- 20 Best Starting Hands Texas Holdem
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In the first part of the article we looked at Six plus Hand Rankings, where it became clear that the 16 cards missing from the deck in this variant leads to a slight, but important, changes in how strong the starting hands are which we will receive.
A pair of aces, also known as 'pocket rockets' (and sometimes 'American Airlines') is the best starting hand for Texas Hold 'em. Be wary of how many other players enter the pot, as more. Pocket tens is essentially the best hand out of a lower-tiered group of starting hands. It’s still a very good hand against rags but it’s crushed by the aforementioned AA, KK, QQ and JJ. It’s also a coin flip against ace-king.
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If we look at traditional Texas Hold’em starting hands, we would expect to get our beloved AA about once every 221 hands, so what about in our new version of the game?
Well, without troubling you with the maths (I CAN do it, honestly!) the answer is you’ll get your pocket rockets once every 105 hands, which is more than twice as often as in Texas Hold’em!
Naturally, what goes for aces also goes for the other pairs – you’ll have a pocket pair more than twice as regularly in Six plus Hold’em (as will your opponent! Don’t forget this important consideration).
Are there any other changes we need to know about regarding starting hands?
Let's Say We have JJ
A naturally tricky starting hand in Texas Hold’em, but one we would probably open-raise with pre-flop. How does it fare in Six Plus?
We need to realize that instead of beating nine other pairs pre-flop, now it is only a favorite against 5, and still a dog to QQ, KK and AA. So it is not as strong in this respect.
However, because 3 of a kind now beats a straight in Six Plus, flopping a set becomes very strong against many hands – flushesare harder to come by, as we saw previously, because there are only nine cards of any single suit available in the deck.
So, how often will our smaller pairs flop a set? In Texas Hold’em it’s about 11.8% or roughly one time in eight. In Six Plus, we will do the maths quickly (just to prove I can!)
There are 36 cards in the pack, we have – let’s say again – JJ in our hand. So there are two jacks left in the 34 remaining cards.
What About the Hated 72 Offsuit?
In traditional Texas Hold’em this is the worst starting hand, and almost completely unplayable. Well, as you can probably work out yourself quite easily, in Six Plus the equivalent hand is J 6 offsuit, which, let’s be honest, would rarely be played even in our normal game!
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Playing AK Becomes an 'Interesting' Problem
Well, first off, we will be dealt AK about 2.5% of our hands – which is quite a lot of the time, maybe once every five or six rounds at a full ring table, so it’s important enough to learn its worth in Six Plus Hold’em.
If we accept that suited versions become a lot more valuable - flushes beat full houses in our new version - then it can also make sense to play AKs slower than usual. Mixing our game up with AKs hides our play better, while AKo is still a very strong hand which we can 3-bet and even consider stacking off with.
Of course 66 now becomes the smallest pocket pair. In Texas Hold’em we could consider calling pre-flop raises with this hand if the price was right – flopping a set and cracking a higher pair is our main goal – but now we have to consider that we are essentially playing 22 in a game where set-over-set sees our 6’s screwed, although on the plus side they do now beat straights!
Relative Hand Values
We need to be aware that these change a fair bit from Texas Hold’em, since stronger hands in general are being played across the board. Top pair, top kicker is nowhere near as strong – in fact it is very unlikely to win on its own as a best hand at showdown in 6-max or full-ring when we play Six Plus Hold’em.
There is also the ‘alternative river version’ of the game to consider, when receiving an extra hole card means that hand strengths can become stronger still.
So, in general two pair would be a median winning hand at full-ring – a useful thing to know when planning your hand strategy!
We will look at the change in Pot Odds in part 3, but a casual glance at things like ‘drawing hands’ shows that we are more likely to his many of them, as we have fewer cards left containing the same number of outs. For example, a gutshot – where any of four cards hits for us – now gives us 4/31 chances to hit after the flop, as opposed to 4/47 in Texas Hold’em – a significant difference indeed!
