It takes a long time for some Texas holdem players to understand the link between their profitability, or lack of profitability, and their starting hand. The fact is you can’t be a long term profitable Texas holdem player if you don’t make the correct choices with your starting hands.
- Texas Holdem Poker Hand Rankings
- Texas Holdem Poker Hand Order
- Texas Holdem Strategy Chart
- Texas Holdem Betting Chart
One of the things that causes a problem for most players is there are only a small set of good starting hands. You can go 10 hands or more without seeing a decent starting hand. This can get boring quickly, because most people that play the game of poker are action junkies.
If you’ve folded the last several hands you often start looking for a way to get into a hand. Weak starting hands start looking better, and if you’re not careful you’re jumping into hands with small suited connectors and king three suited. This is clearly not the way to be a profitable Texas holdem player.
Other players eventually learn that weak hands are not profitable in the long run and start playing only their better hands.
- Stronger starting hands are identified by a lower number. Hands without a number are the weakest starting hands. As a general rule, books on Texas hold'em present hand strengths starting with the assumption of a nine or ten person table. The table below illustrates the concept: Chen formula.
- Preflop Poker Hands and Position. Position is everything in texas hold'em. It is definitely the most important aspect of the game. The importance of position in hold'em cannot be emphasized enough. You must play very tight poker in early position, but you should loosen way up as you get closer to the button.
As you learn to fold your weaker hands, you have to face a new challenge. You have to learn how to properly value the hands that you do play. It’s just as costly to overvalue decent hands as it is to play weak hands.
Here’s a list of five Texas holdem starting hands that you might be overvaluing. These five hands are all good enough to play in most situations, but if you value them too highly, they can cost you money.
1 – Ace King
Ace king is the most dangerous hand in Texas holdem. It looks like a great starting hand, and it’s good enough to play in almost any situation. But at the end of the day it’s still a drawing hand. Rarely will ace king win without improving.
Texas Holdem Poker Hand Rankings
The values in hands like ace ace and king king is not only are they high pairs to start with, but they also often win without improving. Ace king almost always has to improve to win with it at the show down.
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. Big suited hands play very well mulitway and are usually good enough to play from any position. Big suited hands include AKs-A10s, KQs, KJs, and QJs. In addition to the chance of making the best hand by making a board pair with a solid kicker or better, these hands have the chance to make big flushes and straights.
You can play ace king two different ways, and the best way to play it depends on the specific situation. You can limp with it, just like you might limp with a medium pocket pair or ace jack suited in some situations, or you can enter with a raise.
When you limp with ace king, if you don’t improve on the flop you need to check and fold to a bet. Never call a bet on the flop with ace king unless you improve your hand. This is a terrible play and will consistently stray you away from your attempt at proper casino bankroll management.
If you raise with ace king it usually thins the field before the flop. The best situation with ace king when you raise is to see the flop with one opponent. With a pre flop raise, when you don’t improve on the flop you can either make a continuation bet or check and hope to see the turn for free.
When you miss the flop and make a continuation bet, if you get called and don’t improve on the turn, your best play is almost always check and fold to a bet.
Most of the time when I have ace king I enter the pot with a raise. This sets up the possibility of winning the hand with a continuation bet on the flop if my hand doesn’t improve.
You should play ace king most of the time; you just need to make sure you’re not overvaluing it. It’s also not strong enough to get all in with before the flop. I know that you often see players get all in with ace king in tournaments, but the only time you should do this is when you’re short stacked. And you should always be the first one to move all in; not making an all in call.
2 – Queen Queen
Queen queen is a powerful starting hand, but the mistake many players make is acting like it’s as good as pocket aces or pocket kings. With pocket aces, you always have top pair. It doesn’t matter what lands on the flop, someone has to draw a hand that beats top pair.
When you have pocket kings, the only card that can land on the flop that scares you is an ace. And often you still win the hand with pocket kings when an ace lands on the flop if you entered with a raise pre flop.
With pocket queens you have to worry about an ace or king landing on the flop. It might not seem like a big difference to move from one scare card to two, but in this case it does make a big difference.
When you raise with pocket queens before the flop, try to imagine the types of hands that might call. If you’re facing pocket aces or pocket kings, you’re most likely going to get in a battle before the flop. But hands like ace king, ace queen, sometimes ace jack, king queen suited, and king jack suited are likely to call. Other possibilities include pocket pairs, hoping to hit a set and stack you.
