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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Which Are the Best Hands to Play in Texas Hold'em?

20 April 2007

In Hold'em poker, there are only 169 two-card starting hands you can be dealt. That's a lot fewer than the 1500 three-card starts you can get in 7 Card Stud. In fact, in Omaha Hi/Lo, there are over 5000. That's part of what makes Hold'em simple to understand.

Yet, most of those 169 Hold'em hands should never be played –- not even to see the flop. Common examples of always unplayable trash hands are things like 5/8, deuce/10 and even an unsuited J/6. These "rags" won't come close to paying for themselves over time, so just fold them whenever they come. But which are your really best starting hands –- I mean the cream of the crop?

Some poker authorities will nitpick over the exact rankings of premier starting hands. But the list below identifies what many pro players will agree are the top 10% of the hands, in specific order to look for in the pocket.

  1. A/A
  2. K/K
  3. Q/Q
  4. J/J
  5. A/K suited
  6. 10/10
  7. A/Q suited
  8. A/K
  9. A/J suited
  10. K/Q suited
  11. 9/9
  12. A/Q
  13. A/J
  14. K/Q
  15. K/J suited
  16. Q/J suited
  17. J/10 suited

These 17 starters (the top 10% of 169) have enough promise that you should normally play them just about whenever they come, even from early position right after the blinds. In fact, when you're in those unfavorable first couple of seats to act, these are about the only hands you should play.

Now, most new Hold'em players will frown at such tight advice, but when you're in very early position you're at a big disadvantage in the hand. You'll have to put money in the pot without knowing whether somebody after you will be raising with a genuine "duke". Then if you call his raise, you'll be first to act on the flop and will very seldom know what to do. Here's an example.

Suppose you're right "under the gun" (first player after the blinds) in a $5/$10 Hold'em game. Looking in the hole you find:

Qd/10s

Now, those are two pretty big cards, aren't they? What the heck; in blackjack, that's 20. So you figure for $5, you've gotta' at least see the flop. Well, an unsuited Q/10 is about the 50th best Hold'em hand out of 169, but so what, you've gotta' see what happens.

After your call, somebody calls the $5 behind you and then a late-position player raises it to $10. Both blinds fold and you call another $5. So does the player behind you. The flop then comes:

Kh-10c-3h

Now what? You flopped "second pair" (paired the second highest card on board). But did the raiser raise with a King in his hand? For that matter, did the middle caller have a King? If you bet, you may well get raised – not only by somebody with a King, but also by someone holding Q/J (an open-end straight draw), or two hearts (a 4-flush). Yet, if you check and they both check along, you'll be giving them a free "turn card" (fourth board card) to maybe beat you with. Even if the flop came something like:

Qs-8h-5c

You'd have the "top pair", but your 10 kicker might well lose to another Queen with a higher kicker. Yet, you can't fold and can't raise. So just save your Q/10 and hands like them for when you're in late position where you'll gain more information before you have to decide whether to commit yourself.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey