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Before the Flop

Poker Starting Hands

Understand the value of your hole cards and determine what makes one starting hand better than another. Have you got a pair? Suited cards? Similar rank? Here's why it matters.

You may end up seeing seven cards in a complete hand of Texas Hold'em but you will only see two at the very beginning: your concealed "hole" cards. It is the strength of your starting hands that can determine whether you should enter the pot at all.

Strong starting hands win against weaker hands in at least three out of four cases. The subsequent five cards can be used by all the players, so if you start with and your opponent has , the latter probably has to hit an eight to win. (He or she can also make a straight or a spade flush, but the chances are relatively slim.)

In the above example, if the flop comes , both players would have a pair of aces, making the hands seem equally strong. But your  is actually significantly stronger and will win this hand 90 per cent of the time.

It follows that in order to have the better showdown hand as often as possible, you should have the better starting hand as often as possible too. It is vital to have an accurate idea of the value of your starting hand before you decide to enter the pot. You will combine its value with various other factors to determine how to progress.

This article explains the difference between good and bad starting hands.


If your starting hands, or hole cards as they are known, form a pair then you already have a hand one step up the hand rankings ladder. This is known as a "pocket pair".

Obviously, the quality of your hand also depends on the rank of the pair and it follows that the best starting hand in Texas Hold'em is a pair of aces. They look beautiful, and every Texas Hold'em player goes to sleep and dreams of finding nothing but aces in the hole.

A pocket pair can often win a hand of Texas Hold'em without needing to improve on the flop, turn or river. The probability of winning the pot without improving your own hand largely depends on the size of your pocket pair. If you are holding aces, your opponent has to make at least two pair in order to beat you.

Furthermore, if the board brings a third card of the same rank, you have made three of a kind, or a "set". The strength of your hand will often be entirely invisible to your opponent.

But beware! Small pocket pairs can sometimes be dangerous if they do not improve. Another player would only need to match one of his or her hole cards with a bigger community card to make a higher pair. If you hold  you would lose to a player holding  if there was either a jack or a seven on the flop, turn or river. 

The biggest pocket pairs often qualify as monster hands, but smaller pairs can be considered at best speculative and sometimes even trash.

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Entering the Pot

How to put your starting hands into categories - monsters, strong hands, speculative hands and trash - and then ...

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