Texas Holdem Starting Hands
When I started trying to learn how to be a better Texas holdem player I searched high and low for a list of which starting hands I could play.
I looked on the Internet and bought book after book looking for an answer. This was in the early 2000's so most of the drivel posted online was poor at best, and there wasn't as much out there as you can find today.
A few charts and lists could be found, but once I started playing more I quickly realized the resources I had were either wrong or simply suggestions.
Eventually I learned that no list or chart could possibly offer more than a suggestion. Each Texas holdem game is different.
The games are made up of different players who each have different playing tendencies and abilities and stack sizes. In addition, an opponent often changes the way she plays from one hand to the next or one hour to the next.
All of this leads to one of the most important points you need to learn to start winning more at the poker table.
Winning Texas holdem poker players adjust their play, including their starting hand selections, based on the current game situation.
Here's an example.
When you play in a game filled with loose aggressive players you should play tighter than the other players. You can afford to only play your best hands because loose aggressive players will play against you with hands that rank worse than yours and pay you off more than usual because they play them too aggressively.
Here's another example.
If you're sitting at a table where everyone is playing tighter than normal you should loosen your starting hands selections up to take advantage of the situation. In this situation if a few of your opponents are decent players they'll start seeing what you're doing, so you need to watch carefully so you can adjust your play as needed. But until they do you can win many small pots and blinds by simply being aggressive.
I realize I just spent a great deal of time explaining why a chart or list won't work, but I'm going to give you some guidelines based on the different positions at the table that includes some specific hands.
|Outs||Turn||Odds||Turn & River||Odds|
|20||42.6%||1.4 to 1||67.5%||0.48 to 1|
|19||40.4%||1.5 to 1||65%||0.54 to 1|
|18||38.3%||1.6 to 1||62.4%||0.6 to 1|
|17||36.2%||1.8 to 1||59.8%||0.67 to 1|
|16||34%||1.9 to 1||57%||0.75 to 1|
|15||31.9%||2.1 to 1||54.1%||0.85 to 1|
|14||29.8%||2.2 to 1||51.2%||0.95 to 1|
|13||27.7%||2.6 to 1||48.1%||1.1 to 1|
|12||25.5%||2.9 to 1||45%||1.2 to 1|
|11||23.4%||3.3 to 1||41.7%||1.4 to 1|
|10||21.3%||3.7 to 1||38.4%||1.6 to 1|
|9||19.1%||4.2 to 1||35%||1.9 to 1|
|8||17%||4.9 to 1||31.5%||2.2 to 1|
|7||14.9%||5.7 to 1||37.8%||2.6 to 1|
|6||12.8%||6.8 to 1||24.1%||3.2 to 1|
|5||10.6%||8.4 to 1||20.3%||3.9 to 1|
|4||8.5%||10.8 to 1||16.5%||5.1 to 1|
|3||6.4%||14.7 to 1||12.5%||7 to 1|
|2||4.3%||22.5 to 1||8.4%||10.9 to 1|
|1||2.1%||46 to 1||4.3%||22.3 to 1|
One of the problems new players have is they don't know how to get a feel for the game and have no idea how to adjust their starting hands to take advantage of the current situation. Sadly the only way to learn this is by playing, but if you study and learn the concepts laid out below you'll be able to grasp what you need faster.
The reason starting hands are so important is because the person who starts the hand with the best starting hand wins more often than the person who doesn't.
This may sound simple, but most players ignore it by playing poor hands.
Every hand in every position in every situation is either profitable or unprofitable in the long run to play.
The problem is you have to decide which hands to play and how to play them without all of the information you need to make a perfect decision.
You also need to be aware that any starting hand can win or lose the current hand. What's important is how it performs over 100 of the same situations.
Some hands are easy to determine while others are almost impossible.
You can play pocket aces or kings from any position in any game profitably in the long run. You'll find that you should play them certain ways to have the best chance to maximize your profits, but you can play them almost any way and still turn a long term profit with them.
On the other hand you can't play 7 2 in any situation profitably in the long run.
The secret is figuring out all of the hands between the best and the worst in every situation.
Don't Play Too Many Hands
When I help Texas holdem players I never need to tell them to play more hands. They're always playing too many hands.
It's easy to get bored at the table waiting for a decent hand. When poker players get bored they start expanding their starting hand selections and justifying it in their mind. If you haven't played a hand in what seems like an hour and you look down to find 6 / 4 of diamonds, you start thinking you could hit a straight or flush.
While it's true that you could hit a straight or a flush, it won't happen often enough to pay for all of the times you don't and when you hit a flush it may not be the best flush.