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20 Best Starting Hands Texas Holdem
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One of the first books I ever read about Texas holdem strategy was Phil Hellmuth’s Play Poker Like the Pros. And one of the first lessons I learned from that book was the importance of tight play before the flop. Hellmuth presents a list of the top 10 starting hands in Texas holdem, and he suggests that you ONLY play hands from that list.
His list is a little different from the one I present below, though. His list consists of any pocket pair of 7s or better, plus ace king suited and ace queen suited.
My list is less bull-ish on pocket pairs, though. I also include some more high hands that have suited and connected value.
Of course, you should consider any guide to Texas holdem starting hands to be like training wheels on a bicycle. They’re great at first—maybe even necessary—but eventually, you shouldn’t need a starting hands chart at all. You’re just able to make good decisions based on the situations you’re in.
1- Pocket Aces
Unless you’re completely unfamiliar with poker or you’ve been living under a rock, you already know that pocket aces are the strongest starting hand in Texas holdem. It’s also one of the easiest hands to play correctly. Just bet and raise with it.
Since it’s impossible for any of the other players in the hand to have a better starting hand, betting and raising with pocket aces is always correct.
I have read that some players like to check with pocket aces if they’re in first position at a full table. The idea is that someone behind you will bet and maybe someone will even raise, giving you the opportunity to re-raise and maybe even put them all-in. (This applies mostly to no limit games.)
My friend Wes insists that checking with pocket aces is always a mistake, even in this limited set of circumstances. Sometimes I check with pocket aces just to get on his nerves.
Anyway, pocket aces pretty much play themselves. They often win even if the hand doesn’t improve over the course of the flop, turn, and river.
2- Pocket Kings
Playing pocket kings preflop is also dead simple. You just bet and raise with this hand repeatedly. Your goal should be to get all your chips into the pot before the flop. The only way you can possibly be dominated when you have pocket kings is if one of your opponents has pocket aces. And your opponents usually DON’T have pocket aces.
You’ll get calls from players with pocket jacks, pocket queens, or ace king or ace queen suited. In all those situations, you’re the favorite, so getting your money in the pot in that situation is the right thing to do.
Real cash slots online. Pocket kings get tricky when an ace shows up on the flop. Now you have to start thinking about what you’re going to do next.
You want to avoid making the mistake of overplaying your hand in this situation. Pocket kings aren’t the nuts, and once the flop has hit, the strength of your hand has likely changed. It’s okay to fold.
Position is important when that ace hits, because if you’re in late position, you can get a feel for what your opponent might be holding.
Don’t be afraid to fold pocket kings when an ace shows up on the flop, though. You shouldn’t automatically give up on the hand, either, but don’t play it like it’s the nuts.
Lots of players, especially newcomers or beginners, are really bullish on aces preflop—even if their other card is low in value and not of the same suit. Be willing to give your opponent credit for having that ace I the hole.
3- Pocket Queens
It’s even more important to avoid getting married to pocket queens than it is to avoid marrying pocket kings. You should bet and raise with pocket queens before the flop, although maybe less aggressively than you would aces or kings. You then need to be cautious if you see a king or an ace on the flop.
I almost never fold pocket queens before the flop, because the odds of my opponent having pocket kings or pocket aces are so low.
But the odds that someone still in the hand on the flop has one king or one ace preflop are good, so if I see one of those cards on the flop, I start getting more cautious. If I’m first to act, I’m usually good for a continuation bet, but if I get raised or re-raised, I’m willing to get away from the hand.
If I’m in late position with pocket queens, I’m often good for a bet if no one has acted, but I’m probably not going to raise or re-raise aggressive players in early position.
Pocket queens are a great hand, but they’re not the same as pocket kings or aces and shouldn’t be played as if they were.
4- Ace King Suited
Ace king is often called “big slick,” and if the 2 cards are suited, some players call the hand “super slick.” Players fall in love with this hand, as well they should, but it’s important to remember that ace king suited is a speculative hand. If you don’t catch something that helps on the flop, ace king is one you need to be willing to get away from on the flop.