You need to enter the pot with a raise with pocket queens to thin the field. But don’t overvalue them at any point on the hand. If you face a move all in before the flop with pocket queens, you might already be dominated. You need to use everything you know about your opponent when this happens to try to determine if you need to fold.
When an ace or king hits on the flop, I usually make a continuation bet, but when an opponent stays with me I slow down and try not to get committed to the pot.
3 – Jack Jack
I mentioned in the first section that ace king is the most dangerous hand in Texas holdem. Pocket jacks are the second most dangerous hand. They look like a strong hand, but there are simply too many ways you can lose with them on the flop.
As I was learning how to be a winning Texas holdem player, I lost too much money and definitely gave more to the casino house edge with pocket jacks. Eventually I figured out a way to play them profitably.
I play pocket jacks the same way I play pocket eights or nines. I try to get in the pot as cheap as I can, and play them for set value. When I hit a set I push hard the rest of the hand, and when I don’t hit a set I usually check and fold.
If the flop has all undercards, I take a stab at it on the flop, but I’m very careful if anyone stays to see the turn.
4 – Ace 10 Suited
Ace 10 suited is rarely any better than ace two suited. The real value of the hand is when you complete a flush, and when you do complete a flush it’s hard to extract more value from the hand because your opponent can see the possibility of the flush.
You need to play ace 10 suited as a drawing hand, and you need to be careful when you hit any hand that’s not a flush. It can create a straight, but this doesn’t happen often.
5 – King Queen Suited
When you haven’t played a hand for a half hour or more, a hand like king queen suited looks like a monster. King queen isn’t a terrible starting hand, but it’s not strong enough to even see the flop in some situations. I don’t play it from early position, and rarely play it from middle position.
Every time you consider entering the pot, try to envision what you want to see on the flop. With king queen, what do you hope to see on the flop?
If the flop has a king or a queen, you have a high pair, but there’s no guarantee that you have the best hand. Any flush possibility without the ace on the board is dangerous. If the flop has a king and a queen, you have two pair, but you also might face a straight draw from any opponent who entered with ace jack, ace 10, or jack 10.
King queen suited isn’t a terrible hand, but you should only play it from late position and the blinds, and you can’t afford to play it too aggressively.
To be the best Texas holdem player you can be, you need to not only make smart decisions about your starting hands, but you also need to learn how to properly value the hands you do see the flop with. When you overvalue the strength of your starting hands it ends up costing you money. Make sure you don’t overvalue the strength of the five starting hands on this page.The advanced strategy is designed for the player who has some experience at Texas Hold'em and wants to take the next step. Over the next few sections, we will discuss specific strategies and tactics for the following: advanced starting hand requirements, play after the flop, play on the turn, play on the river, flopping a monster, stealing the blinds, stealing the button, raising, isolating an opponent, bluffing, and player categories, as well as a short discussion on no-limit Hold'em.
In this section, we begin with starting hand requirements and playing after the flop.
Advanced Starting Hand Requirements
In the game of Texas Hold'em, many different factors influence almost everything you do. Some are facts, and some are educated guesses. One of the most influential considerations in a Hold'em game is how your opponents play. Their playing style should cause you to adjust your starting hand requirements. Here are two examples -- both extreme -- to illustrate this point.
Example 1: Somehow you find yourself playing Hold'em with Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer, Phil Hellmuth, Gus Hansen, Johnny Chan, Daniel Negreanu, T.J. Cloutier, and Chip Reese. These nine players are arguably the best poker players in the world. Basically, you have no chance to beat them in this game in the long run.
Your starting hand requirements should be significantly tighter than your normal selections. You should probably play nothing worse than a pair of tens in this game because you know that all of these players can outplay you after the flop. When you enter a hand, you want to know that you have one of the best hands, if not the best hand, going into the flop. This game is a tight/aggressive game, filled with outstanding players, and is the least profitable situation to be in.
Example 2: You are playing with nine tipsy college kids who are practically telling you what their hands are after the flop through their actions. Every time you are beat after the flop, you lay down your hand because you can tell by their actions that they have stronger hands, and every time you have the best hand, they pay you off by calling all your bets until the end. In this game, you can loosen up your starting hand requirements because you always have a good idea where you stand and can collect the maximum amount with your good hands. This is what is usually called a loose/passive game and can be the most profitable situation to be in.
