Because Texas Hold’em is the most universally played form of poker, this starting Texas Hold'em Hands guide will focus on that Poker is a card game that is based on maths and probability. How many times have you heard that, and how long has it taken you to stop listening after the word, “maths”? No one wants to spend hours on end reading up on a game that they just want to play. We understand that. Just be aware that, if you don’t know the basics of poker, you'll be giving a massive edge to your opponents.
Having said that, this is one poker class you don't want to fail. Why? It is the proper selection of starting hands, along with knowing how each hand plays post- flop, that will form the bedrock of your poker game. This is true, no matter which form of poker you happen to be playing.
If you study the changes of winning with certain starting hands, you will gain an edge over almost all of the opponents you face.
Poker Hand Ranking Chart
While there are 169 unique different starting hands in Texas Hold’em, there are only nine categories of showdown hands. We'll look at these individually, ranking them from best to worst.
Straight FlushThe Straight Flush is the highest of all poker hands with the Royal Flush being at the absolute pinnacle. A Royal Flush is A-K-Q-J-10 all of the same suit. Straight Flush is any connecting straight cards, like 10-9-8-7-6, also all of the same suit.
Four-of-a-KindFour-of-a-Kind or “Quads” as they are also known is the next highest ranking hand after a Straight Flush and is also a very rare hand. It consists of four cards of the same ranking like 5-5-5-5-K. The lowest Four-of-a-Kind is four deuces with four aces being the highest.
Full HouseA Full House is the next highest ranking poker hand after Four-of-a-Kind and is Three-of-a-Kind with by a Pair. For example, 10-10-10-8-8 is a “Tens full of Eights” Full House. The highest possible Full House is A-A-A-K-K (Aces full of Kings) with the lowest being 2-2-2-3-3.
FlushA Flush consists of five cards all of the same suit. A flush is a pretty strong hand in Texas Hold’em with the highest possible flush being ace-high like, A-K-Q-J-9, all in the same suit. In Hold'em, an A-K-5-4-2 flush in spades has the same poker ranking as an A-K-5-4-2 in clubs.
StraightA Straight is any five connected cards in a row. The highest possible Straight is A-K-Q-J-10 (also called “Broadway”). Straight combinations go all the way down to 5-4-3-2-A, which is known as the “Wheel”, in poker lingo.
Three-of-a-KindThree-of-a-Kind is the next hand down on the poker rankings ladder. This hand often confuses some people. It can mean a “Set”, which is where you have a pair in your hand, like 7-7, matched with another 7 on the board. “Trips” is a pair on the board, like 5-5-4, with another 5 in your starting hand.
Two PairTwo Pair is one of the most common winning hands in Texas Hold’em. It's simply two pairs, as the name suggests. If you hold 8-8 and the board is 7-7-3 then you would have Two Pair, Eights and Sevens. With Q-J and a flop A-Q-J, you have Two Pair also, Queens and Jacks.
One PairOne Pair is just a single pair, nothing more. Your pair can be in your starting hand like J-J, or like A-J and a board of A-10-9 for a Pair of Aces. In Hold’em a pair can also be on the board with K-Q in your hand and 8-8-2 on the board. Here you have a Pair of Eights but so do your opponents.
No PairThe lowest possible hand in Texas Hold’em is when you don’t even hold a pair, like Ks-10s starting hand on a board 9h-3s-2d -7h-Jd. Here your hand is referred to as “King High” rather than no pair. However, there is still a ranking system at work. because Ace High beats King High and so on.
Poker Hand Abbreviations
There are several ways to express (write) poker hands. One of the most common shortcuts is “AsKd” for the starting hand, Ace of Spades, King of Diamonds.
Below is a list of some sample starting hands and what they mean.
|Hand Abbreviation||Full name|
|A10 or A-10||Ace Ten|
|As10d or As-10d||Ace of Spades, Ten of Diamonds|
|A10s||Ace Ten suited|
|A10+||A-X hands only with a Kicker greater than 10|
|x, A-x or AX, A-X||Ace plus any other card|
|JJ or J-J||Pocket Jacks|
|JJ+||Pocket Jacks and bigger Pairs only, including QQ, KK and AA|
Starting Hand Ranking and Strength
There are 1326 distinct possible combinations of two hole cards Hold 'em. But because AsKs has the same pre-flop value as AdKd and so on, the actual non-equivalent number is 169. This number is made up of 13 pocket pairs, 78 suited hands and 78 unsuited hands. The worst hand is 3-2 at the very bottom, and the best is A-A at the very top.
