Issue 232
February 21 - 27, 2005
Volume 5
page 3

The Top 10 Starting Hands in Texas Hold'em
By Fred Renzey

When playing Hold'em poker, you can be dealt 169 different two-card starting hands. Thirteen of them are pairs (such as 8/8), another 78 hands are suited hands (like the Q/10 of spades) and 78 more hands are unsuited non-pairs (such as 9/6 offsuit).

All good players understand that you must reduce your selection to the better quality hands if you want to win. I have never paid a red cent to see the flop with a hand like 3/6 or 5/9. These are known as "rags" in poker lingo and there's just no future in them.

So then, if a 3/6 or 5/9 is a rag hand, then which are the premium ones – I mean, the real "dukes" of Hold'em hands? The absolute best, most moneymaking hand you can hope to be dealt is of course, "pocket rockets" (A/A) – but you already knew that. So what other hands are really good where profit potential is concerned?

According to David Sklansky's Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players, the top 10 most desirable starting hands are:

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/J suited
9. K/Q suited
10. A/K

Experts may argue over the exact ranking of the bottom five hands, but it doesn't matter much because you're going to need more than ten hands in your playing repertoire. These ten holdings comprise only 6% of all the hands you can get.

So here's a tricky question for you. Which of the top 10 hands will you be dealt most often? The answer is #10, the A/K unsuited (aka "Big Slick"). You'll squeeze out that puppy once every 110 hands on average. Any specific pocket pair comes once every 221 hands and all the suited hands come once every 332 hands each.

As rare as those top 10 hands are though, believe it or not, sometimes you should actually fold certain ones of them before the flop. Why? Well, if tight, tough players are raising and re-raising before it becomes your turn to act, it's best not to get involved with pocket pocket 10s.

If you're last to act and it's been double raised in a two player pot, the same can be said for A/J suited and K/Q suited. Against only two players, your potential for making a flush doesn't add that much value to your hand, and A/J or K/Q isn't an enviable hand against a double raise.

That brings up this next curiosity question. When your hand is suited, how often will you make a flush? Okay, you'll make a "no waiting" flush (right on the flop) once every 118 hands. You'll flop a 4-flush and eventually complete the flush either on the turn or the river another 1 time in 26. All in all, assuming you fold when you flop a "back door" flush draw (only one of your flush cards on the flop), your suited hand will turn into a flush once every 21 times. It takes three or four opponents in against you for that longshot to have much extra value.

Alright, so if you need to find more hands to play besides the top 10, which ones should you pick and how many? Any Hold'em player worth his salt knows that depends upon position. In fact, if you're "under the gun" (first to act right after the blinds), the top 10 plus maybe another seven or eight quality hands are about all you should fool with. These would be holdings like A/Q, A/J, K/Q, pocket 9s, pocket 8s, Q/J suited, J/10 suited and maybe K/J suited. Anything less is too risky since you don't know what all those players behind you might do.

When you're in the middle of the table and you've seen a few people fold, you can come in with the likes of A/10, K/J and pocket 7s, etc. And when you're all the way around back and can get in for just one bet, that's when you can speculate with your pocket deuces and 6/5 suited connectors, etc.

Finally, if you're on the button (last to act) or in the "cutoff" seat (right in front of the button) when everybody else has folded thus far, you should come in raising with any hand that's merely worth a call. That's to put pressure on the blinds and give you a chance to take it down without seeing a flop. You could do this with hands as weak as J/9 or K/8.

About the Author

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.


Of Related Interest

Blackjack Bluebook II
A "how to" book for the game of casino blackjack. Contains generous use of pictorial strategic illustrations. Explains winning principles in clear detail.

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