which case you can also call. If you have an early position at the table, it is advisable to call if you have pairs lower than 7.
There are not many cases when you need to fold if there is a limper at the table. The pot has already increased by the time it reaches you, and then you can make the first raise, opening the door for more raises. You should only fold if you have any hand weaker than a suited connector of 4-5, an offsuit connector of 7-8, a suited one-gapper of 5-7 or a suited gapper of 8-King (4-gapper). Also, if you have an offsuit 2-Ace, then you should always fold.
With Raised Pot
Once a raise has been made, your tactics will change completely. Wherever you are on the table, it is only advisable to re-raise if you have a pocket pairs of Queens or higher. A suited or offsuit Ace-King is also a good hand, and you can make raises if you have these.
If you are sitting in a late position, then you can also raise with a pocket pair of Jacks or suited connectors of 10-Jack or higher. You can raise with gappers too, so long as they are suited Jack-King or higher, or an offsuit Jack-Ace or higher. With all other pairs it is best to sit tight and call the bet. Likewise, suited gappers of 10-Queen or 10-King can be called, and so can an offsuit gapper of 10-Ace. Suited connectors of 5-6 or lower should be folded. You should also fold offsuit connectors lower than 10-Jack, suited gappers lower than 6-8, and offsuit gappers of 9-Jack or lower. Be wary of two-gappers as anything below suited 9-Queen should be folded too.
With a middle position, you do not have as many luxuries as the late position. Suited connectors of 10-Jack and suited gappers of Jack-King are okay to call, but anything lower should be folded. Otherwise, if you have a pocket pair of Queens or higher, suited Queen-Ace, suited King-Ace or offsuit Queen-Ace or King-Ace, then you can raise the bet.
Early positions are tough, especially when someone has already made a raise. You can re-raise with a pocket pair of Queens or higher, or suited/offsuit King-Ace connectors. If you have Queen-Ace gappers or suited Jack-King gappers, you should call the bet. Connectors below suited 10-Jack should be folded, and if you have a gapper that is 10-Queen or lower, then you should also fold.
Advice for Newcomers
It is not easy to value your starting hand, especially when you are new to the game. In general, you can never go wrong with pocket pairs, and wherever you are on the table, always raise with a pair of Queens or higher. King-Ace, whether suited or not, is always worth raising and so is Queen-Ace, unless you have an early position and someone has already raised. In all cases, suited 4-5 or offsuit 7-8 are worth throwing away. Also, always fold gappers under 5-7 and four-gappers – as these will virtually never pay off.
Here are some extra tips to consider.
Stay at One Table
It is always better to stick to one table, as you can get to know your opponents better and improve your game. If you are consistently dealt poor hands or are just not playing well, it is better to give yourself a break rather than switch tables. You can always come back later and try again.
Do Not be Afraid to Fold
If you get a poor set of starting hands, then do not be afraid to discard them immediately. It is certainly harder if you are the small or big blind, as your money is already in the pot. However, do not worry too much about burning blinds, as you can save a lot of money by playing carefully. Also, you do not want to become the limper at the table who plays every round and keeps losing.
Once you are experienced and have built your confidence, you will immediately recognise good starting hands. This comes with time and patience. Starting hands can definitely dictate the play, but a lot of the game is based on outwitting other players. You may have a very poor hand but play an excellent round of poker and win. Alternatively, you may think you have caught a player only to find that they have a better hand than yours. Anything can happen, and that is why it is such a popular game.
Lloyd is passionate about online gambling, he lives and breathes blackjack and other table games, and he enjoys sports betting.
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