There are over one hundred possible starting hands in Texas Holdem ranging from the all powerful pocket aces to the fairly worthless 2/3 offsuit. Every one of these opening hands carries with it a unique set of strategies, strengths, weaknesses and other facets for when you decide to play those cards.
While it would be impossible to go over every possible opening hand to decide how best to play those cards, we can narrow the list down to a few tricky hands and cover how to play them. These cards were picked by me personally as opening hands I totally misplayed or succeeded at playing well. Ultimately, I learned a lot from them and I think you can learn from them, too.
Just be careful. It’s impossible to discuss every situation that will arise over the course of a full game of poker. In the end, you still need to use your best judgment and remember that bad beats will happen. Still, I think I can show you how to handle these opening hands better more often than not.
1- Pocket Kings
According to some charts I’ve seen, if you’re dealt pocket kings, you actually have an 83% percent chance to win the hand. Personally, I would like to find whoever put that that chart together and have some very strong words about what, exactly, I feel about being dealt pocket kings. Maybe I’m just the 17%, but I’ve never actually won when I’m dealt them.
Though, if I am being honest, a lot of the reason I lose with pocket kings is my own fault. It just feels like such a strong hand. Having a pair of anything in the hole is clearly better than having nothing in the hole when you start. (Even pocket 2s have a better than 50% chance of winning the day.) Still, pocket kings is far from unbeatable especially when your opponents are likely to play any hand with a pocket ace.
Even though I personally haven’t had luck with pocket kings, the strategy for playing them is fairly straight forward. If you don’t have position, you have enough firepower that you can play a strong opening bet. You don’t want to bet the farm, but you can definitely raise pre-flop with what you have if you’re aggressive, but definitely stay in the hand.
If you have position, pay attention to your opponents.
As far as the rest of the hand goes, you can continue to be aggressive, but be on the lookout for an ace. If a single ace hits the board, more than likely someone else is going to use that to make a pair of aces. Sadly, that is the voice of experience talking. If no ace hits the board, then you may be able to ride pocket kings to victory.
2- Ace/King Suited
Ace/king is another of those poker hands that gets a bad rap around the community. I think the reason for this is largely psychological because an ace and a king feel pretty good (they are the highest and second highest card in the game after all.) Unfortunately, they’re also not worth much because together they don’t even form a pair. So, their strength is largely illusory without some help.
With that said, there’s almost no reason that you don’t stay in with ace/king. I would have to be at a final table with everyone else going all in before I’d even think about folding ace/king and then I’d still probably push my stack and see what happened.
That’s really the key with ace/king: you’re not going to win pre-flop. You need help from the board to win, but you’re sitting in a really good position to let the board help you go on to poker glory. Therefore, as long as your bankroll management limit can support it, call any reasonable amount to stay and see what the flop gives you for it is on the flop that you will make your money.
Once the flop is down, that’s when you have a decision to make.
If any of that happens, stay in the game and bet according to the strength of your hand. If the other players are betting aggressive, you can back off, but you have a good chance of winning. On the other hand, if you flop nothing in your suit and nothing higher than a 9, you might want to get out of the hand since there’s a good chance someone else is working on a better hand than you.
Continue that logic through the next two cards. If you chances to win are high or if you have something, keep betting. If the cards aren’t falling your way, then don’t risk your money. Live to fight another day.
3- Ace/King Off Suit
Unsurprisingly enough, the strategy for ace/king off suit is largely the same as it is for ace/king suited, however the number of good post-flop hands fall off pretty dramatically since you will need at least four cards on the board to make a flush and, quite frankly, if you’re making a flush that way, so is everyone else.
Because of this, when I have ace/king off suit, I am mainly looking for flops that give me that chance at a straight. I certainly don’t mind pairs, but the table is likely to hold on to their hands if they have either a king or an ace. Therefore, if I have a pair, they probably have a pair and I end up splitting the pot. A straight is a much better way to ensure victory even though they are more rare.
Queen/seven isn’t the greatest starting hand, but having a face card to your name isn’t a bad thing, right? Actually, this is a deceptively poor hand and when you see this combination show up, the best thing you can do is fold.
I say “deceptively” because if this were a game of blackjack, a combined score of 17 is a pretty good hand (in fact, Queen/seven is the highest-scored blackjack hand that you want to fold.)
According to computer simulations, queen/seven will only win about fifty percent of the time, which makes it unreliable.
Ultimately, that unreliability is this hand’s undoing. Even if you have position and everyone else is tepid, resist temptation and throw in your cards. The only reason to stay in is if you were the big blind and no one else bet. Then you could at least see if there’s something pre-flop.
5- Five/Four Suited
This is an autofold, right? Strangely enough, if you have position, five/four suited is the worst hand you could possibly consider keeping at least until you see the flop.
Why would you keep this hand? It offers two interesting ways to win. First, it sits in the middle of a straight (though clearly five/six suited would be better because then your hold cards could begin or end a straight) and it can be a nice seed for building out a flush. There’s also a very small chance a pair of fives win if most of the other players miss their draws.
I’m definitely not saying that you should play this hand every time. If you don’t have the position or if the table is betting fiercely, you don’t have a lot of strength in your hand and you probably won’t win any money. On the other hand, if the action is lukewarm, then it might make sense to stay in the hand and see what the flop gives you.
If the flop gives you four of the five cards you need for a straight, at that point, you can start to bet accordingly because chances are no one else has 4/5 in the hole and is not going for the same straight you are. Of course, if the flop doesn’t cooperate, fold and live to bet another day.
Poker can be cruel sometimes and the hands you think are the best sometimes just are not. That’s okay. That’s why you have a bankroll and that’s why you fold early so you can bet more later.
Still, hopefully when you are dealt any of the five hands above, you now have a better idea of whether you should stay in the game or runaway to play again later. Good luck and happy pokering.