Starting Hand Selection in No Limit Texas Hold’em

starting-hands-no-limit-texas-holdemThe popularity of No Limit Texas Hold’em has skyrocketed over the last decade thanks in large part to online poker rooms on the Internet. Television has also played a role in fuelling the growth of poker world wide. In this blog post, we explore the question beginning poker players most often ask: “What is a good starting hand in NL Hold’em?”.

I think the game of poker and the stock market have a lot of similarities. You only want to place your bets on the blue chip stocks i.e. premium starting hands (especially when you’re just getting started and lack post-flop skills.)

Pre-flop you want to play hands that have a positive expectation, which you will get better at figuring out once you get some experience under your belt. Granted, it can be difficult to remain disciplined and only stick to playing the top tier hands, but it sure is an important aspect of being a successful poker player.

If you are looking for more information about which starting hands to avoid overplaying I would recommend you to also take a look at this poker strategy article on our site.

Tier One Hands

AA, KK, QQ, JJ and AK are all tier-one hands. These are the best starting hands and should be played strongly. Raise it up with these premium starting hands to narrow the field and to get an idea of what your opponent is holding. In online poker games, an open raise that is 3 to 4 times the big blind will usually get the job done.

Tier Two Hands

TT, 99, Ace with any card 10 or larger, KQ, King with any card 9 or larger suited, Queen with any card 9 or larger suited, JT suited are your tier-two hands. Once again you want to raise with these hands. Many players lack the discipline to put down an Ace even if they have a weak kicker, so if you have the discipline to stick to only playing solid Aces, when you hit your Ace you will have your opponents dominated a lot of the time.

Tier Three Hands

88, 77, any two unsuited face cards such as KJ, QJ, JT, middle suited connectors such as J9s, T9s, 98s or 87s, even suited one-gappers like T8s and 97s have about the same equity as they can also hit something big on the flop or flop a strong draw.

These are starting hands that are very playable and you can enter the pot with a raise especially in later position at the table. You want to raise to make your hand appear powerful so you can continue to represent strength on the flop if the opportunity arises even when you’ve whiffed the flop.

Tier Four Hands

Any pair below 77’s, any ace or face card with a weak kicker that is suited like Q6s, although you need to have the discipline to lay down top pair hands when you’re playing these hands, and unsuited connected cards that have straight possibilities. These are the marginal hands you only play in late position when the right circumstances present themselves.

Some important tidbits:

It’s worth mentioning that none of these rules are set in concrete. A good player starts with these starting hand guidelines then lets the table tell him to play tighter or looser. You’ve got to take what you can get.

There are various factors that come into play, such as your position and the number and type of players at the table, especially when it comes to determining whether to play marginal holdings. On the other hand, if you’ve been dealt Aces or Kings, for the most part, the decisions are straightforward and the hand will play itself.

With that being said, though, the game of no limit texas hold’em is very situation specific, and even if you’ve been dealt a tier-one hand like AK it doesn’t mean you should always play the hand very aggressively. If you are capable of recognizing the situations in which folding would be the right play, then you are going to save yourself a lot of money in the long run. After all, money saved is money earned.

The Gap Concept in Poker

In several of David Sklansky’s poker books he talks about the Gap Concept. What he is referring to is the “gap” between a poker player’s pre-flop opening range and calling range. More specifically, it alludes to the fact that you need a stronger hand to call a raise than to open for a raise yourself.

Why? If a tight early position player raises, they are announcing to the table that they think they have the best hand, and more often than not they will have a strong hand, because they are on the tight side and were first to act, so you can safely fold your QJ. If, however, it’s been folded around to you in the cut-off, it’s a strong enough hand to raise with, as the action up until that point suggests you probably have the best hand, and you’re likely to have position in later streets should you get called and with the initiative you can take down the pot a lot uncontested.

Further Reading & Resources

Pokerology: NL starting hand reference chart PDF
Best Online Gambling: NL strategy articles including hand selection by position

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