The value of your starting hand will have a big impact on your chances of showing down the best hand at the river. A hand like A-A could win the pot without further improvement, whereas a hand like 7-2 would need to make at least a pair and probably more to win. This is the sort of hand that would depend much more heavily on bluffing, in order to be successful.
Starting hands dictate how much “strength” you take with you into the flop and beyond. Remember that your “starting hand” is just that……a starting hand! There are a further three cards to come on the flop and two more possible cards on the turn and river. Anything and everything can drastically alter your hand strength once those cards are dealt.
One of the keys to playing your hands well is to be aware of how your pre-flop hand strength will go up or down, post flop. A hand like A-K for example, is strong pre-flop but also has the capacity to improve in leaps and bounds, post flop. If you pair the ace or king, you'll have the top pair with top kicker.
Starting hands fall into several categories, which are as follows:
As the name implies this is a starting hand made up of two cards of the same rank like Pocket Sevens, Sixes or better still….Aces.
“Broadway” is a term used to describe a hand that consists of two cards that are ten or higher. Like for example K-Q or K-J. A suited-Broadway means both of your cards are of the same suit. These hands can make Broadway – the best straight in Hold'em, A-K-Q-J-10. If this straight is all in the same suit, you'll have the Royal, the best-ranked hand in Hold'em.
Many players in Texas Hold’em like to play connecting cards like J-10, 9-8 and 6-5, for example, because of their straight making potential. If the cards are suited then they are referred to as “suited connectors”.
Suited cards are simply two cards of the same suit. Suited cards, especially when e of the cards is an Ace, are perfect for making flushes. The Ace guarantees that you'll have the best flush if you get there. As long as there is no straight flush possibility.
The word “gapper” is often used to describe cards that are almost connected but are separated by a gap like 9-7, for example (often referred to as a single-gapper). A “double-gapper” means that there are two cards missing between the connectors like 9-6, for example. Many players like to play these cards because the resulting straight is not as obvious to see on the board.
Hold'em Odds and Probabilities
As we said at the begging of this guide, Texas Hold’em is a game of odds and probabilities. The maths side of poker can be a little dreary. However, the player that is more aware the odds is better prepared to go into battle.
Knowing what the odds are of your hand being the best hand pre-flop, on the flop, on the turn and the river will help you make better folds, calls, bets and raises. You'll also be better equipped to value bet when you have the best hand.
Take a look at the Texas Hold'em chart below as an indication of which hands you should be folding, calling, betting or raising:
Using Charts, Calculators & Poker Trackers
Poker odds is a very involved topic and not something that you will find easy to master without help. Luckily, you don’t have to figure it out all on your own. There are many fantastic aids available these days that help players get to grips with this trickier part of the game.
There are numerous charts available and online software that can help you calculate the odds. Equity calculators and odds calculators are very easy to use. They can tell you what the odds and probabilities are of any situation that you care to throw at it. Other more sophisticated programs, like poker tracking software, can also help you figure out when you should be folding or pushing.
The majority of these software programs are legal to use online. However, you should check with your online poker site beforehand, just to be on the safe side.
Pre-Flop Hand Strength – Hold'em 9-Max
In 9-handed Texas Hold’em games (also referred to as, full ring), hand strength is even more important. You will be going up against 2 more seats than in 6-Max, so your starting hands should be selected with a lot more care. However, you can play more hands in position – and play them stronger. This is especially the case in unraised pots.
Good examples of starting hands include all pairs tens or higher and any two high Broadway cards. Rubbish hands are low unconnected and unsuited hands, like 7-2, or even hands that have one high card and one low card, like Q-4 for example.
Even stronger hands, like K-J, can suddenly seem unplayable with too much action in a hand. So, you need to be mindful of the pre-flop action when deciding whether or not to play a hand. Your K-J could be dominated by a hand like A-K or even K-K in situations with a lot of crazy, early-position pre-flop betting and raising.
Here's the kicker then, you should take into consideration your position in a hand, the action before you and how many players are left to act after you, when deciding to play or not.
Chart of Opening Hands By Position – Hold'em 9-Max
The following Texas Hold'em 9-Max hand chart by position is a good default guide for starting hand ranges, and how you should play them. Hand ranges widen as you get nearer to the button and narrow with a lot of raising.
