Poker starting hand strategy

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Mark | Poker Articles, Poker Rules

This article is a part of the Poker Rules series.

Step 4: Learning which starting hands to play:

Starting hand selection is one of the fundamental skills of Texas Hold’em No Limit, so take your time with this step. The concept of position is closely tied to hand selection and thus needs explaining before we can move on. In my previous post I described the Texas Hold’em No Limit gameplay and the role of the Big Blind, The Small Blind and the dealer. The dealer in Texas Hold’em has the best position on the entire table, since he/she is the third last player to act in the first betting round and the last player to act in all the subsequent betting rounds. Being the last player to act is a major advantage in Texas Hold’em. You won’t be betting blindly into a pot without knowing what players after you will do, and being last to act you gain a great deal of information on which cards the other players might have from their betting patterns. In addition you will know exactly what your pot odds (I will explain this concept in a following post) are for calling and therefore make correct decisions every time.

Due to the importance of position, the range of starting hands you should play changes according to your placement on the table relative to the dealer button. Generally speaking you will have a much tighter hand selection when you are in early position (Small Blind, Big Blind, UTG (“under the gun”; the player to the immediate left of the Big Blind), UTG+1) as compared to middle position (UTG+2, UTG+3, UTG+4, TB-2 (“The Button”; the position of the dealer) and late position (TB-1, TB). I am a conservative player which is reflected in the following hand selection suggestions. If you are an agressive player you will play your opponents more than your cards, but since this is not my style of play I will not write about it here.

Early Position:

Raise with AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 1010, AK (suited or unsuited), AQ (suited)

Middle Position:

Raise with AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 1010, AK (suited or unsuited), AQ (suited), 99, 88, AQ (unsuited), AJ (suited or unsuited), KQ (suited or unsuited)

Late Position:

Raise with AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 1010, AK (suited or unsuited), AQ (suited), 99, 88, AQ (unsuited), AJ (suited or unsuited), KQ (suited or unsuited), 77, ace-x, QJ (suited), J10 (suited)

The hand selection listed above, applies in the situation where all players before you have folded of if you have very few callers. In my next post I will give a more detailed explanation of how your hand selection and betting patterns should change according to the action before you.

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4 Comments to Poker starting hand strategy

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June 26, 2008

Fantastic post!

June 30, 2008

Great post.
When it come to play Texas Hold’em starting hand selection really matters. You really have suggeted some very good hand positions of a conservative player.

Gary Chambers
March 31, 2010

I would like to ask about heads up. we play Monday and Thursday at the local club and when it comes to heads-up, the debate is who is big blind? some say that the dealer should never be big blind and others say that he should be big blind.

Any help please.

Thank you

March 31, 2010

In heads up holdem, the dealer button has the small blind and the other player has the big blind. The dealer button gets dealt the first card (because he is the small blind), then the big blind gets his/her first card. Then after the players get their cards, the preflop betting starts with the small blind — the dealer button. After the flop is shown, now the player on the dealer button is last to act (like normal). So preflop the dealer has to act first and gets the small blind, after the flop — flop, turn and river betting — the dealer is second to act.

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