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Understanding Poker Hands
Poker hand selection is an important part of playing winning poker. In fact, it can impact the outcome of each poker session more than anything. There are 169 possible starting hand combinations in Texas hold’em (excluding suit combinations). Texas hold'em is the most popular poker game. Although there are many combinations, a skilled poker player knows to limit the number of hands they choose to play.
The best hand possible is two aces, also referred to as 'pocket rockets'. The next best hand is two kings, followed by two queens and two jacks. Other great hands include ace-king, ace-queen, and pocket tens. Those aren’t the only hands worth playing, however. Hands such as ace-jack, ace-ten, king-queen, king-jack, queen-jack, and other pocket pairs can be highly profitable if played properly at the right time. And then even sometimes suited connectors such as nine-ten and six-seven can make you some money.
Why Hand Selection Matters
If you were to ask any professional poker player what the biggest mistake beginners make, they would tell you that beginners play too many hands. Playing too many hands can be costly. Playing too few hands can cost you an opportunity to win money. It’s important to find the right middle ground. How do you do that?
The first step is to get a good feel for the type of table you’re at. If the other players are playing very loose, meaning they play a lot of hands, you should tighten up and play fewer hands. If the table is playing tight, meaning they don’t play a lot of hands, you should loosen up because you will have more opportunity to bluff.
Playing too many hands at a loose table will end up costing you money. The reason being loose players are hard to bluff, which means if you don’t hit your hands, you won’t win the pot and will lose money. The best strategy at these tables is to play fewer hands, limiting to premium hands such as pocket aces/kings, ace-king, etc. That way you’re more likely to end up with the best hand against the loose players.
On the flip side, if you widen your hand selection range at a tight table, you will be able to bluff successfully quite often if your hand doesn’t hit. So there is less risk involved with calling bets before the flop with marginal hands.
In the long run, you will win the most money with the best starting hands. Although it may seem like your pocket aces continually lose, over the long run, you’ll do just fine if you play them the right way. Conversely, if you continually play weak hands, especially at loose tables, you may not find that winning streak.
Hand Selection and Position
In poker, position is also very important. The hands you play in early position should differ from the hands you play in late position. You should always play premium hands, regardless of position. But you should increase your hand selection range in late position. Why? Because late position is a more profitable spot.
What is late position? When you are on the button or one spot to the right of the button. Late position is a great spot to be because you get to see how everyone acts on the flop before making a decision. Often, when the other players check the flop to you, a bluffing opportunity arises. In early position, it’s difficult to pull off a bluff because you don’t know how the other players will act. That’s why it’s okay to expand your hand selection range in late position.
We’ll talk about the specific hands you should play in late position, and other positions, later on in this article. For now, recognise that poker players who understand the importance of position, play winning poker. Don’t try to pull off too many bluffs when you’re first to act on the flop. Sure, you might get away with one or two here and there. But, in the long run, these bluffs will be a losing proposition. When you bluff in late position, you won't win all the time, but will win more than not.
Poker Hand Names
Poker players love to give silly names to certain poker hands. Let’s take a look at the common poker hand names
- Ace-King: Big Slick
- Ace-Queen: Mrs Slick
- Jack-Four: Flat Tire (“What’s a Jack for?” “Flat tire”)
- Jack-Five: Motown (Jackson 5)
- Ten-Four: Good Buddy (“Ten-four, good buddy”)
- Ten-Two: The Doyle (Doyle Brunson won 2 WSOP titles with this hand)
- Pocket Aces: Rockets
- Pocket Queens: Ladies
- Pocket Jacks: Hooks (They look like hooks)
- Pocket Eights: Snowmen (They look like snowmen)
- Pocket Fives: Speed Limit (55 was the US speed limit in the 1980s)
- Pocket Twos: Ducks
There are many more silly names for poker hands. The ones above are the most common. It’s not important for you to know these names, but at least you will know what someone means if they bust out these hand names.
All Hands for Poker
In case you are brand new to the game of poker, here is a complete list of every possible hand you can make.
This is the best possible hand. If you get a royal flush, your hand can’t be beaten. A royal flush is 10-J-Q-K-A all of the same suit. You will be dealt a royal flush about once every 250,000 hands. In fact, you could play 40 hours per week of poker for the rest of your life and never get a royal flush.
