Guide to Which Hands to Start With in Texas Hold'em

hands to start with

Texas Hold'em: 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. Ideal strategy involves a lot of folding and waiting for the right spots to make your move. This is designed to pay off in the long run by making sure the winning odds are on your side.

You Have Two Cards... Now What?

Two cards

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.

Example

Why? Because you can see what many of your opponents are doing before you act. Each decision made by the players at the table before it is your time to act can provide very useful information that should not be overlooked. This doesn't mean you should play 7-2 off suit each time the action is folded around to you when you’re on the button but a slightly stronger hand can be enough to make a move and likely take in the blinds for free.

Start by Playing ABC Poker

However, like all things in 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 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.

Suited cards

The "s" refers to suited cards (of the same suit)

off-suit cards

The "o" refers to two cards that are off-suit.

or better

The "+" indicates that all of the hands that rank above that stated hand are included

Before we look at the starting hand recommendations, let's 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.

for example:

10

9

10

J

Q

J

K

Q

A

K

There can also be combinations of the symbols, but you should be able to figure those out.

Position, Position, Position

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:

Position
  • SBSmall Blind
  • BBBig Blind
  • UTGUnder the Gun
  • MPMiddle Position
  • HJHijack
  • COCut Off
  • BTNButton

Call, Raise, or Fold?

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:

With Folds or Calls in Front

  • Position

    Raise when folded to
    Raise with limper(s)
  • Under the Gun

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    Q

    +

    N/A

  • UTG +1

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    J

    +

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    J

    +

  • Middle Position

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    10

    +

    ,

    A

    J

    +

    ,

    K

    Q

    +

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    10

    +

    ,

    A

    J

    +

    ,

    K

    Q

  • MP 1

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    10

    +

    ,

    Q

    J

    +

    ,

    K

    Q

    +

    5

    5

    +

    ,

    A

    10

    +

    ,

    Q

    J

    +

    ,

    K

    Q

  • Hijack

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    9

    +

    ,

    K

    10

    +

    ,

    Q

    J

    +

    ,

    J

    10

    +

    ,

    A

    8

    +

    ,

    7

    7

    +

    6

    6

    +

    ,

    A

    9

    +

    ,

    K

    J

    +

    ,

    K

    8

    +

    ,

    Q

    J

    +

    ,

    Q

    8

    +

    ,

    J

    10

    +

    ,

    10

    9

    +

  • Cut Off

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    6

    +

    ,

    K

    9

    +

    ,

    K

    8

    +

    ,

    Q

    10

    +

    ,

    Q

    8

    +

    ,

    J

    10

    +

    ,

    J

    9

    +

    6

    6

    +

    ,

    A

    9

    +

    ,

    K

    J

    +

    ,

    K

    8

    +

    ,

    Q

    J

    +

    ,

    Q

    8

    +

    ,

    J

    10

    +

    ,

    10

    9

    +

  • Button

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    2

    +

    ,

    K

    2

    +

    ,

    Q

    7

    +

    ,

    J

    8

    +

    ,

    10

    8

    +

    ,

    5

    6

    +

    ,

    6

    4

    +

    ,

    7

    4

    +

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    2

    +

    ,

    A

    8

    +

    ,

    K

    8

    +

    ,

    K

    9

    +

    ,

    Q

    8

    +

    ,

    Q

    10

    +

    ,

    J

    9

    +

    ,

    J

    10

    +

    ,

    10

    9

    +

  • Small Blind

    2

    2

    +

    ,

    K

    J

    +

    ,

    A

    8

    +

    ,

    Q

    J

    +

    ,

    7

    8

    +

    8

    8

    +

    ,

    A

    8

    +

    ,

    A

    9

    +

    ,

    K

    9

    +

    ,

    K

    10

    +

    ,

    Q

    10

    +

    ,

    Q

    J

    +

    ,

    J

    10

    +

  • Big Blind

    N/A

    10

    10

    +

    ,

    A

    J

    +

    ,

    K

    Q

    +

So does all of that make sense? Can you see how we are adding more hands as we occupy a later position?

We aren't always in a position where we want to raise. When someone raises ahead of you, you definitely don't want to raise with the same hands we just listed. You also don't 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.

With a Raise in the Front

  • Position

    Re-raise (3 bet, 4 bet)
    Call bet
  • Under the Gun

    Q

    Q

    +

    ,

    A

    K

    N/A

  • UTG +1

    Q

    Q

    +

    ,

    A

    K

    2

    2

    -

    J

    J

    ,

    A

    Q

    ,

    A

    J

    +

    ,

    K

    Q

  • Middle Position

    Q

    Q

    +

    ,

    A

    Q

    2

    2

    -

    J

    J

    ,

    A

    Q

    ,

    A

    J

    +

    ,

    K

    Q

  • MP 1

    J

    J

    +

    ,

    A

    Q

    +

    2

    2

    -

    10

    10

    ,

    A

    J

    ,

    K

    Q

  • Hijack

    J

    J

    +

    ,

    A

    K

    2

    2

    -

    10

    10

    ,

    A

    Q

    ,

    A

    J

    ,

    K

    Q

  • Cut Off

    J

    J

    ,

    A

    K

    +

    2

    2

    -

    10

    10

    ,

    A

    Q

    ,

    A

    J

    ,

    K

    Q

  • Button

    10

    10

    +

    ,

    A

    Q

    +

    2

    2

     

    9

    9

    ,

    A

    Q

    ,

    A

    J

    ,

    K

    Q

  • Small Blind

    Q

    Q

    +

    ,

    A

    K

    9

    9

    -

    J

    J

    ,

    A

    Q

  • Big Blind

    Q

    Q

    ,

    A

    K

    8

    8

    -

    J

    J

    ,

    A

    Q

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 guide.

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