The two hole cards received by the player at the beginning of each game make up his starting hand. All the possible starting hands can be divided into several groups, depending on their actual and potential strength. In most cases, the strength of a given player’s hand is an important (but not the only) factor when it comes to determining what course of action will he take. The classification of starting hands and their relative strength is the subject of this article.
The pair is the only combination in Hold’em that can be assembled before the flop. The probability of being dealt a pocket pair (ie. a pair consisting of your hole cards) in a separate distribution is 5.88%. This means that if the dealer gave you any kind of a pair, you hand is likely to be the strongest in the first round of betting. Nevertheless, the flop is also quite likely to put you behind in some situations.
The strongest starting hands are pair – AA, KK and QQ. Pre-flop (ie. before the flop) it’s recommended for the beginners to raise all those hands.
JJ, TT and 99 are also quite strong. Nevertheless, if you take them to the flop often you will lose, especially if you have a number of rivals. Therefore, you should vary your play with these hands and consider the position, the stage of the tournament, stacks sizes and other factors.
For the remaining pairs, passive play and hunting for a set is recommended during the early stages of the tournament – and if you receive aggression from your opponents, you should probably hold. In the later stages these hands sometimes (but not always) allow for more daring play, especially when you believe you might force your opponents to fold.
A Broadway hand is a hand with two unpaired cards with each of them being stronger than a ten. Any combination of Broadway cards can turn a top pair on the flop – and top pairs are very likely to win you the pot.
The combination of the top Broadway cards – AK – is generally the strongest unpaired hand you can have on the flop. This sort of a hand benefits from aggressive play during the first round of betting, because it is extremely likely to get a king or an ace on the table, which often results in at least a top pair.
Suited aces in poker obviously don’t mean two aces of the same suit, as the game is played with a single deck. This kind of hand is basically an ace and any other card of the same suit, for example: A 5, A 7.
With this hand – even if you flop an ace – you can still be behind your opponent, because he might hold an ace and one of the Broadway cards. Therefore, suited aces should be folded or played passively to look for an opportunity to make a flush.
Medium and low connectors
Connectors are two cards that follow one another in terms of value, for example 54 or 87. Connectors are good because they may turn into a straight, ie. their straight-potential is very high.
High connectors are composed of Broadway cards and should be played accordingly. Unfortunately, with the remaining connectors you can’t count on making a top pair, so you should play them occasionally only.
The connectors can be further divided into suited and unsuited connectors. Suited connectors have the potential to make not only a straight, but also a flush – so their value naturally is higher.
This category includes hands like 97, 6 4, 5 3 etc. They have a good potential for making a flush and some potential for making a straight, so when you see an opportunity you should consider playing them as well.
Starting hands that are do not fit into any of the categories described above are consider to be trash. They are not suitable to drawing at all and basically can be used in forced bluff situations only.
By utilizing the theory of probability, it is possible to calculate the odds of winning a particular pot. Regulars (users who play regularly) tend to use specialized software to calculate those odds. However, each player who takes his poker career seriously should learn the chances of winning the pot in standard situations.
As you play the game, you will often find yourself in a situation in which two rivals move all-in with almost equal chances of winning the pot. These situations are more common in the later stages of poker tournaments and are called coin flips, as the chances of winning the pot are similar to betting on the heads or tails in a coin toss. Setting a pair against two high cards pre-flop often results in a coinflip. Most of the times, the chances will actually be 53-56% in favor of one of the players, depending on the straight and flush draw potential of the hands involved. QQ against AK is a classic example of a coinflip.
One of the factors influencing the outcome of a given hand is the sequence in which players take their actions. The player who makes the last move in a betting round has all the information about the actions of his opponents, which – like in many other games – is important in poker because it gives him an idea about the range (ie. the card combinations they might actually hold) of his rivals. Therefore, being the last player to act is a significant advantage.
Being the last player to act is called being in position in poker. Other players are out of position when dealing with such a person in that situation.
Aside from pre-flop, all the betting rounds always end with the player on the button making his move – unless, of course, he hasn’t folded his hand. Therefore, being on the button gives you the best position and allows you to play the greatest number of hands. For example, you can choose to enter the game with connectors if you’re playing from the button, but you definitely shouldn’t do that when you’re to the left of the blinds. Generally speaking, you should fold most hands aside from the strongest few when playing out of position.