Which starting hands should you play pre-flop, and which should you fold? Read these tips, and watch Paul Phua’s video
One of the biggest money-losing “leaks” for inexperienced players is to play too wide a range of starting hands. Building a hand up to the river is like building a house: the foundations must be solid if your final hand is to stand up.
But, you may say, I could always get lucky on the flop! Indeed, you can make two pairs on the flop with any two hole cards – but it will only happen 1 in 50 times. Next time you play poker, keep a note of how much it costs each time you see the flop with a poor starting hand, only to fold when you don’t “get lucky”. Then compare it with how much you win when you do finally hit. You will see that it loses you money in the long run.
But, you may say, it’s boring to wait for a good hand! One tip is to repeat to yourself, “I like to fold.” Congratulate yourself every time you fold a starting hand for the money you are saving! And in a live poker game, you should always be observing the other players: watching the action and trying to predict their hands before the showdown is fascinating in itself, and will help you get a read on your opponents.
So, what starting hands should you play? It is difficult to generalise. It will depend on how loose your table is, which position you are in relative to the button, and how big your stack is in relation to the blinds. Different poker experts have constructed different charts of which starting hands to play in which situations. But the basic rule is: the higher your cards are, the better (inexperienced players should generally not play the hand without at least two picture cards). And if they are both suited, that can help.
Here are some common pitfalls that Paul Phua outlines in the video on this page:
Be careful with your high cards
The higher your two starting cards are, the better. Ace-Queen, for instance, is a strong starting hand that you should almost always play pre-flop unless there is strong re-raising. But don’t go mad with it, all the same. If you hit an Ace on the flop, Paul Phua says to watch out for signs that you are beaten by someone with Ace-King. Even if you hit a Queen, where your Ace also gives you the top kicker, you should ask yourself whether someone might have pocket Kings or even Aces.
Beware low pairs
The higher your pocket pair is, the better. Low pocket pairs will rarely be winning by the river unless you hit a set, and there is only a 1 in 8 chance of that happening on the flop. That’s why Paul Phua says in this video that he most often throws away pocket pairs lower than fives. Inexperienced players should call with low or medium pairs only in late position and if it is very cheap to do so, and be prepared to fold post-flop if there are overcards and they do not hit a set.
Beware offsuit cards
You can play a slightly wider range of starting hands if they are suited. As Paul Phua says in this video, the chances of you getting a flush may be small, but if you do, you stand to make a lot of money. Even getting a flush draw on the flop can be a powerful tool (read “How to play a flush draw”). It is particularly dangerous to play an unsuited Ace with a low kicker, because there is a good chance someone else will have an Ace with a higher kicker. However, a suited Ace has great potential as a starting hand, and Paul Phua will almost always play it.
Beware suited low cards
Don’t imagine, however, that suited cards give you such an advantage that you should play any two of the same suit. You still want to be playing high cards! There are two reasons for this: one is that suited high cards give you two chances to win: with a flush, and with a good pair. The other is that if you have suited low cards, and someone else has high cards in the same suit, you will lose a fortune even if you do hit your flush! It is best for beginners not to risk it, and just throw away suited low cards pre-flop. As Paul Phua says, “It is better to have the Ace-high flush and be hoping for it to happen, not the low flush and trying to hold on.”
Top 10 starting hands in Texas Hold ’Em poker
- Pocket Aces
- Pocket Kings
- Pocket Queens
- Ace-King suited
- Pocket Jacks
- Ace-Queen suited
- King-Queen suited
- Ace-King offsuit
- Ace-Jack suited
- Pocket tens
Please read our best and worst poker hands video script.