If a flush is possible are you willing to bet all of your money that your flush is best with nothing higher than a 6 in your hand? This isn't a good bet.
I see many players seeing over 40% of the flops. Even the ones that think they're playing tight often see over 30%.
Truly tight Texas holdem players see 20% or less of the flops.
In some games a winning player can see as few as 15% of the flops. Though it's rare in a Texas holdem game, I've played in numerous pot limit Omaha games where you could see 10% of the flops and show a strong profit.
I want to make a couple clarifications before moving on.
You don't have to be extremely tight or see fewer than 20% of the flops to be a profitable poker player. When you're starting out and as you learn to be a better player you should play tight. This gives you the best chance to win because playing better starting hands than your opponents helps cover up many of the other mistakes you make as a new player.
As you improve your game you have the option of playing a few more hands in certain games, but many winning players stick with 20% or so of the flops.
The players who are able to win while consistently seeing 25 to 30% or more of their flops are almost always exceptional players, particularly after the flop. Don't make the mistake of playing too many hands until you've mastered the other areas of your Texas holdem game.
By the time you become a profitable player in the other areas of your game the odds are you'll be able to recognize when you can profitably play more hands.
Until this happens, give yourself the best chance to win by playing fewer hands.
No Limit and Limit
The most popular variation of Texas holdem is no limit. Most of the starting hand advice below is written with no limit play in mind, but the majority of it is also good for limit holdem.
I suggest playing even tighter in limit play than in no limit because the opportunity to make up for playing with an inferior hand is less in limit play. To put it another way, in no limit you can often get paid off in a big way when you do hit a long shot like a set so you can make up for the many times you miss your hand. In limit play you can only win a set amount so it's harder to get paid off at a high enough rate in limit to allow play of speculative or trap hands.
Examples of the types of hands that are less valuable in limit play are medium and small pairs and medium suited connectors.
Medium and small pairs almost always have to improve to a set or better in order to win. Suited connectors, cards that share the same suit and are one gap or less apart in value like 8 / 9 of spades or 8 / 10 of spades, can win numerous ways but they don't hit often enough to show a profit in many limit games.
As I mentioned above, every poker game is unique so all of the suggestions need to be compared to your current game conditions and adjusted accordingly.
Full Tables Vs Short Handed Tables
The advice I listed above about flop percentages and the hand suggestions included below are based on full ring game play.
If you play shorthanded tables, usually 6 handed, you need to play slightly more hands than at full tables. Don't make the mistake of playing too many extra hands though.
It's easy to go overboard. Tight play is still the easiest way to give yourself a good chance to win.
From a mathematical standpoint, if you should play 20% of the hands at a 9 person table, you should play 30% of the hands at a 6 person table.
Just like everything else on this page, 30% is a rough estimate and you should adjust it based on the current game situation.
Early position is the first two places to the left of the big blind. The blinds have their own section below so they aren't included here.
The main reason you need to play so few hands from early position is because you play the entire hand out of position. You'll almost always have to face a player or players who get to act after you must make a decision. This places you at a distinct disadvantage for the entire hand.
These starting hand suggestions for early position are going to seem extremely tight to most players, but until you're a consistent winner simply fold everything not on this list.
I also suggest folding the ace queen suited unless you hit a strong draw or top pair top kicker on the flop and getting away from the ace king hands as soon as an opponent shows aggression after the flop if you haven't improved.
When you play a pair of queens you should be cautious with any flop that contains an ace. I usually make a continuation bet after the flop if an ace lands, but if anyone calls I'm usually done with the hand at that point. Kings on the flop aren't as scary as aces to a pair of queens.
You should play all of these hands with a raise to thin the field and help build the pot with the players who remain in the hand.
One of your goals as a poker player is to get more money in the pot when you have the better hand and minimize the amount you put in the pot when you don't. With these hands you'll almost always have a better hand than your opponents before the flop so the more money you get in the better.
As your play improves and you get better at reading your opponents and their hands you might consider adding some of the following hands in certain games. Don't feel like you have to add them at any point. The truth is that as you become better and more profitable you'll start recognizing the times when you can play the following hands without reading about them on a web site.
Until you're a pro, play every hand from early position with a raise. If it's not good enough to raise with from early position you should fold. When you raise with any of these second tier hands and are re-raised you should probably fold. The only exception is if you know enough about the other player that you still think you're ahead. This is rarely the case.
Middle position is from the third seat to the left of the big blind to the second seat to the right of the button. In a 6 handed game it's the second seat to the left of the large blind.
