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Which hands should I raise with? Which hands should I call with? Which hands should I just fold? What is the difference between always, maybe, and never?

If you’ve asked yourself these questions, you are most certainly not alone — and with good reason. In the game of Texas Hold’em Poker, where players are dealt just two cards to start, there are a total of 169 distinct starting hands that can be dealt to you in any of 1,326 different combinations.

 

Variations of Holdem starting hands

 

One of the biggest things that most up and coming poker players struggle with is starting hands.

 

Those 169 hands are made up of 13 pocket pairs, 78 suited hands (two cards of the same suit), and 78 unsuited (or off-suit) hands. The strongest starting hand, as everyone knows, is two aces. The weakest starting hand is 7-2 off-suit. Exactly which hands should be played in which situations is always up for debate.

There are three main factors that a player needs to understand in order to make the best choices about which starting hands to play in any given situation:

Most players are probably at least somewhat familiar with how their position at the poker table should affect their decisions. The action before you is even easier to figure out. The majority of players tend to have the most trouble understanding how the equity of different starting hands will affect how often they can expect to win in the long-term.

 

What Is Equity In Poker?

 

Your equity in any poker hand represents how much of the pot is theoretically yours based on your cards and things like the number of players in the pot, the range of hands that other players might be holding, and community cards already on the board. It’s a measure of how often you can expect to win a hand, as a percentage, if you were to play the same situation over and over an infinite number of times.

For example, at the beginning of hand with 6 players in the game, you are dealt two black aces, you have 49.19% equity in the hand against the five other players holding random hands. Without knowing the other players’ cards, they each have about 10% equity.

 

Aces Are Not Always A Favorite

 

That might sound great, 49 versus 10 sounds like a huge advantage, and it is—against one opponent. What you have to look at, however, is that if all six of you were to go all-in before the flop, your pocket aces actually have less than a 50-50 chance of winning. The other players’ combined equity is more than yours. You’ll lose more often than you win.

 

Sometimes The Lowest Pair Has The Highest Equity

 

On the other hand, if we look at things from another angle, if you’re holding a pair of twos and have only one opponent to act after you, your equity versus a random hand is 50.33%. You’ll win here slightly more often than you’ll lose. A pair of aces isn’t always as powerful as it might seem and a pair of twos isn’t always as weak as one might think either.

These examples are a bit extreme, and perhaps simple. Our opponents, of course, are not just going to push all-in with random hands. Our examples do, however, illustrate just how much these three factors can alter the decision-making process.

 

Selecting The Best Starting Hands In Texas Hold’em Poker

 

What makes starting hand selection a unique part of Texas Hold’em is that it is the point in the game where you have the least information available to you when you have to make your decision. When the cards are first dealt, everyone has a random hand and, depending on what position you are in, you will have little to no information about how much your opponents like their own starting hands. This is where you need to be the most careful about what you do.

In general, you’ll avoid the most trouble and gain the biggest edge for yourself by playing only hands that have the highest equity from early position, where you have the least information preflop, and playing more hands from later positions, where you will have more information to act on both before and after the flop.

 

 

The Best Starting Hands For Different Poker Tables

 

Just as the number of people seated at the table changes the possible positions, it also changes how starting hands should be chosen. As table size gets smaller, the number of hands you should play will go up.

This happens for two reasons. First, as the table shrinks, you will have less people to act after you from any position, so it is less dangerous. The blinds also come around faster at a smaller table, so if you don’t get involved in enough pots, the blinds will slowly drain away your stack.

 

The Best Starting Hands For Full-Ring Poker

 

At a full ring (9 or 10 player) poker table is where we need to be the most conservative with our starting hands. More often than not, you’ll have several players to act after you. That means you can’t jump in too early with hands that are too weak.

Most expert players recommend playing about 15% of the overall hands you are dealt in a full-ring game. When we take positions into account, the following lists lay out a basic group of starting hands that should keep you out of terribly troublesome spots.

Note: A “+” next to card ranks represents those cards and anything higher. Example: QJ+ means QJ, KJ, QK, AK, etc. An “s” next to cards indicates two cards of the same suit. Example: 78s means a 7 and 8 of the same suit. The “s+” next to any cards indicates those suited cards plus higher suited connecting cards. 78s+ would indicate 78s, 89s, 9Ts, etc.

 

Starting Hands For Full-Ring Texas Hold’em Poker

 

Opening Player Position Percentage Of Hands Hands
Early – UTG, UTG+1 6%-7% 66-AA, AQ, AK
Middle – MP1, MP2 10%-11% 22-AA, AJ+, KQ+
Hijack 13%-14% 22-AA, QJ+
Cutoff 16%-17% 22-AA, A9+, QJ+, 78s+
Button (Dealer) 27%-28% 22-AA, A2+, K9+, QJ+, 76s+
Small Blind 27%-28% 22-AA, A2+, K9+, QJ+, 76s+

 

Call / Reraise Percentage Of Hands Hands
Call A Normal Raise 9%-10% 22-TT, AJ, AQ, KQ, QJs, JTs
3-Bet (Reraise) 3% AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK
Call 3-Bet 4%-5% 99-QQ, AQ, AK
4-Bet (Reraise 3-Bet/All-In) 1% AA, KK

 

Starting Hands For 6-Max Texas Hold’em Poker

 

In a 6-max poker game, experts generally agree that you should be playing about 20% to 25% of the overall hands that you are dealt. The chart below illustrates how those hands would be played from different positions.

 

Opening Player Position Percentage Of Hands Hands
Early – UTG, UTG+1 10%-11% 22-AA, AJ+, KQ+
Hijack 13%-14% 22-AA, QJ+
Cutoff 16%-17% 22-AA, A9+, QJ+, 78s+
Button (Dealer) 27%-28% 22-AA, A2+, K9+, QJ+, 76s+
Small Blind 27%-28% 22-AA, A2+, K9+, QJ+, 76s+

 

Call / Reraise Percentage Of Hands Hands
Call A Normal Raise 9%-10% 22-TT, AJ, AQ, KQ, QJs, JTs
3-Bet (Reraise) 3% AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK
Call 3-Bet 4%-5% 99-QQ, AQ, AK
4-Bet (Reraise 3-Bet/All-In) 1% AA, KK

 

Nothing Is Absolute In Poker

 

Just as with everything else in poker, there is always room for adjustment. The hands listed above are a suggested guideline. You shouldn’t take anything as to say that you must play these hands in the prescribed positions or that you shouldn’t play any other hands. Circumstances will always come up from time to time where you can and should mix up your play.

 

One of the biggest things that most up and coming poker players struggle with is starting hands. What do you think? Do you follow these opening ranges or something similar when you play? Let me know what works best for you. All the comments are read and all questions will be answered!

 

And don’t forget! We have plenty of resources available for poker players in the USA. Whether you’re looking for a mobile-ready USA friendly poker site or some of the best tips for your own game, we have you covered. Check out the Enhance Your Edge Poker YouTube channel for free videos that will help you get your game in gear!

Jeff
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