Texas Holdem Starting Hands Strategy and Poker Hands Chart

New card players should study good poker starting hands before playing Texas Holdem for real money. New players are prone to getting involved in too many pots because they don't understand the relative strength of the Texas Holdem poker hands they have (see Poker Hand Rankings).


Misunderstanding the value of betting position is another rookie mistake. Even Texas Holdem players who have a good understanding of hand values get in trouble when they bet out of position. By doing so, poker players drift into the deep waters by over-betting hands that are weaker than they believe. To better understand the concepts behind pre-flop betting, read this basic guide to poker starting hands.

What Percentage of Poker Hands Should You See the Flop?


Even expert poker players argue over what percentage of flops a player should see. No perfect percentage exists, because betting position and the price of seeing the flop are key factors. Some would argue a player should see the flop on 20% to 25% of hands. Others would argue for an even higher percentage, while many card players say 15% of hands is a good number. Really tight players might not see but 10% of the flops.


All in All, You Should Be Playing Fewer Hands


When in doubt play fewer hands, which reminds of a story about Richard Nixon learning to play poker. While serving in the US Navy in World War II, Nixon learned there was a poker game onboard. Never having played himself, he asked a friend how to play poker. The friend said, "You should fold 4/5ths of the time, but that's boring." Nixon took that simple advice to heart and became a tight/aggressive poker player. Being willing to play in fewer poker hands was the key to his success.


Texas Holdem Starting Hands


In poker, as in life, it helps to know one’s relative strength. New poker players should understand the hand descriptions and how each hand value helps or hurts the player’s odds of winning. If you assume any two suited pair of the same rank are the same, then poker has 169 two-card starting hand combinations. Only a handful of those starting hand values are considered premium. The rest are problematic, so good poker players learn how to mitigate those problems by folding their cards a lot.


Five Types of Starting Hands

Five Types of Starting Hands


Pairs - Two of a kind, whether it's A-A, 2-2, or any card in between.


Connecting Cards - These are two cards in succession, such as A-K, 10-9, or 4-3. Connecting cards help complete a straight.


Suited (Unconnected) Cards - These are two cards of the same suit, though they do not connect. The king and nine of hearts would be unconnected suited cards.


Suited Connectors - Suited connectors are of the same suit, but also two in succession.


Unconnected Cards - This is a pair of singletons that have no relation to each other. It might be an unsuited A-Q, but also might be an unsuited 7-2.


Poker Hand Chart


A starting poker hand chart is helpful for beginner poker players, much like a basic strategy chart is helpful to blackjack players. In fact, new card players should print off a starting hand chart and follow it rigidly at first. This helps you memorize the best hands in Texas Holdem to play throughout your poker career. Once you gain experience, you'll know when the best time to deviate from the starting hand chart poker will be at the table. Read through this helpful poker hand chart to get a quick understanding of the best poker hands.


Poker Hand Chart


New players should understand there is no such thing as a perfect starting hand. You're playing the poker odds, but the odds don't always hold. That being said, if you hold a card combination that's not on the chart, you should be folding most of the time.


What Are the Best Holdem Hands?


The best starting Texas Holdem poker hands are called premium hands. While the definition of a premium hand varies from one poker expert to the next, a solid core of hands that are considered the best by everyone are AA, KK, QQ, AK, and JJ. Four of these five hands often won’t improve on the flop, so it’s important to seize the advantage early in the hand by raising pre-flop. Raising forces most of your opponents to fold, reducing the number of hands that can improve on the flop and beat your pocket pairs. AA and KK are much better than QQ or JJ, so read the advice below to learn how to play each set of pocket pairs.


How Important Is Hand Selection According to Position?


The decision to raise or fold is always affected by bet position, so it’s an important concept to grasp. Bet position and hand selection are closely connected. Your placement in the betting sequence around the table - called table position or bet position - is pivotal to deciding which hands to play. The calculation changes each hand, as the dealer button and the blinds rotate around the table.


Betting Position


Early Position


When you are the first or second player to act. When playing at tables with more players, the definition of early position expands.


Middle Position


Neither close to the first nor near the dealer button, middle position holds many challenges. As a general rule in middle position, if you don't have the cards to raise, then you should fold. Too many players can bet behind you.


Late Position


Late position is when you are nearer to the dealer position. You've seen most other players' decisions, so you know how many hands you have to beat and how much you have to pay to see the flop.