Middle position can be tricky because you can play a few more hands than you can from early position but you still run the risk of being out of position the rest of the hand if a late position player enters the pot.
This is the main reason I like to raise most of my hands from middle position. I want to give the late position players a reason to fold and if they call a raise it gives me an idea of the strength of their hand moving forward.
In addition to both sets of hands listed in the early position section the following hands can usually be played from middle position.
You should fold most of these hands if an early position player has raised.
Be aware that medium pairs, including the eights and sevens, should generally be played for a set from middle position. You can play them aggressively at times, but mostly they're trap hands.
Notice that almost all of these hands need to improve to win. Don't overcommit to the pot with any of these hands because none of them are strong enough to win big hands without improving.
The medium pairs can be profitably played against early position raises if the player has a deep stack and they show a willingness to get most of their money in the middle after the flop. You call their raise and try to get all of their money when you hit a set. When you miss on the flop you have to fold to a continuation bet.
As you're learning how to play don't feel like you have to play many hands in middle position. If you only played the hands listed in both parts of the early position section you won't make many mistakes. As you get more comfortable add in the hands in this section.
Late position includes the button and one seat to the right. The button is superior to the seat to the right, but often with a raise from one off the button you can get the button to fold, creating a situation where you're the new button.
All of the hands listed in the last two sections can usually be played profitably from late position. Some of them are still weak enough that you should consider folding them against a raise, but even against a raise you can play many for a long term profit.
The exception is when an early position player who you know is a good player raises.
You should fold most hands against this type of raise. A good player is one that only plays their best hands from early position and is smart enough to be able to get away from trap hands without risking their entire stack in most situations.
It doesn't do you much good to hit a set against an early raise unless you can extract a large portion of your opponent's stack.
I'm not going to give you a list of late position hands to add to the ones already listed. You can play smaller pairs and suited connectors in many games from late position because you get to act after everyone else for the rest of the hand, but you still need to be smart to avoid losing money.
I can't remember who the professional player was, but I read about a game a pro played in on a weekly basis that he could play any hand from the button for a long term profit. You may find this hard to believe, but depending on the level of the competition, I believe it's possible. I've never played in a game where I could play every hand from the button, but I've played in some where I could play most of the button hands. When I say most I mean 75 to 80%.
Often late position play is as much about your opponents and knowing how to play against them as the cards you hold. This is what the pro was taking advantage of in the game mentioned above.
The blinds are where many players lose a great deal of their money. They think that because they can get into the pot for a half bet or by calling a small raise that the pot is offering such good odds that they can play almost any hand.
I've even played against people who simply refused to fold their blinds unless they faced an all in pre flop. Needless to say, I love when these players are seated at my table.
My rule of thumb is to fold anything from the small blind that I wouldn't play from late position. I also fold anything in the big blind to a raise that I wouldn't play in early or sometimes middle position.
I've found that if I have any question in the blinds the most profitable long term strategy is folding. In many games I fold everything from the small blind that I wouldn't play from middle position. I found that playing anything else, even for a half bet, was costing me money in the long run.
After the first round of betting the blind are the worst position for the rest of the hand. When you see the flop and it doesn't give you a strong hand or very strong draw simply check and fold to any bet. Don't get fancy and throw away your money.
Tournament starting hand play is entirely different than ring game play.
I cover it in more detail on the tournaments page, but for the most part you need to focus on hands that give you the best chance to win big pots and fold everything else.
In order to win most tournaments you have to double your starting chip stack multiple times. While enough small pots can help you increase your stack, a single bad decision can end your tournament.
While it may seem like medium pairs would be good because you have a chance to double up when you hit a set, the truth is you don't hit a set often enough to make them playable for set value in most tournaments.
The hands you can play from early position listed earlier are the best ones for tournament play, especially early in the tournament.
As you build your stack you can expand your starting hand selections a little, but you still want to play tight.
If you start getting short stacked you may need to make an all-in move. Try to pick a hand with an ace, a pair, or two face cards and move all in and hope for the best.
The following summarizes the important strategy points from this page.
- Tight starting hand play increases your chances to show a long term profit.
- Every Texas holdem game is different and requires a unique starting hand selection.
- Position is important and needs to be considered with every single starting hand decision.
- Some hands can be played from any position and some can't be played from any position. How you play everything else is directly related to your long term profit at the poker tables.
- Tournament starting hand requirements are different than ring game play.
- Just because you can get in for half a bet doesn't mean any hand is playable. Many hands are losers in the long run even for half a bet.