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Pre-Flop Starting Hands in Texas Hold ‘Em

One of the first things that players must learn in Texas Hold 'Em is which starting hands to play and which ones to fold before the flop. One of the most common mistakes that beginning players can make to play too many hands pre-flop (See the article Winning the Battle of Mistakes for other common mistakes). Although it seems that poker pros on TV and your opponents on PokerStars.com or Everest Poker are playing lots of rags pre-flop and constantly hitting the flop, the reality is that over the long run, the best way to maximize the value of your bets is to wisely choose your starting hands.

While many factors will influence whether or not to play, such as the type of game, how many opponents are involved, what their styles are (See Know Your Opponents!), table limits and the pot odds you are presented with, this article is meant to present you with a general guide to use when you are just starting out. For example, the more opponents there are, the tighter you have to play it since the likelihood increases that someone is holding a very strong hand.  On the other hand, if you’re playing heads-up or a short-handed game, then starting values of hole cards plummet and you need to be much more aggressive. These playing strategies are meant as a starting point and have been simplified to some extent.

A word of advice before we dive in: judiciously choosing your starting hands will require you to be self-disciplined enough to stick to it. Think about it: you’re going into battle – you want to have the best weapons possible when you face off with your opponent. While for many players these playing strategies often mean that you get involved in less pots than you might have in the past, the time you spend waiting to pick your sots can be put to good use: study your opponents, try to make reads on them and observe their betting patterns. This is a much more valuable use of your time than gambling on weak starting hands.

Hands to Raise with

The following hands are “premium hands” that you generally want to jam the pot with pre-flop:

  • AA, KK – with these hands, you should mostly raise from all positions. In addition, from all positions, you will generally call a re-raise. In rare cases, you may fold the KK when faced with a re-raise, such as in a no-limit game where an extremely player bets very aggressively. You could be up against AA! (For more on pocket aces, see The Challenge of Playing Pocket Aces.)
  • QQ, JJ, AK suited – in this case you should generally mix in calls and raises from all positions. Sometimes you’ll fold to re-raises in rare cases depending on how you read your opponent.
  • TT, AQ, AJ, KQ, AK – These hands require some more insight on your part. Obviously, if they are suited they are stronger. From all positions, you will usually want to raise rather than call. Again, depending on the other factors, you may fold a re-raise sometimes, but generally call.
Hands to Call with
With the following hands, you generally want to see the flop and then decide what to do, unless you are getting some kind of indication that you are beat.
  • 99, KT, QJ, KJ, AT, AQ – These hands might be worth a raise in mid to late positions to see where you are at. If a raise comes around to you, it’s generally advisable to fold, although depending on its size, you may prefer to call.
  • A8, KQ, 88, QT, A9, AT, AJ, JT – These hands might pay you off but also might get you in trouble if you end up being dominated. Generally, it’s worth a small raise sometimes to get information and to call small raises with a small number of opponents in order to see if you hit the flop really well. In most cases, however, you ought to fold to raises and re-raises with these hands.
Most other starting hands, you ought to just fold. And, of course, the final note: Don't forget to mix up your play! You definitely want to avoid falling into patterns and becoming too predictable.

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