Knowing the strength or weakness of your starting hand (your hole cards) in Hold-em is one of the most important parts of playing poker successfully. As a new player correctly selecting which hands to play and which to lay down even BEFORE the flop is probably the single most effective way to minimise your loses, and maximise your wins.
Most importantly understanding your position in relation to hand selection is really the key to winning and not losing at hold-em – certain hands are not playable if your first to act but if your on the button (dealer) then you have a lot more playable hands …
Skalansky Poker Hand Ranking
Poker hands are ranked in order best to worst and in Skalansky grouped hands
Skalansky Group 1 Hands … Very Strong, Playable in any position
AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AKsuited
Skalansky Group 2 Hands … Playable in early, middle & late position
TT, AQs, AJs, KQs, AK
Skalansky Group 3 Hands … Playable early, middle & late position
99, JTs, QJs, KJs, ATs, AQ
Skalansky Group 4 Hands … Playable in early, middle & late position
T9s, KQ, 88, QTs, 98s, J9s, AJ, KTs
Skalansky Group 5 Hands … Playable sometimes in early, middle & late position
77, 87s, Q9s, T8s, KJ, QJ, JT, 76s, 97s, Axs, 65s
Skalansky Group 6 Hands … Playable only in middle & late position
66, AT, 55, 86s, KT, QT, 54s, K9s, J8s, 75s
Skalansky Group 7 Hands … Playable only in late position
44, J9, 64s, T9, 53s, 33, 98, 43s, 22, Kxs, T7s, Q8s
Skalansky Group 8 Hands … Generally risky weaker hands
87, A9, Q9, 76, 42s, 32s, 96s, 85s, J8, J7s, 65, 54, 74s, K9, T8
Using and memorising the different Skalansky groups of hands is important and will also come naturally with time if you keep to it. It is also vitally important that you understand the playable position instructions are an integral part of the system and rankings – Always keep reminding yourself that position is vital to a hand’s playability.
Top 10 Texas Hold-em Starting Hands
A lot of poker players and experts squabble over the official top ten starting hands for No Limit Texas Hold-em. Each one backs their opinion with their own top ten list that in truth varies little from the last or next list. Maybe the small variations from list to list are the result of knowledge that comes from long years of play. Maybe they are the product of a computer program. Maybe they are just good old fashioned stubborn opinion … Below are the most commonly cited top ten starting Hold-em hands:
AA / Pocket Aces … Hands down pocket aces are the best starting hand a player can get. When a competitor tips his cards after a deal and involuntarily cracks a smile, it’s probably because he has got a pair of these.
KK / Pocket Kings … This is another combination that raises no controversy with its ranking as the second best starting hand.
QQ / Pocket Queens … A rare few radical players may argue this placement, but most players agree that a pair of ladies takes an easy third in the starting hand rankings.
JJ / Pocket Jacks … The real debate begins with the fourth / fifth place ranking. Some conservative and statistically correct players will place a pair of jacks above the AK suited by merit of its immediate value in the game.
AK Suited / Big Slick … Rank statistically correctly this hand in fifth but some players put it forth, or sixth slot on a top ten list. Often novice players will wrongly place it third (even regardless of suited-ness) above pocket queens … How to play ace king
10 10 / Pocket tens … Sixth is about as high as this hand gets on the average top ten list, though beginners often favour it over the non-pair combos.
AK Unsuited / Big Slick … The big boys in any colour are a regular combo on the top ten list, but often over rated by less experienced players.
AQ Suited … An ace and any face suited have a solid place in the top starting hands.
KQ Suited … As the ace drops out of non-pair face combos, the ranking always gets lower.
AJ Suited … Many players rank this above the KQ.
AQ unsuited … May also appear as an alternate for the KQ suited, depending on the list maker’s preference.
With few other exceptions, these are largely regarded to be the top ten starting hands. Many new players play it safe by folding with anything less than these hand combinations.
This is a far safer tactic than some beginners use; oversimplifying their cards and betting on any pair or combination of face cards. Advanced players know better and don’t have to play it so safe. As with any game, you learn as you go and the more hands you play the better you understand the potential of your hand the next time around.
Good Pre-Flop Hand Selection is Vital
Understanding exactly what possibilities your hand has will also gets you in the correct mindset if your faced with difficult decisions after you’ve seen the flop or when another player puts you to the test.
Following the tips below on general hands types there is a list of starting hand combinations from best to worst – Most novice players will rank at least some of the starting hands incorrectly.
Many players will bet them incorrectly or fall in love with a hand that in most situations really isn’t as good as they think it is.