In David Sklansky’s hand groupings, the best possible hands are in “Group 1.” These hands include pocket jacks, queens, kings, or aces. They also include ace king suited.
But there’s a big difference between ace king suited and any of these pocket pairs. In fact, even pocket jacks has a huge difference in strength from pocket aces.
The trick to playing ace king is to avoid overvaluing the hand. Yes, you should bet and probably even raise with this hand preflop. You just need to be ready to get away from the hand on the flop.
It’s also important to pay attention to your opponents’ tendencies. Ace king suited is easily dominated by pocket queens, kings, or aces.
But you also have lots of possibilities with this hand, including the possible nut flush. My favorite move in Texas holdem is to hit 4 to a flush with ace king suited and then play it really aggressively.
This is a classic semi-bluff. You probably don’t have the best hand on the flop, but you still have a roughly 1/3 chance of hitting the nut flush. Combine that with the possibility that your opponents might fold in the face of your aggression, and you have a situation with a lot of expected value.
5- Pocket Jacks
This is the lowest pair in David Sklansky’s top tier hand grouping. This might also be the biggest trouble hand in Texas holdem. It’s easy to overvalue pocket jacks, especially if you haven’t had a lot of playable hand in your time at the table. (I don’t know anyone who enjoys folding for an hour straight.)
The most important factor to consider when playing pocket jacks is position. If you’re in early position, betting or raising with pocket jacks is a good idea, but be cautious when someone plays back against you. From late position, raising is okay against a single opponent, but against multiple bettors and raisers, you might be in trouble.
When the flop hits, it’s time to pay attention. You’ll see overcards on the flop 2/3 of the time, and chances are good that someone has at least a queen in the hole if they’re still in the pot with you. What you’re really hoping for with pocket jacks is to pick up a small pot uncontested preflop, or to hit the flop hard enough that you can play back at someone with big cards.
Pocket jacks are almost always playable, but they’re small pot hands that you need to be willing to get away from.
6- Pocket 10s
I still raise preflop with pocket 10s, especially if I’m in late position, but I’m more cautious with them in late position. I’m almost always in trouble when a high card hits on the flop, and if 2 high cards hit on the flop, I gotta get out of there.
The best case scenario with pocket 10s is the same as with any smaller pair. You’re really hoping to hit a set, which happens rarely, but when it does… you’re going to win a big pot.
Don’t be afraid of making a continuation bet on the flop, though. Just be ready to get away from the hand if one of your opponents starts playing back at you.
Don’t forget, though, that your opponent doesn’t know what you’re holding. Even if an overcard hits, it might not be the overcard that your opponent needs. By making a continuation bet, you can sometimes get your opponent to fold and take down a small pot right away on the flop.
The number of players makes a difference, too—especially preflop. If you’re playing at a full table, your pocket 10s might or might not be the best hand. But if you’re playing at a table with 5 or 6 players, it’s often going to be the best preflop hand out there. This means you should play it aggressively before the flop.
7- Ace King (Not Suited)
Ace king offsuit doesn’t play much differently than ace skin suited, but the difference is big. If you can run the guys holding smaller pairs off before the flop, you’ll be doing well. If you miss the flop, you really have no choice but to slow down. Since you don’t have the flush potential or the semi-bluff potential with the unsuited ace king, it’s a trickier hand to play.
Still, ace king is a premium hand, because you have 6 cards that will improve your hand on the flop. If you see an ace on the flop, you have the best possible pair with the best possible kicker. If you see a king on the flop, you have the top visible pair with the best possible kicker. Someone with pocket aces has you beat, but that’s unlikely.
A lot of players have trouble with big slick, but you needn’t have trouble with it. Play it strong preflop, then slow down on the flop if you miss the flop. If you hit the flop, hit the gas. Most of the time, especially at the lower stakes, all you need to do to play profitable poker is to fold your bad cards and bet and raise with your good cards.
