Texas Hold'em Poker: a game in which it is easy to learn the basics, but considerably harder when you dive into it. For now, let's cover a basic part of the game - starting hands.
Why is this fundamental to poker strategy? Because being dealt a hand is where the game begins, yet there are thought-processes that are important here too. You certainly don't want to play every hand the dealer gives you.
Where then do we begin? Let's assume we have just been dealt our two hole cards. Our first question is, "Should I play them?" (See also What % of starting hands should I play?)
Sure, every hand could be a winner, but every hand can be a loser too. Only a few hands have the strength to be viable to continue beyond the pre-flop action. Another important factor is your position. The later you get to act in each round, (i.e. the more people who are forced to make decisions before you), the more aggressive you can be in your pre-flop actions.
Why? Because you can see what many of your opponents are doing before you act. This doesn't mean you should play 7-2 offsuit each time the action is folded around to you when youíre on the button.
However, like all things in poker and online poker, this advice is relative. The better you get at pre-flop concepts and post-flop play, the more hands you can add to your armoury. Because you are just starting out, it is advisable to stick to the basics.
That means we are going to raise with big hands when we are in early position (when we are the first or second to act), and increase the hands we play as we get closer to late position (nearer the dealer position).
In this guide we are going to consider full-ring games (those with nine players at the table). If you are playing with fewer poker players simply subtract from the earliest positions to get your correct position. We will also focus on raising, rather than calling. Calling is a weak play that leaves you vulnerable and allows people to enter the pot cheaply after you have acted. A single raise may win you the pot outright.
Before we look at the starting hand recommendations, letís review poker hand notation. There are some new symbols used to describe ranges of hands. The annotations "s" and "o" are pretty straight-forward. The "s" refers to suited cards (of the same suit). The "o" refers to two cards that are off-suit. If both the "s" and "o" are missing, then it does not matter if the hand is suited or off-suit.
The "+" indicates that all of the hands that rank above that stated hand are included. For example, "55+" includes a pair of fives, and any pair that ranks higher than that, all the way up to a pair of aces. The only pairs excluded would be 22, 33 and 44.
When it comes to connectors and one-gappers, the "+" indicates that similar hands using higher cards are also included. For example T9+ would include T9, JT, QJ, KQ, AK - all the connectors above T9.
There can also be combinations of the symbols, but you should be able to figure those out.
Many advanced players will argue that position is the single most important factor in playing Texas Hold'em, even more than the cards you hold. The image below displays the positions at a typical full ring table. For 10 players simply add an additional middle position player. Meanings of the abbreviations are as follows:
SB = Small Blind, BB = Big Blind, UTG = Under the Gun, MP = Middle Position, HJ = Hijack, CO = Cut Off, BTN = Button
This first chart below is going to represent the hands that you should be raising when you are folded to in a full handed game in consideration with where you are sitting at the table:
So does all of that make sense? Can you see how we are adding more hands as we occupy a later position?
We arenít always in a position where we want to raise. When someone raises ahead of you, you definitely donít want to raise with the same hands we just listed. You also donít want to call with all of them either. This next table is going to go through what to do when someone raises in front of you, and which hands you might want to raise or call with to stay in the pot.
Can you see how we dropped even more hands? This is because now we are playing against someone who is telling us that they may have a strong hand, so we want to eliminate marginal hands. We are raising with our very good hands, while many of the hands that we are only calling with will play fairly straightforward after the flop comes out. However, that is for another online poker guide. Click here for more information on Odds For Dummies and Starting Hands Percentage