What Makes A Good Starting Hand In Texas Hold’Em
A truly great player can make any starting hand work at the Texas Hold’em table.
The legendary Doyle Brunson captured consecutive World Series of Poker Main Event titles (1976-77) using the lowly 10-2. And in any elite game, top players will routinely drag massive pots while playing the weakest hands in the deck.
But for the rest of us, succeeding at Texas Hold’em is mostly based on playing the best hands as well as possible.
In this game, with a 52-card deck doling out random two-card starting hands, you’ll have 169 unique starters to work with (not including duplicates by suit).
Texas Hold’em starters can also be lumped into three distinct groups, with 13 pocket pairs (2-2 through A-A), along with 78 unpaired suited hands (A-K suited through 3-2 suited), and 78 unpaired unsuited hands (A-K offsuit through 3-2 offsuit).
Of those, most are considered “junk” hands, or cards too weak to play consistently if you hope to turn a profit.
On the other end of the spectrum are the premiums, or top-tier starting hands that give players a powerful advantage against their opponent’s likely holding.
The very best starting hand you can receive is, of course, pocket aces. With the A-A in the hole, you’ll best any other pocket pair, along with any one pair hand your opponent connects with on the community cards. This hand has earned nicknames like “blades,” “bullets,” and even “weapons of mass destruction” for a reason – it’s a world-beater.
From there, the Texas Hold’em starting hand hierarchy follows a predictable pattern, as you can see below with the full top-15:
5) A-K suited
6) A-Q suited
8) A-K offsuit
9) A-J suited
10) K-Q suited
12) A-10 suited
13) A-Q offsuit
14) K-J suited
As you can see, the 15 strongest starting hands in Texas Hold’em consist entirely of pocket pairs (8-8 through A-A), and various combinations of Broadway cards (10, J, Q, K, A).
For the first four, you should already know what gives these premiums their power. Large pocket pairs don’t need to connect with the board – which is great, because the odds of making even one pair using unpaired starters are just under 33%.
From there, the suited A-K and A-Q offer similar benefits.
First, their suited-ness lends these hands a few extra percentage points of equity by virtue of their likelihood to form a flush. Should you make a pair using your face card, the ace kicker will always have an opponent on the same pair beat. And when you pair the ace, the king kicker is always best, while the queen kicker beats all others but the king.
The power of kickers can’t be understated when discussing Texas Hold’em starting hand strength. Most hands are decided by top pair confrontations, and in this case the tie is broken by the best kicker.
Suitedness is also an important factor – although, not as important as most amateurs suspect – which is why six of the eight non-pair hands on the list involve suited cards. Notice that the A-10 suited is actually ranked one spot higher than the A-Q offsuit.
Evaluating starting hands in this game isn’t so clear-cut, however, and these rankings should only be used as a general guideline.
They’re the best starters in Texas Hold’em, don’t get us wrong there, but factors like stack size, current bet, table position, opponent skill level, and myriad other variables must be fully considered. You may find yourself folding middle pocket pairs to sheer aggression, or playing much weaker hands when an optimal situation to splash around presents itself.
Like we said to start off, any hand in the deck can and will be used against you, so it’s best to learn how to play them all correctly in return.