Some advanced players will call this “ABC poker.”
But ABC poker is the beginning of poker wisdom. If you can’t play good ABC poker, you’ll have no chance of doing well with more complicated, multi-level strategies.
8- Ace Queen Suited
I’ve seen poker writers call ace queen suited the worst possible best hand. I’m not sure that’s the case, but ace queen suited is much weaker than ace king suited, even though a lot of players don’t make a distinction.
At a full table, you’re probably going to do just as well by folding ace queen suited from early position as anywhere else. If you’re in middle or late position, ace queen suited is a betting and raising hand, but it’s a hard hand to play from early position.
If there’s a lot of betting and raising preflop, the only sensible move is to fold the ace queen suited and wait for a better hand. Chances are that if a lot of people are betting and raising, someone has a reasonably high pair or at least ace king. In either of those cases, your ace queen suited is thoroughly dominated. Don’t put money in the pot if you’re sure you’re dominated.
The best time and way to play ace queen suited is when you have position and everyone else has demonstrated weakness. You’re hoping to hit an ace or a queen on the flop. You also have a shot at the nut flush, but that gap between ace and queen represents a king which can be a lot of trouble.
It’s easy to miss the flop entirely with ace queen suited, too. If that’s the case with you, it might be your best bet to not bet at all, but just check and fold.
Ace queen suited is considered a trouble hand, but it doesn’t have to be. You just need to be willing to fold it in the face of aggression or in the face of a flop that doesn’t fit your cards.
9- Ace Jack Suited
I don’t play ace jack unsuited at all, and ace jack suited is only barely playable. I’d really rather have a pair of 8s or 9s than ace jack suited. In fact, ace jack suited has all the same problems as ace queen suited, only more so.
Ace jack suited is really best suited for play from late position when you see weakness from your opponents. It might also be more playable at a short-handed table.
You need to hit the flop hard with this hand if you’re going to get into a confrontation with another player. Even if the highest card on the flop is a jack, you’re still very vulnerable to other higher cards on the turn and the river.
Of course, your best case scenario is to hit a big flush, but that’s unusual. But that possibility warrants mentioning, because without the flush possibility, ace jack isn’t even playable most of the time.
I’ve seen ace queen suited called the worst best starting hand, but I think that’s because more people realize just how weak ace jack suited really is. If they weren’t sure about that, ace jack suited would certainly be at least as bad.
10- King Queen Suited
I like king queen suited. I think it’s an easy hand to play.
If you’re in early position, limp in with king queen suited, but only if you’re at a passive table. If you’re at an aggressive table, you’re probably better off folding king queen suited from early position.
You can also limp with king queen suited from middle or later position, and if everyone seems weak, you can even raise with king queen suited from late position.
One of the beauties of king queen suited is that it’s pretty easy to tell where you’re at after the flop. You either have a flush or a strong flush draw, or you don’t. You either have a straight or a strong straight draw, or you don’t. You’ve either hit a high pair or not. Either way, you have an okay kicker.
You should never play king queen suited as aggressively as pocket aces or pocket kings, but this shouldn’t be a trouble hand, either. Pay attention to your position, and pay attention to how well the flop fits your hand. Then play accordingly.
Best Starting Hands Texas Holdem Chart
You can safely ignore any of this advice about the top 10 Texas holdem starting hands and still win at poker. This is a card game, not chess. So many factors, including random chance, affect your outcome that even if you make mistakes, you can come out ahead.
Best Starting Hands In Poker
In fact, with only a little bit of searching, you’ll find other lists of the top 10 starting hands in Texas holdem that include different hands from what I’ve included here. I think most people will agree that between this list and 1 or 2 of those other lists, almost all the playable opening hands will be covered.
Texas Hold'em Hands Names
If you’re playing for lower stakes, ABC poker should be enough to make you profitable. Bet and raise when you think you have the best hand, and fold or check when you think someone else does.
Which hands would you include on your list of the top 10 Texas holdem starting hands and why?