As you can see, the way your opponents play is something you should always be aware of. In addition, starting-hand selection is not the only area of your game that this will force you to modify.
Play After the Flop
How you decide to play a hand after the flop depends on what you have and what you may end up with after the last two community cards are in play. It also depends on how many other players are still in the hand, how they play, and your position and table image. If you have nothing on the flop and it looks as though you won't win even if you hit part of your hand on the turn or river cards, your best option is to check or fold to a bet. For example: You have K-Q, and the flop comes A-3-6. In all likelihood, at least one of your opponents has an ace, and it is possible one of them has two diamonds. Even if a king or queen hits on the turn or river, you probably will not win the hand. This should be an easy fold to any bet.
What do you do if you hit part of the flop? Let's use the same starting hand as above: K-Q with a flop of T-J-6. You have flopped an open-ended straight draw and hold two over cards ('over' refers to cards in hands that are higher than the highest card on the table). Any ace or nine will give you the best hand (a straight), and any king or queen may give you top pair.
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This is a good hand for a semibluff.
Another example is if the flop is A-Q-7. You have middle pair -- a pair containing the second highest card on the board -- (which could be the best hand) with a backdoor flush draw and a backdoor straight draw. In this situation, checking and calling one bet to see what the turn brings is recommended.
One last example: You have middle pair with nothing else from a flop of A-K-8. Player A will often bet into this flop to see where he/she is. If another opponent reraises, Player A often folds unless that opponent is a very loose player. If, however, you are last to act and it is checked to you, take a free look at the turn to see if your hand improves.
Checking to see the turn for free, however, may not always be the best play. The other option is to raise. Often when you raise in this situation, no matter what comes on the turn, your opponents will check to the raiser (you), and you can see the river for free. The added advantage is that it only costs you a small bet because you bet before the minimum bet doubles on the turn. Good poker players are aware of this advanced play and sometimes use it.
Now let's take a look at those situations where you hit the flop. In most low-limit Hold'em games, fancy plays, such as check raising (to check and then raise if an opponent bets), fail to gain much, if any, advantage. For this reason it is recommended to bet when you think you have the best hand. Continuing with the example below: Your hole cards are K-Q, and the flop is K-8-6.
Texas Holdem Poker Hand Order
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This is a safe hand to bet.
Texas Holdem Strategy Chartor a player that had AK in the hole. If the player who reraises you raised before the flop, he/she may hold AK, but if there was no pre-flop raise, it is unlikely anyone holds AK.
The times that you hit a really big hand on the flop give you the opportunity to play a few different ways. In most low-limit games, it is best just to bet every chance you get as someone holding the second best hand will pay you off by calling you through the river. If, however, you hit a monster (great hand) and there are two or more opponents still in the hand, you may be able to extract extra bets if you play correctly. As in most situations, it pays to know how your opponents play. Let's look at a situation and technique that can win you extra bets with your best hands.
Let's say you hold a pair of nines and the flop is A, A, 9. You have flopped a full house, and it is likely that one of your opponents holds an ace for trips. Many times in this situation it is correct to check or call instead of raising on the flop. For one thing, if none of your opponents holds an ace, whenever you bet, they will all fold unless they are very poor players. If you check on the flop and everyone checks behind you, just bet on the turn. You have lost nothing, and possibly someone has picked up a draw to a second best hand. If someone bets into you and there are players behind you, by just calling instead of raising, the players behind you may call the single bet but may fold if you raise. In this situation, the player who bet into you will almost always bet into you on the turn because you showed weakness by just calling on the flop instead of raising. After a bet on the turn, you can either raise, or if you are fairly certain of a bet on the river, just call, and then raise on the river. Remember that the bets on the turn and the river are twice what they are on the flop.
After the flop comes the turn and the river. Advanced strategies for playing the fourth and fifth cards are discussed in the next section, as well as what you should do if you flop a 'monster.'
Texas Holdem Betting Chart
For more information about Texas Hold 'Em Poker and other variations, try the following links:
- To see all of our articles on poker rules and advice, go to our main article on How To Play Poker.
- Some Poker Basics are essential before you sit down at the card table.
- For a more complicated version of hold 'em, learn How to Play Omaha Poker.
- Get to know the previous 'most popular game in poker', in How to Play 7-Card Stud Poker.