When it comes to playing poker - and Texas Hold'em specifically - it's quite true that just about any hand can win, but this doesn't make learning about starting hand selection any less important. After all, mathematically speaking, there are undeniably hands that snag the pot more often than others. There are also starting hands that play out better in certain situations than others. Being able to identify the optimal poker starting hand selection for each particular circumstance is one guaranteed way to bolster your win rate.
Starting Hand Selection: Where to Begin
If you are new to poker, it's a good idea to get some background and determine what makes a good poker starting hand. (Don't worry, we've got you covered.) Once you've familiarized yourself with the basics, we can delve a bit more deeply into starting hand selection.
Next, we want you to start thinking about starting hand selection in terms of specific generalities. Oxymoronic, we know, but here's what we mean:
As mentioned, there are some starting hands that are simply more likely to work out more of the time. This said, there are some hands that are sort of like stealth vigilantes; they can work with militant success in your favour if you use them when you should use them.
The 'Cream' Cards
For the sake of ease, let's look at the poker starting hand selections that will generally yield the most lucrative outcomes.
You'll notice that these cards are all solid pocket pairs or big connectors. As far as poker starting hands go, these cards signify the top 2%.
s = suited cards - these have better potential because it's more likely you'll make a flush with them
The 'Milk' Cards
These cards may not always 'rise to the top' with the strength of their creamier counterparts, but they'll certainly do your hand some good.
Think of your cream and milk cards as your top 10 when it comes to starting hand selection. You will win more than you lose if you play these hands and play them right. Of course, playing them correctly is the important component here; even the best hand can turn to trash due to less than capable follow through.
Starting Hand Selection: Taking it Up a Notch
If you're a more experienced player, you can move onto playing a wider range of starting hands, like:
If you’re still learning the ropes, it’s best to only play these hands from late position - and even then only in the event there has been no active play (raising/betting) before you. However, experienced players can and do play these hands (as well as other, less likely winners) quite lucratively from a variety of positions. Of course, these veteran players also know their contingency factors.
Full the full range of best hands (9-handed or 6-handed), check out our Hand Ranking Charts in the store:
Starting Hand Selection: The Contingency Plan
A cream of the crop starting hand is great, but it doesn't guarantee a win. To truly understand and utilize proper starting hand selection, you also need to account for a few other crucial factors.
Late position is the information position. From this vantage, we can see how our opponents are playing their hands and glean some intel about what kind of hand they are holding as well as what type of player they are. This is why you can afford to be a little more liberal in your starting hand selection when you're in late position. If you are in early position, however, you don't have any of this information and it's generally a better idea to stick to the cream or milk cards.
Even if you are in late position, you will want to think twice about playing lower tier hands like suited connectors, low pairs, unconnected face cards (ex. JT - suited or not). The more people there are in a hand, the more likely it is someone has a better hand than you. This doesn't mean you can't play these hands, simply that you need to be wary. Make sure most of the other factors are in your favour before you make a move. If you are at all second guessing the merits of your hand, fold.
Type of Opponent(s).
Being in late position with a lower tier hand (example: 99) against a loose, aggressive player is one thing; being in late position with a lower tier hand against a tight, aggressive player is quite another. You will probably want to sit this hand out if you find yourself in the latter situation, but you could very ostensibly cash-in with the same hand if you saw your hand out in the case of the former instance. Being able to accurately assess player type can only be through experience and careful observation. The more time you spend at the tables, the easier it will be.
When you are just starting out as a poker player, your best bet is to ease yourself into the action. Just because you’ve seen your poker idols bear down and take down huge pots with seemingly poor starting hands doesn’t mean that you can too. The pros have a lot more than basic (and advanced) poker knowledge in their back pocket. A beginner, on the other hand, is only in the fledging stages of amassing their ultimately vast depth and breadth of know-how. There is very little bravado in the actions of these pros – even if their actions may appear careless, they are based on years of experience and learning. If you want to follow suit and enjoy a lifetime of wins, you’re going to have to do the same – and it starts with playing it safe.