There are many factors to consider in determining poker hand strength in a given situation.

With this in mind, you can undoubtedly learn the tactics behind winning poker hands. You’ll know precisely when to hold’em or fold’em!

In this article, we will - 

  • Remind you of what beats what in poker.
  • List out basic poker strategies to use for determining what hands to bet.
  • Illuminate how different board textures can affect the strength of a poker hand.
  • Show you how you can calculate poker equities before the river (the percentage chance you’ll win).
  • Account for how different player types should influence your decisions.
  • See how different betting lines and sizes can affect how to play your holdings.

Table of Contents

Poker Hand Strength Chart

You’ll likely already know the poker starting hand rankings. It’s common knowledge that a full house beats two pair and things of that nature). 

For those of you who need a reminder, be sure to check out this poker hand rankings guide.

Determining Which Hands to Bet

Determining Which Hands to BetDetermining Which Hands to Bet

There will always be exceptions to the rules. But you can use these generalised concepts to help you with your gameplay.

Value Bets

  • Your best toppairs can usually go for three streets of value on dry boards.
  • Don’t fold 3-of-a-kind or better.
  • Don’t *always* do something with one hand value. (For example, don’t always bet ALL your flushes on a flush-completing turn card. Balance your range and check your weakest flushes here at least a portion of the time)
  • Think about what worse hands can logically call you when considering a value bet.
  • Consider how many streets of value you can get with a particular hand. Focus on those you might want to bet (i.e.,3 streets/2 streets/1 street ). Is it better to bet flop and turn and check back river, or check flop and bet turn/river, etc.?

Bluffs

  • On the flop/turn, semi-bluff (bet or raise) your flush and straight draws.
  • On the river, bet your weakest showdown value (SDV) hands. Also, bet hands that block your opponents from holding the strongest value hands (i.e., straights/flushes).
  • On the river, give up bluffing with most of your flopped flush draws (except some of the weakest ones). Look to bet more of your missed straight draws.
  • Don’t bluff Ace-high hands. These will often still carry a little bit of (Showdown Value) SDV - meaning you can beat your opponent at showdown.

How to Approach Different Board Textures

Having a hand like top pair top kicker is not always going to be weighted the same through every situation. 

Much of the relative hand strength will depend on the board texture.

Imagine a board like this:

K♥Q♠7♣5♥2♦

Now, imagine a board like this:

K♥ 9♥ 8♥7♥ T♠

For the first one, the nature of the board is dry. There are no flush draws or straight draws. 

A hand like top pair, top kicker (Ace-King) is going to be a very strong hand. You can undoubtedly bet all three streets for value

Contrast this with the second example where we’re presented with quite a “wet board”. There are four-cards-to-a-flush and also four-cards-to-a-straight out there.

It’s easy for your opponent to have any heart, Jack, or six in their hand. More hands now beat you. We can see that Ace-King doesn’t hold anywhere near as much strength as it did in the previous example.

Now many more hand combinations beat top pair.

In these situations, with wet boards, it’s crucial to be more defensive with top pair. Be sure not to overvalue it! 

In other words, be very warywith board cards that present a lot of draws. Be careful if you’re holding -medium-strength hands, like top pair. 

Medium-Strength Hands on a Wet Board

Let’s take that second board example above(K♥ 9♥ 8♥ 7♥ T♠), where we have AK, no flush.

Let’s say that we face a pot-sized bet on the river from our opponent. 

To determine whether to call, you need to ask yourself questions like:

  • How many better hands than top pair, top kicker will I have here in terms of poker hand rankings (i.e., straights, flushes, three-of-a-kind, etc.)?
  • How many total combos do I have in my hand range at this point in the hand?
  • How many exact combos of better hands do I have here?
  • How many hands in my range do I need to be defending here? (We’re basing this on Minimum Defence Frequency, or MDF – more on that in Chart #13 in this article). Is AK included in that number of hand combos?
  • Are there any exploitable tendencies of my opponents that I should account for here? Will this info help influence my decision, especially if it’s for a borderline hand?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can then make a better-informed decision. 

You’ll know what to do with a medium-strength hand like top-pair-top-kicker on a board in this scenario. 

Want to learn more about hand ranges and how to effectively use them in your gameplay? 

Check out this poker ranges article.

Calculating Poker Equities Before the River

People say poker is a maths-based game. And, to a large extent, that is undoubtedly true. 

One of the most common applications of mathematics in poker deals with hand equities. Here, we are referring to the likelihood of a specific hand winning by the river.

Poker Equity: Hand vs Hand

Many of these equity situations will become frequent in poker. So, it’s essential to familiarise yourself with common factors. 

For example, let’s suppose you and another player are all-in preflop. You have AKo, and your opponent has AQs

How often are you going to win the hand?

Luckily for us, computers can easily calculate the correct answer across the ~250million different community card runouts!

SOLUTION #1: Using Poker Odds Calculator

  • Go to the 888poker Poker Odds Calculator (We highly recommend bookmarking this page, especially if you’re starting in poker)
  • Plug in AsKc under one hand and AhQh under the other.
  • You see that the AKo will win outright 68% of the time and tie about 4% of the time.

