Every poker player has their 'favorite' hand, but which hands are the best ones you can be dealt? Here we run through the top 10 starting hands in No-Limit Texas Hold'em - you're in good shape if you look down and see any of these, but occasionally there is also reason to be wary. Opinions vary on the strength of hands 6 through 10, and other factors such as your position and the number of players in the hand will also come into play.
The strongest starting hand in poker, pocket aces are a strong pre-flop favorite over any other two cards, and a 4:1 favorite over almost any hand. You will be dealt 'pocket rockets', as they are also known, on average once every 221 hands, so it makes sense to get excited about them pre-flop. However it's worth remembering that their likelihood of winning goes down as more players enter the pot, so the fewer opponents you're up against the better.
Pocket Kings, also known as 'cowboys', are a favorite against any hand except aces. There are not many flops that should make you too worried, however it is worth remembering that kings will only win against a hand with one ace just over two thirds of the time. You will almost always be happy to get your money in pre-flop with pocket kings.
If you get dealt pocket queens, you are safe in the knowledge that only eight overcards are left in the deck, or even fewer if you get your money in against an opponent with an ace, a king, or ace king. You will want to play this hand strongly before the flop, raising or re-raising from any position almost all of the time, and you will still frequently run into plenty of opponents prepared to commit their money with weaker hands.
This hand is often nicknamed 'Anna Kournikova' by recreational players - it's pretty to look at, but doesn't win as much as you think it should. It is easy to fall in love with ace-king suited, and it is by no means a weak hand, winning against all pocket pairs half of the time (except for pocket aces and pocket kings). However it is also worth bearing in mind that if you don't connect with the flop then you just have ace-high.
It's a common saying in poker that there are three ways to play pocket jacks and all of them are wrong. However this is a bit of a cliché, and the hand is a favorite or coin-flip (50:50) against any unpaired hand and a strong pre-flop favorite over any lower pocket pair. It is still a very strong hand, particularly if the pot is unraised and you look down at jacks in late-position, though you can be a little more careful if an opponent has come in for an early-position raise.
Pocket tens are a strong starting hand - strong enough that you don't need to hit a third ten on the flop to continue. They will still win against overcards every other time, though there are far more combinations where it is not as strong a favorite as pocket jacks. If there is a lot of action before you then it is sometimes easy to fold tens before the flop, as you can see in this World Series of Poker clip.
While this hand is an underdog against an offsuit Ace-King, it ranks higher due to its relative strength against other starting hands. Sometimes you will find yourself in a spot where you need to fold, even after hitting a pair on the flop. However if you completely miss the flop then it's easier to stay out of trouble with a hand like this.
Weaker than its suited counterpart due to its decreased likelihood of hitting a flush, an offsuit ace-king will still win at least 40% of the time against any hand other than aces or kings. Sometimes it is worth calling in position with this hand before the flop, to keep the pot small and still get paid if you pair one of your two hole cards.
Like a suited ace-king or ace-queen, this hand can make a royal flush. However it is one that is worth playing more carefully, especially if a player has raised from early position. Any ace-king or ace-queen combination still has you beat if you pair your ace, so you don't want to fall in love with ace-jack.
Just edging out ace-ten suited and pocket nines, king-queen suited is a hand that is said to 'flop well'. It can make a large number of straights and flushes, while just hitting one pair will sometimes give you the best hand. However you should be able to fold this hand fairly easily if the action before you suggests other players are entering the pot with a strong hand.