All hand charts take into account the relative strength of opposing hands that you could be facing. This chart is for novice players and intermediate level players only, but more advanced players can also use it as a good gauge. As a beginner, you should really fold any hands not listed on this chart, as they're probably all junk!
Early Position (UTG (EP1), UTG+1 (EP2)
If folded around or first to act – Raise AA-TT, AKs, AK, AQs, AQ
If callers – Raise AA-TT, AKs, AK, AQs, AQ
If raised – Raise any raise AA-QQ, AKs, AK and call JJ-88
Middle Position (MP1, MP2, HJCK (Hijack)
If folded around – Raise AA-TT, ATs+, ATo+, KJs+, KQo
If callers- Raise AA-TT, ATs+, ATo+, KJs+, KQo and call 99-22, KJo, QTs+, JTs
If raised – Raise any raise AA-QQ, AKs, AK and call JJ-88
Late Position (CO (Cut-Off), BTN (Button)
If folded around – Raise All Pairs, A2s+, A9o+
If callers – Raise AA-TT, ATs+, ATo+, KJs+, KQo and call 99-22, A-2s+, KJo, QTs+, JTs
If raised – Re-raise AA-QQ, AKs, AKo and call JJ-22
If folded around – Raise All Pairs, A2s+ A7o+
If callers – Raise AA-TT, ATs+, ATo+, KJs+, KQ and call 99-22, A2s+, T9s+, T8s+, KJ
If raised – Re-Raise AA-QQ, AKs, AK and call JJ-88
If folded to you – Automatic win and pot ends
If callers – Raise AA-TT, ATs+, ATo+ and check everything else
If raised – Re-raise AA-QQ, AKs, AKo and call JJ-88, A2s+. ATo+, KTs+, Kto+
Poker Hand Nicknames
Nicknames are popular in a lot of sports. In football (soccer), people say “booting it”, or “hoofing it” when a player kicks the ball hard. The same is true in poker, Down the years, many hands have been given nicknames based on past history and/or player experiences Here are just a few of the most famous nicknames to get you up to speed on poker lingo:
Big Slick – A common nickname given to the best non-paired hand in Hold’em, which is A-K.
Doyle Brunson – A term used to describe the hand 10-2. Two-time WSOP Main Event champ, Doyle Brunson, won back to back world titles with this very hand.
(Fish) Hooks – A pair of Jacks are also referred to and known as a pair of Hooks” or “Fish Hooks” because of the way the J in the word “Jacks” looks.
Cowboys – Pocket Kings are also commonly referred to as the “Cowboys”.
(Full) Boat – A boat is another nickname used for a Full House.
Gutshot – A term used to describe an inside straight draw when only one card can make the straight.
Backdoor Hand – Also known as “runner runner”, this nickname means when two running cards are needed to make a hand. Like when the player has 10-9 on a board of 7-4-2 and he catches an 8 on the turn and a J on the river. Can you say, “river-rat”?
Wheel – Popular poker name for the lowest possible straight, which is A-2-3-4-5.
Two Snowmen – Pocket Eights are sometimes referred to as “Snowmen” because of their rounded shape.
Open Ended – A term used to describe a straight draw that is “open” at both ends. For example, 10-9 on an 8-7-2 board needs with a J or a 6 to get there.
Rockets – Any hand that involves the player holding Aces is often referred to as having the “Rockets” or “Pocket Rockets”.
Dead Man's Hand - The famous cowboy Wild Bill was supposedly killed in a saloon, holding Aces and Eights. Now A-8 is always called the “Dead Man's Hand”.
Valentines – A special name for a special hand, Kh-Qh is known as “Valentines” for the most obvious of reasons.
Phil Hellmuth – Black Pocket Nines have now become famous with Phil Hellmuth after he won the 1989 WSOP Main Event with them.
Kojak – The starting hand K-J is often referred to as “Kojak” as a throwback to American TV sleuth, the one-of-a-kind Kojak – Telly “Who Loves ya, baby?” Savalas.
The Ladies – Two Queens are also known as Two Ladies, but they are sometimes called “Cowgirls”, as a nod to the “Cowboys”.
Maverick – The hand Q-J is sometimes called “Maverick” in reference to the theme song of the TV series, which mentions “living on jacks and queens” in the lyrics. The Mavericks were gamblers who travelled the Old West.
TNT – Pocket Tens are sometimes given the nickname TNT. Just don't blow up with them when a Jack flops or turns.