Starting Hand Selection in Texas Hold'em Poker

Which to Hold, Which to Fold

Poker Chips
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One of the first and most important things to learn when playing Texas Hold'em is which starting hands are worth staying in with -- and which you should fold. Deciding whether or not those two down cards you're first dealt are playable is the most important decision in every hand because while you have to be in it to win it, you also can't lose money you haven't bet.

Since the two hole or pocket cards are the only things that will make your hand better or worse than any other players, it's important that they are good strong cards.

If you're new to Hold'em, begin by learning these two lists:

And play only the cards in the 10 best list and always fold the hands in the worst hands list. Doing this alone will improve your results.

But to really succeed as a good Hold'em player, you need to vary your starting hand selection standards depending on your poker position. Read more about understanding poker position if it's a new concept to you. It's important because you need to tighten up your standards in early position (such as the blinds) and can loosen up your standards in late postion (such as sitting on the button).

Here's a quick guide to what Hold'em starting hands to play in different positions:

In early position, only play:

  • High Pairs: Ace-Ace, King-King, Queen-Queen, Jack-Jack
  • High Suited Cards: Ace-King, Ace-Queen, King-Queen, Ace-Jack, King-Jack, Queen-Jack, Jack-10
  • High Unsuited Cards: Ace-King, Ace-Queen, King-Queen

In middle position, you can also play:

  • High Suited Cards: Ace-10, King-10, Queen-10
  • High Unsuited Cards: Ace-Jack, Ace-10, King-Jack, etc.
  • Middle Pairs: 10-10, 9-9, 8-8

In late position you can add:

  • Suited connectors, such as 9-10, 7-8, etc.
  • Small pairs all the way down to 2s
  • Ace-littles: A-8, A-6

Now, this is not an absolute guide. Just because I say you can play ace-little in late position, that doesn't mean you always should. Almost none of the hands that I added for a middle or late position should be played if there is a large raise before you get to act, and definitely should be tossed if there are two raises in front of you. The reason the hands are more playable in later positions is precise because you'll have more information about what the other players are going to do, and if everyone's just calling or folding, there's a better chance that one of the second-best hands above is the best hand at the table.

All that said, this is a rough guide, and it also helps to be able to read the most basic of poker tells and pay attention to the other players playing styles (are they tight? loose? etc.) so you can guess what hands you might be up against. Still, if you stick to this what-to-hold and what-to-fold guide, your poker profits should grow.