Raises and Re-Raises

Raises and Re-Raises


Betting position is one of the key reasons poker is a three-dimensional game because the decision to play a starting hand depends on which position you hold in the betting sequence. Your evaluation of the opponents sitting at the table is important because a raise by a tight player is not the same as a raise by a loose player. Whether playing premium or non-premium hands, the bets in front of you matter. If a solid player raises before you bet, you'll have to think twice about playing anything but the strongest hands. If you see a raise and a re-raise, you need a strong hand to get in on the action.


What Hands Should You Raise/Call/Fold According to Position?


As the dealer button goes around the table, you'll be betting early in the hand, in middle position, or late in the hand. If you have a middling hand like K-J and you're betting in early position, you might raise only to find that three to four players stay in the pot. If you wager later in the betting, you'll see what decision most players make and have more information on which to base your own decision. King-Jack against one opponent is less likely to be dominated than it is against three to four players.


Playing Small Pocket Pairs


Small pocket pairs (44, 55, 66, etc.) can be dangerous for players. You receive a pair and want to play the hand. The problem is, a small pocket pair almost never catches a flop unless the flop gives you a set.


It's best not to raise this hand because one raise usually doesn't push everyone out of the hand. Instead, limp into the pot in mid-to-late position and fold if other players raise.


Playing Medium Pairs


Medium pairs (7s through 10s) have many of the same pitfalls as the small pocket pairs, with one exception. Medium pairs don't often improve from the flop, but they win the pot on a showdown more often if they face unimproved hands. Players might get the impression from movies and TV that hands always improve from the community cards, but that’s not always the case.


Winning on the showdown with medium pairs often means players who held a smaller pocket pair or who flopped a pair stay in the hand and lose to your medium pair. If you receive a medium pair early in the pot and you decide to play, raise the pot to push out those who would want to limp into the flop.


Playing Premium Pairs

Playing Premium Pairs


Premium pairs – JJ, QQ, KK, and AA – are each dealt only once every 110 hands, so players should stay in the pot when receiving these. AA and KK are the best hands in Texas Holdem, though they still do not improve on the flop as much as AK or suited connectors do.


For that reason, it's best to raise when holding AA or KK. This pushes as many potential opponents out of the pot pre-flop. If you let multiple opponents stay in the hand, it increases the odds someone flops something bigger than your pair. Remember, these cards only appear once in 110 hands, but at a table with nine players, that means once every 12 deals. Once you include the three cards from the flop, the odds of losing while holding AA or KK increase significantly. You're the favorite, but not by as much as you think.


QQ is even more problematic. If you don't flop a set of queens, then you'll be beaten by anyone who holds a single king or single ace and flopped a pair of kings or aces. For that reason, many players don't like to go all-in or get involved with re-raises pre-flop holding QQ. So much depends on positioning, but also so much also depends on the other bettors at the table. Each poker table is different, which is yet another reason poker is so challenging. Tight poker tables exist, both online and in live games.


Poker Starting Hands: Suggested Reading


A number of poker experts have written on the subject of good poker starting hands for Texas Holdem. Beginners should read the best poker writers to further their study of poker hand strength. David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth of 2+2 fame designed an influential set of Texas Holdem starting hand charts in 1999.


Bill Chen, a quantitative analyst and doctor of mathematics at Cal-Berkeley (and winner of two WSOP bracelets), created the "Chen Formula" to rank hands. For those with a mathematical mind, these poker ratings of Texas Holdem hands provide advanced analysis of the relative strength of poker hands. In a way, Bill Chen’s formula turns poker hand analysis into a card counting session.


Phil Hellmuth discussed his own ranks of best poker hands in his 2003 book, "Play Poker Like the Pros". Hellmuth included a list of the top 12 poker hands, a lesser set of "majority play" hands, and suited connectors. The record 14-time winner of World Series of Poker bracelets divided these hands into six categories, which might help some players further classify Texas Holdem poker hands. Many other players have written on the subject, so these three reading suggestions are only a beginning.


Starting Hands Recap


Inexperienced poker players bet in too many hands. If you’ve started playing poker and you’re losing your stake too often, bet fewer hands pre-flop to see if that improves your game. Poker professionals advise inexperienced card players to play tight poker. That advice goes double when you are betting in early-to-middle position. Once you learn the game better, you can start to play more poker starting hands.