These are a good start and they will always encourage you to get involved. Chances of getting dealt pocket pair – roughly once in 16 hands. Obviously the higher the pair the better off you are (at least before the flop). Don’t write off a couple of ducks (22) – suddenly they look damn fine if the flop comes Q27 – your going to get plenty of action from someone with a Queen especially if they’ve got an ace or made 2 pair (then you have got to hope they don’t get lucky – bet and sound them out).
Pairs are great but watch out with low pairs if they don’t make trips on the flop you need to be realistic about there value – otherwise endlessly calling big bets with a pair 8’s or less is going to hurt.
medium pairs – 99, 10 10, JJ (hooks) are better – they have a lot more possibilities than low pairs – if the flop comes down rag low cards you’re a little more confident with an over pair (a pair higher than any of the cards on the board). You need to be careful though its always possible someone else has a higher over pair or over cards – and don’t forget they might just have made trips off that innocent looking 2 on the end.
Big Pairs- QQ, KK, AA
You’ve got a hand – make ’em pay to play – but be careful playing them
too slow can let someone catch up fast and you’ll have trouble laying them down – remember its always the 2nd best hand that costs you your stack.
too fast and everyone will think you take them for idiots … and fold
to maximise your profit on these big starting hands you need to judge your opposition – play them hard but if they’re tight players they’re not going to bite unless you’ve been taking down pots on bluffs and they get sick of it.
There isn’t a definitive answer on how to play AA but make ’em pay to play and if the flop shows a scary draw – don’t wait – bet them off – better to take the pot down early than find your greed cost you half your cash.
Ace King – Big Slick
Ace King or AK is one of the trickiest hands to play correctly, often you can loose a lot or only win a little. It therefore warrants an full article of its own which you should read here.
AK, AQ, AJ, A10 can all be playable hands and you should win money on them – but you can also get you into a whole world of trouble with ’em too.
If they’re suited you’ve really got something worth looking at. AK is a good hand – 5th best if its suited, but it’s 9th best if it isn’t – remember that
going down to ace – small kicker (9 or lower) really these can be accidents waiting to happen, even if they’re suited – good hand if your disciplined – if your a bit of an action junkie this is probably where your losing chips
a) you hit your ace – now you’ve got to be worried about your kicker b) you pick up a couple of your suit – your still 2-1 dog to make your flush
hands like these really do change their value depending on your position and on how many players are at the table / tournament.
2 cards 10 or higher
A couple of paint or picture cards including tens are another hole in loose players games. If their suited this makes a big difference as you’ve instantly increased your outs (cards that could make or improve your hand). Otherwise continuously betting on any two high cards hoping to hit something is just giving your money away. Unconnected unsuited high cards eg. K 10 off are the worst temptation you can get – your probably better off with 10-J suited
why ? with 10-J suited (suited connectors – see below)
a) you’ve got a decent chance at a straight because they’re connected
b) you’ve got a chance at a flush because they’re suited
c) more importantly – you’ve got far more chance of seeing your in trouble with it than 10 K and chasing a lost cause.
Playing suited connectors like 78 hearts you are hoping for a favourable flop to make you either a straight or a flush.
These are speculative hands – now when it comes off you can do well but you can also get sucked in betting all the way to the end on a lost cause. If these sort of cards are your weakness remember your going to see them (and tempted) a whole lot more often than you’ll see AA.
Again position is the key to these sorts of hands. Don’t play them really in anything other than late position (last 2-3 to act on full table).
Everything else is a waste of a bet
If you stick to the playable hands in the upper groups of the list above and select them based on your position at the poker table there are roughly 50 possible starting hands listed above … Although I would strongly suggest you don’t play anything less than the top 25 or so hands
ie. Stick to group 5 hands or better and most importantly stick to the positional instructions on ALL of those hands as well.
Have a look at some of them in the lower groups … 4-3 suited ?? would you really want to be playing some of them – not really – so don’t make it any harder playing all the other junk regardless of what position your in.
As soon as you start including junk like unsuited interconnected dis-connectors to your game – like 3-9 off or 7-10 off you really are asking for trouble – your a fish and you deserve to lose over the long term. The chances of hitting with one of these Double Belly Busters as Doyle Brunson called them is remote so do not chase them.
Unsuited interconnected dis-connectors are all junk – don’t think – just fold.
7-2 off is statistically the worst hand in poker – it isn’t possible to make a straight on the flop, even flopping 345 your still short, it’s unsuited – no chance of a flush and it’s the lowest possible numerically too.