Effective poker hand selection is key to success in Texas Hold’em online. From the moment you’re dealt your hole cards, you should have a good idea of whether you’re going to get involved in the pot. And if so, this can also help you determine how far you’re prepared to go to take it down. At a minimum, you need to know the worst and best starting poker hands. Beyond that, you should have an idea of how to adjust according to position, stake size, and opponent style. Read on for a look at the basics.
Poker Hands for Beginners
There are 169 possible poker hands to play, but not all of them are worth playing. As a first step, you should be able to place your Texas Hold’em starting hand in one of the following categories: Premium, Good, Marginal, and Junk.
Premium hands include pocket aces, kings, queens, jacks, and 10s, as well as combinations like ace-king, king-queen, and ace-queen (suited or unsuited) and ace-jack, king-jack, queen-jack, and ace-10 (all suited.) These are broadly recognized as the best starting hands in poker, and you can play them with confidence from any position.
Good (as opposed to premium) Texas Hold’em hands include pocket 9s, 8s, and 7s, unsuited connectors ace-jack, king-jack, queen-jack, and ace-10, and suited connectors king-10, queen-10, jack-10, king-9, queen-9, jack-9, 10-9, and ace-x (x representing all values from 10 through 2.) Each of these is a good poker hand to play from middle or late position, circumstances depending.
In the marginal category, you have a motley crew consisting of pocket 6s, 5s, 4s, 3s, and 2s. Players can also have unsuited connectors like king-, queen-, and jack-10, ace-, king-, and 10-9, ace-8, and ace-7; and suited connectors from king-8 down to 5-4. These are hands that would be correct to fold unless you have good reasons to play them for one bet from a late position.
Every other hand is a junk hand. These are the worst starting hands for Texas Hold’em, and you should consider folding immediately.
Starting Hand Charts
Learning lists of Texas Hold’em hands can be a chore, so it’s good to know that there are many handy cheat sheets to make things easier. Among the most useful of these are poker hand selection charts that show at a glance what poker hands to play in what positions. More than that, they also provide insights into when you should adjust your hand selection to different circumstances, like your opponents’ playing style and stack size.
Adjusting to Opponents
How loose or tight are your opponents? How passive or aggressive are they? These are important questions when it comes to selecting Texas Hold’em hands. In a loose, passive game where four or five players limp into the pot (that is, they call the blinds rather than raise,) you can confidently call with any pocket pair or ace-x combination. In a tighter or more aggressive game, these hands become speculative, and you should only play them when the conditions are right. So when exactly are the conditions right? It takes a great deal of experience to know how to answer this loaded and situation-dependent question. As a first step, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have any other players called so far? The more players who call before you, the better for you.
- Have the callers been playing badly postflop? If so, you can probably afford to play more loosely.
- Is there an aggressive player behind me? If so, you might get raised and have to fold, so rather tighten up your hand range.
- If there has been a single raise and nobody else has called, can you use your position postflop to win even if your hand doesn’t improve? This usually applies only to premium hands.
Adjusting for Stack Size
Stack size is an important factor in poker hand selection. It comes down to knowing when speculative hands are worth playing and when not. Doyle Brunson’s famous Poker Paradox states that the strongest hands (pocket aces and kings, for example) tend to win smaller pots while speculative hands (ace-10 suited, for example) tend to win big pots. The reason is that these hands can develop into monsters like flushes or straights. The kicker here is that the odds of hitting your straight or flush are small, so you really need them to pay off when you hit. As a result, it’s only worth playing them against deep-stacked opponents, either in cash games or in the early stages of a poker tournament when all players have equal stacks. Against short-stacked opponents, the potential payoff is too small to justify the risk, so you’re better off prioritizing premium hands.
Defending the Big Blind
Special poker hand selection criteria apply when you’re defending the big blind. One reason it’s worth calling or raising from the big blind is that you often get great pot odds. Say you’re in a $5/$10 cash game, and the button open raises to $20. The small blind folds, and it’s your action. With $35 in the pot and $10 more for you to call, the pot odds are +350 to call. As a result, it’s worth defending the blinds with more marginal hands like a 4-5 suited or 8-9 unsuited.
Another reason to defend the big blind is to avoid being steamrolled by a button who raises to steal it from you every time. After all, you don’t want to have the image of a doormat. And if you have a good read on your opponent, you can try to outplay them after the flop.
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