The discussion about the best starting hands in poker is as old as the game itself, with the likes of Phil Hellmuth trying to give some definitive answers many years ago. The truth is that the strength of your hand in poker always depends on many factors, and the two cards you are dealt alone are not enough to determine everything in the game.
Yet, there is a lot to be said about the power of a starting hand in poker, which is why it's critical for new players to grasp the concept of the best Hold’em starting hands.
While the exact hands may vary a bit, especially at the bottom of this list, depending on how you evaluate its equity and playability, we put together a list of hands you should almost always feel comfortable playing. We will teach you the top 10 starting hands in Texas Hold’em, their advantages, and how you should play them for the most part.
Pocket aces are by far the most powerful starting hand in the game and one that every poker player loves to look down at. Regardless of the game format you are playing in, the depth of your stack, or the opponents you are up against, it’s always a beautiful thing to look down at a pair of aces.
Being the absolute best of all the best starting hands in poker, pocket aces is a hand you always want to play for a raise, regardless of the previous action. If there were three raises in front of you, going for yet another raise is never a mistake.
Of course, there are some situations in which you may want to slow-play your pocket aces, but we don’t recommend doing this if the stacks are deep. You want to get as much money in before the flop as possible.
You always know you are holding the nuts with AA before the flop, so if you can get it all in with someone, you definitely want to do that.
One thing to remember is that AA is not always the nuts by the river, and you should be careful on dangerous board textures that favor your opponents' range.
Be ready to give up on your aces after the board comes out dangerous and your opponents play back at you heavily, especially in single-raised pots with many chips behind.
The second best hand in Texas Hold’em is pocket kings, a big pocket pair that’s almost always the best hand before the community cards are dealt out.
Much like pocket aces, pocket kings are a hand you want to get as much money in before the flop as you can, going as far as putting your entire stack in most of the time.
Pocket kings should be played very aggressively, perhaps even more aggressively than pocket aces, as there is always a chance of an ace hitting the board and slowing down the action or killing your KK altogether.
While slow-playing pocket kings is also possible, you want to try and play for a raise as often as you can.
Every once in a while, you will lose a big pot with KK when you run into AA and get all the money in before the flop, but don't worry about that. You will win it all back when the situation is reversed.
Just like you need to do with AA, you should be careful playing after the flop with KK, as many board textures will prefer your opponents’ holdings to yours. Remember to play KK cautiously on boards like 8h7h6c, as there is a solid chance someone has a better hand than you on the flop or a monster draw that can easily beat you. In this situation, your hand mostly becomes a bluff-catcher.
Going broke with KK after the flop every single time is a big mistake, and controlling the size of the pot and catching bluffs on turn and river is a critical part of the strategy with them.
Coming in third place among the best poker starting hands is pocket queens, the third-best pocket pair in the game and one of the top hands you want to see when you peel your hole cards.
A pair of queens is an extremely powerful hand, but one that is only a slight favorite against AK, a very common hand with many more combinations than pocket pairs.
Considering how often someone has AK, KK, or AA when you have QQ, you want to be more cautious with this hand, especially at full-ring tables. That doesn’t mean you should be throwing QQ away or that you should not be raising with it in most cases, but simply that some caution is advised.
Unlike the two bigger pocket pairs, pocket queens can often be played in several different ways, especially if the stacks are deep and there is a lot of room for maneuvering.
Remember that you will often see an overcard on the flop when you hold QQ, which means that catching bluffs and playing for thin value will be the case much more often than with KK or AA.
Still, pocket queens will make you a huge profit regardless of how you play them, and you should be able to crush your opponents on average when you hold this powerful poker hand.
While it does rank fourth on this list of the best starting hands in poker, AK suited is often one of the preferable hands you want to see. In fact, as the stacks get deeper, AKs become a lot more attractive as it offers many more ways to win a big pot and beat other hands.
Whenever you hold AKs in raised and re-raised pots, you will often be up against hands that contain an A or a K, which you completely dominate.
Furthermore, the straights and flushes you make with AKs are always the nuts, which means that stacking your opponents will be the case a lot more often than with other hands.
The suited version of big slick allows you to make straight and flush draws with overcards on the flop, which are extremely powerful bluffing candidates and hands you can continue with in most cases.