This is another uncommon poker hand, and can only be beaten by a royal flush. If you play poker long enough, you’ll probably get dealt a straight flush a few times, but probably no more than 20-30 times. A straight flush is five suited connecting cards such as 8-9-10-J-Q of spades.
When you are dealt quads, that means you have four of the same unsuited cards, such as 5-5-5-5. This is another very strong hand that won’t come to you very often.
Full house (A boat)
A full house is a great hand and can pay off well against flushes and straights. To get a full house, you must have three cards of the same value and two other cards of the same value (i.e. 8-8-8-7-7).
A flush is another strong hand, in most cases. A flush beats all the hands below but is beaten by all the hands above. A flush is five cards of the same suit.
When you don’t have five cards of the same suit but do have five connectors such as 4-5-6-7-8, you have a straight.
This one is self-explanatory. Three cards of the same value (i.e. 2-2-2) form trips.
When you have two pairs of cards (i.e. 2-2-4-4), you have two-pair, which can be a very strong hand against certain players.
If you don’t have any of the hands above but do have a pair of cards of the same value, you have a pair. These are tricky hands to play, but if you have top-pair, meaning the best possible pair, it can be a profitable hand.
It’s hard to win if you don’t have any of the types of hands above. However, occasionally when you have a hand such as A-K-10-3-2, you can win the pot.
Hands to Play in Early Position (Texas Hold’em)
Remember what we said about position? Early position is a tough spot to be. You will make most of your money in late position, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play winning poker with certain hands in early position in Texas hold’em. However, you should be cautious as to how many hands you play. Early position is when you are the first or second player to act before the flop at a full 9-10 player table.
You should almost always raise if you are entering the pot in early position. Don’t just call the bet. If you enter, raise. The hands you should play in early position, at least as a beginner, are pocket aces/kings/queens/jacks/tens, ace-king, and suited ace-queen. Once you become more experienced and start becoming more comfortable playing flops, you can expand your range and play all ace-queen hands, pocket nines/eights/sevens, suited ace-jack, king-queen, and occasionally hands such as tiny pocket pairs and queen-jack.
The reason you shouldn’t just call in early position is because it’s likely someone behind you will raise anyway. Being the aggressor pays off in poker. If you 'limp in' (just call) with weaker hands, you will then be forced to fold to a raise and give away chips without seeing the flop. That will add up over time.
Hands to Play in Middle Position (Texas Hold’em)
Middle position is the few spots to the right of the button and to the left of early position players. For the most part, your hand selection should be the same as early position, but you can expand your range a bit. Never call with marginal hands in middle position if someone in early position raised. You should still opt to raise with hands in this spot instead of limping in. Play all the hands we suggested in early position and also mix in hands such as ace-jack, king-queen, and all other pocket pairs. Maybe even queen-jack and king-jack or suited nine-ten and eight-nine if the table is playing tight.
If you are facing a raise from an early position player and have aces, kings, or queens, you should always raise again. Middle position is a better spot to be than early position but can still be a difficult spot. Proceed with caution.
Hands to Play in Late Position (Texas Hold’em)
This is where you want to be. Late position is the spot on the button or the spot to the right of the button. You should expand your range in late position. The reason for that is you will be able to pull off more bluffs in late position and get to wait for other players in front of you to act before making a decision.
Again, you should re-raise with aces, kings, and queens, and possibly jacks and ace-king depending on the type of player that originally raised. If there are no raises in front of you, you should put in a raise with those hands, ace-queen, pocket tens, and sometimes even king-queen or ace-jack.
You can also just call raises with hands such as king-queen, ace-jack, ace-queen, and most pocket pairs. If there are no raises in front of you, feel free to call with most hands, even 4-5, weak aces, king-ten, etc. The only hands you shouldn’t play are hands such as 2-7, 3-8, 2-6, etc. These hands have no potential. To win with those hands, nearly every time, you’ll have to bluff.
Hands to Play in the Blinds (Texas Hold’Em)
The absolute worst position to be in is the blinds. When you’re in the blinds, you’re last to act before the flop and first to act on the flop. Both are bad spots. However, sometimes you will be dealt a lousy starting hand such as 2-7 and no one raises pre-flop, and you get lucky and flop a monster hand. In those cases, you’ll be glad to be in the blinds because you wouldn’t have played the cards otherwise.