SOLUTION #2: Using Poker Charts

  • Go to this page of 20 Poker Charts we’ve created.
  • See that Charts #11 and #12 have common preflop and post-flop equities.
  • Memorise these common hand vshand match-ups.

We can see from Chart #11 that in a “Dominating Higher Card” scenario (i.e., AK vs AQ), that the AK will win about 73% of the time.

Poker Equity: Hand vs Range

Hand Vs RangePoker Equity: Hand vs Range

The above information won’t help, though, unless you know your opponent’s two hole cards. But knowing this the percentages can help you make a more informed decision on how to proceed in a hand.

For example, let’s say the action is preflop, You have AK, and your opponent went all-in. You think your opponent will have AQ, AK, and TT+.

What is your equity against this hand range? Include all these possible holdings put together instead of just one of these hands.

SOLUTION #1: Manual Calculation

You do these calculations manually by working out individual hand vs hand equities:

  • 50% against AK (9 combos)
  • 73% against AQ (12 combos)
  • 8% against AA (3 combos)
  • 30% against KK (6 combos)
  • 46% against TT-QQ (18 combos)

Now, we add the total number of hand combos we’re facing (48 combos). Then we calculate the average equity of all the combos put together:

  • vs. AK: (9 combos/48 combos) x (0.5 chance of winning) = 9.4%
  • vs. AQ: (12/48) x (0.73) = 18.3%
  • vs. AA (3/48) x (0.08) = 0.5%
  • vs. KK (6/48) x (0.3) = 3.8%
  • vs. TT-QQ (18/48) x (0.46) = 17.3%

Lastly, we add up all these totals. AK will have about 49.3% equity against Villain’s range. 

Now, we would simply relate this equity (vs our presumed Villain hand range) to the pot odds. We can determine or not we should call based on the pot odds.

In about any situation, this calculation would be right under 50%,

As you can see, this is a complex process to do manually. 

Luckily for us, there’s another method we can use to solve the problem.

SOLUTION #2: Poker Hand Strength Calculator (Equity Calculator)

Many software programs allow players to calculate the equity of a singular poker hand vs a range of poker hands. 

Examples of such software include:

  • Equilab (PC)
  • PokerCruncher (Mac / iOS)
  • PokerTracker4 (built-in Equity Calculator)

In these programs, we can simply plug in AK for Hand #1. 

  • Input the hand range for Hand #2.
     
  • And then the software will compute -
Software

NOTE: The software will allow our answers to be much more specific and accurate. The calculations in the 20 Poker Charts article are rounded up/down. So by using these figures to manually calculate everything out, we arrived at 49.3% instead of 49.8%. 

Ultimately, the more practice you do with these calculators, the more comfortable you’ll get. You’ll start to know what to do in a given situation instinctively. 

With that comes the ability to manually adjust and calculate this in real-time.

Accounting for Different Player Types

Not every opponent plays a perfectly balanced poker strategy. As such, you can use their tendencies to determine what you should do with specific holdings. 

Perhaps you might typically take another course of action with these hands.

  1. Vs Nits/Tight Players: Fold all but your best hands to their bets/raises.
  2. Vs Aggressive Maniacs: Call down much wider than otherwise. (Their bluffing range will be broader.)
  3. Vs Calling Stations: Value bet wider than you otherwise would; bluff less.
  4. Vs Players Who Fold too Often: Bluff more frequently. Perhaps size down your value bets to induce more calls. 

Bet Sizes Relating to Hand Strengths/Continuing Ranges

Bet SizesBet Sizes Relating to Hand Strengths/Continuing Ranges

There are two main view points relating to bet sizing:

A polarised strategy uses larger bet sizes (i.e., 75% to 200% pot). It includes a stronger range of value hands but also more bluffs.

A merged strategy uses smaller bet sizes (i.e., 25% to 50% pot). It includes a broader range of value hands and fewer bluffs overall.

If you want to include more bluffs in your betting range, use a larger sizing. 

If you want to include more value hands (and less bluffs), then use a smaller sizing.

When facing a bet, you can use your opponent’s bet sizing to deduce how many combos of hands to play. Determine how light (weak) value hands with which to call.

  • If your opponent bets large, you should continue with a narrower range of stronger hands, or “bluff-catchers”.
     
  • The smaller they bet, the wider you can call. (In theory, your opponents will be value betting a wider range.

BONUS TIP:
You should also take bet sizes into account when creating your raising strategy. 
If someone bets 33% pot, you can raise with a wider range of hands than facing a full pot-sized bet.

Poker Hand Strength Summary

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all poker hand strength chart. We don’t have a blanket strategy covering what to do with each hand in each situation. 

But with the following 4 tips/methods, you will learn how to continue with many of your hands, profitably – 

  1. Off-table study
  2. Familiarizing yourself with equities
  3. Using poker solver and software
  4. Using all available information when making your decisions,

You’ll discover there are many factors to consider with determining the strength of any given poker hand.

About the Author
By
Matthew Cluff is a poker player who specialises in 6-Max No Limit Hold’em games. He also periodically provides online poker content for various sites.
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