While AKs may be a slight underdog against QQ if it goes to a showdown before the flop, it's a hand you will prefer to see in a cash game or deep-stacked tournament situations where many chips are still available for post-flop play.
A pair of jacks is not nearly as powerful as hands like AA or KK, with both AK and AQ being in a virtual flip against it and three different pocket pairs dominating it.
Still, holding JJ is a great place to start in a poker hand, and it does rank as the fifth-best starting hand in Texas Hold’em, so it’s not one that you should dismiss.
Despite some famous YouTubers saying there’s no right way to play pocket jacks, that’s not quite true, and there are many ways to play them for a great profit.
However, JJ is certainly not a hand you should get married to or stack off with if you have too many big blinds, with anything over 50 bb being a situation in which you should consider carefully.
Pocket jacks are an amazing hand against ultra-aggressive players who like to make 3-bets and 4-bets but fold to further action, as the hand is strong enough to put in that one extra raise.
You should still be more than happy to stack off with JJ in shallow stack tournament situations and look to make some sets or see some small flops in cash game hands and get your value on the flop, turn, and river, respectively.
While AK is a powerful hand, even when not suited, it lacks the power of flopping the nut flush draw with just two suited cards on the board or making a flush with just three community cards.
While this advantage may not seem too big and is not in terms of sheer equity, it makes quite a big difference in how often you can win a big pot with it.
Your best opportunities to win big with AK will be when you make a straight, trips, or two pair with this hand and are up against a dominant hand.
While it’s true you can win many big pots with AK, it’s also true that you will lose quite a few significant pots with it, especially at deeper stack sizes.
You will want to try and get as many chips into the pot preflop as you can when holding AK in tournaments, while caution is advised in cash game situations when stacks are deep, and you may well be up against a better hand.
With pocket tens, we are starting to get into the category of hands you would not call premiums in most situations, apart from very shallow stack situations in late-game tournament poker.
A pair of tens is still stronger than most other hands in poker, but given that you are only flipping against combinations like QJ, KJ, and KQ, the hand loses quite a bit of the value of the bigger pocket pairs.
You should always enter a pot for a raise with TT and usually 3-bet this hand as well, but probably avoid putting in the 4th or any consecutive bet after it.
However, TT is an amazing hand to catch bluffs, make sets, and play against opponents who can’t seem to fold when they flop a top pair that’s beat by your pocket tens.
Remain cautious and careful the next time you are dealt TT, but also be ready and willing to go all the way if the situation dictates it.
Much like AKs, AQs is a hand you prefer to see over the likes of JJ and TT in deep stack situations, mostly because of its playability on later streets.
While pairs like JJ and TT easily lose their value on A or K high boards, AQs remain reasonably strong hands even on boards that miss it, assuming at least one card of the appropriate suit is out there and there is no king on the board.
For instance, on a board of Js9d7c, AdQd still has quite a bit of playability and options to improve and give you the best hand or a great bluffing opportunity on the turn or the river.
Holding AQs in position makes you a force to be reckoned with, regardless of the board texture, as there are so many flops and turns that you can make AQs work on.
Of course, AQs is not a hand to get tied down to or always lose every last chip you have, but it can make you richer if you learn how to play it right.
Another ace high hand of the suited variety, AJs, shares much of its playability and strength with AQs, with the kicker problem being its only downside.
Much like AQs, AJs will give you many great bluffing opportunities on flops and turns as you make straight and flush draws with overcards on the early streets.
Make sure to maximize the value of AJs by playing it in position as often as possible and ensuring that you remain aggressive with it before the flop.
Dictating the action with a hand like this is very important, as you will need players to fold to your bets often if you are to extract the maximum value.
While KQs rank below AJs in terms of the best starting hands in poker, many players really like this broadway hand. King queen suited is a poker hand with amazing playability and the ability to flop open-ended straight draws on top of flush draws, which makes it extra powerful.
Of course, you will encounter some kicker problems when you face the likes of AK and AQ, but in the long run, you will also be able to win many big pots against other Broadway combos you dominate.
KQs is a hand that warrants aggressive play before the flop and allows you to maneuver and bluff your way to a win on many different board textures, making it a powerful candidate for our top 10 list.
While many people would argue that a hand like 99 should be a better hand to place on this list, KQs is likely a better hand in the long run, especially when stack depths start to get deeper.
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