With that said, the above example is a rare instance. Your hand selection in the blinds when facing a raise should be very tight. That’s because you’ll be the first to act on the flop, which isn’t a good spot to be. Here’s how you should play in the blinds.
If there are no raises in front of you, you should play nearly every hand, either by just calling or raising. If you have aces, kings, you should always re-raise. If you have queens and are only facing one raise, you should raise. If there are no raises, and you have aces, kings, queens, jacks, tens, ace-king, or ace-queen, you should raise.
In the big blind, your strategy should be very similar. Don’t call raises with weak hands and don’t just call raises with premium hands. You won’t have position on the flop, so it’s important to either get out of the hand before the flop or try to force as many players out of the hand as possible before seeing the flop.
The 25 Best Poker Starting Hands
We’ve already covered the absolute best hands, but you may be interested to see a more extensive list of the top Texas hold’em poker hands. Here are the 25 best hands in order of strength:
- Pocket aces
- Pocket kings
- Pocket queens
- Pocket jacks
- Pocket tens
- Ace-queen suited
- Pocket nines
- King-queen suited
- Ace-queen unsuited
- Ace-jack suited
- King-queen unsuited
- Pocket eights
- Pocket sevens
- Ace-jack unsuited
- King-jack suited
- King-jack unsuited
- Ace-ten suited
- Queen-jack suited
- Ace-ten unsuited
- Queen-jack unsuited
- Nine-ten suited
- Eight-nine suited
- Pocket sixes
- Pocket fives
Poker Hands in Other Games
Texas hold’em isn’t the only form of poker, nor is it the only poker game in which hand selection is crucial. There are other poker games such as Razz, Omaha, and Seven-card stud that are fun to play and require a clever hand selection strategy. Let’s take a look at these games and how to decide which hands to play.
This game is similar to Texas hold’em, except you receive four cards to start. As players get more cards, quality Texas hold’em hands such as top-pair aren’t so great. The best starting hands in this game are those with a few suited connectors such as 9–10–J–Q. These hands have the highest upside because you can make big hands such as straights and flushes. Of course, Omaha hands with two aces or kings are still great and should be played aggressively before the flop.
Stud poker is a game in which players receive two face-down cards and one face-up card. The best starting hand in this game is what’s called being 'rolled up'. This means you start with three cards of the same value. However, you won’t be rolled up very often. Any starting pair is good, along with connectors such as K-Q-J.
Razz is played just like stud except instead of trying to make the best possible poker hand, you are trying to make the lowest hand. A-2-3-4-5 is the best hand to make, but even if you have something like 4-5-7-8-9, that’s a pretty good hand. If you have three low cards to begin with, you’re off to a good start. If you have face cards or a pair, you shouldn’t play the hand unless you plan on bluffing.
Hand selection is one of the biggest keys to playing winning poker. That goes for every form of poker, not just Texas hold’em. If you play smart pre-flop, you’ll do just fine. Good luck at the tables!
Hand Strength 8 Handed - Preflop
8 Handed poker is the most common poker; meaning 8 people at a single table being delt cards, The following table will outline the odds and chances of getting different hands preflop.
|Cards||Probability of Win||Average Win||Expected Value||Probability||Additive Probability|
|Pair of A's||39.05%||7.94||2.099||0.45%||0.45%|
|Pair of K's||33.26%||7.92||1.6328||0.45%||0.9%|
|Pair of Q's||28.71%||7.88||1.2628||0.45%||1.36%|
|Pair of J's||25.13%||7.84||0.9705||0.45%||2.11%|
|Pair of T's||22.32%||7.79||0.7395||0.45%||3.47%|
|Pair of 9's||19.89%||7.81||0.5527||0.45%||7.54%|
|Pair of 8's||18.19%||7.79||0.4164||0.45%||11.61%|
|Pair of 7's||16.85%||7.77||0.309||0.45%||17.5%|
|Pair of 6's||15.84%||7.75||0.2282||0.45%||21.87%|
|Pair of 5's||14.93%||7.73||0.1542||0.45%||25.64%|
|Pair of 4's||14.31%||7.76||0.1103||0.45%||29.41%|
|Pair of 3's||13.83%||7.8||0.0782||0.45%||34.09%|
|Pair of 2's||13.49%||7.83||0.057||0.45%||35.44%|