Preflop poker strategy: Starting Hands Cheat Sheet

No-Limit Texas Hold’em is a game that can make you lots of money if you play your cards right as the saying goes, but in order to play your cards right you have to make sure you understand what hole cards are worth playing and when. Even some of the top rated hands can land you in trouble when playing out of position or not taking notice what the players in front of you have done.

Trying to provide you with a guide on what to do with every single hand in every single situation would yield a book the length of which would be greater than gone with the wind. It is with this in mind we will try to give you an overview of the basic starting hands and when it is best to make use of them.

Pocket Aces

It is pretty hard to screw up pocket Aces before the flop, unless however you were to fold them. You would be hard-pressed to find any situation in which you would not play pocket Aces before the flop. But you have to bear in mind that pocket Aces rarely improve after the flop, so make sure you do not end up playing against more than a maximum of two players. This is not to say it is necessary to push all in, but you are certainly going to raise or re-raise them.

With pocket Aces, you want to start building a bigger pot before the flop, without chasing all the players away.

Pocket Kings

Once again, as with pocket Kings pre-flop, you will certainly want to raise and re-raise to be able to see the next three cards against a maximum of two opponents.

In a situation where your Kings are up against Aces with no other face cards, potential flush or connectors showing, there is a good chance you might end up all in. Although it sucks, it is just part of the game and you need to shake it off. Make sure you take note that if you see an Ace on the flop and you did not catch another King it may be time to toss your cards in.

Pocket Queens and Jacks

Pocket queens and jacks are very often troubled cards. When you look at the charts you see these amongst the Premium hands to play yet you need to proceed with caution. You need to understand the playing style at your table and their strength has to be re-evaluated after the flop and turn.

Other Pocket Pairs

Example: 9 9, 8 8

Playing all other pocket pairs is advisable in most situations. If you are in early position and there is no action in front of you, it is advisable for you to raise and if you see a raise behind you, you may just want to give up smaller pairs such as 55.

Keep in mind with smaller pocket pairs you are looking to see the flop cheap and hopefully catch at least another card to give you three of a kind. If you catch on the flop, you can take it from there but if you are not lucky enough to get your set, you should not bet. Keep this saying in the back of your mind when it comes to small pocket pairs: “No Set, No Bet” in the long run, it will save you lots of money.

With middle pairs, your betting before the flop should either be with one of two goals: either you raise aggressively to see the flop against only one player, or try to see a cheap flop an hope to hit a “set” (three of a kind with a pair in your had). The chance of this happening on the flop is app. 1 in 10, but when you do hit, your hand is often well-hidden and should yield a good payout. Do not slow play them when the board is draw-heavy!

Premium Non-Paired Hands

Example: A K, A♠ Q

There are other hands worth playing such as Ace-King, and Ace-Queen, both suited or unsuited. When playing in position and other players have folded,limped or raised ahead of you, it may be a good spot to make a raise or three-bet (a 3bet is a re-raise to a raiser). You may be able to pick up the pot right there without contest, or get called by dominated hands such as AT, hit the flop and win with the best hand, or win the pot by betting aggressively when your opponent misses the flop.

You still need to be careful when playing these cards, as it is easy to be out-gunned by even a small pair if you do not hit. You always need to be aware of what is happening around you and what position you are playing from.

Should I play Suited Connectors?

Example: 8 9, 9 J

No-Limit Hold ’em cash games are a great place to be holding what is known as suited connectors, these are cards with concurrent numbers of the same suit. You will be looking to play these to catch cards on the flop to give you three of a kind, a straight or flush. Playing these cards is far from an assured thing, and is only recommended to play these when you are in a later position and you get a good price to see the flop. Those cards usually do well against multiple opponents, and when you hit a flush or a straight, the payout can be massive.

We know you have seen many players on television saying these are their favorite cards. What they fail to tell you is just how wonderful these cards are when playing in position without having to invest a whole lot of money. This means if you are the fifth to act and those in front of you have called the blind is advisable to limp in and try to see the flop. If there is a raise behind you, you may want to reconsider and just toss in your cards. Yet getting the right pot odds to see the flop, and catching the cards you are looking for may end up netting you a great reward.

These cards are a perfect example of what might be good in a late position, and cards that are definitely worth folding in early position. These are never a sure thing; you need to be sure you are getting the best pot odds if you are going to play these cards.

Suited Ace with a smaller Kicker

Example: A 4, A 9

Playing a suited Ace kicker should be handled in much the same fashion as playing suited connectors. You need to be certain you are getting good pot odds and playing from the position. Even if you are able to catch another ace on the flop it is quite possible you are playing against someone who also has an Ace and very well may have a better kicker. It is also advisable to keep in mind that if you don’t hit a set or at least another Ace do not put another dime into the pot.

Playing Anything Else

Example: 6 9, 2 7, K 10

Almost every other hand is going to lose you money. The only time you will move forward with these types of hands, is when you are playing from the big blind and nobody has made a raise before you have the chance to just check and see the flop. If you do make a hand on the flop make sure you have the nuts before you start betting too big, and be aware of those who can bet in front of you. If you have managed to get in a pot free there are others who have managed to see cards for a great price.

When you play cards that force you to make tough decisions, you have a greater opportunity to make mistakes. Mistakes are what cost poker players money. To avoid making mistakes avoid playing questionable hands. When playing no-limit Holdem cash games, keep in mind there is no time limit, the blinds are not going up so there is no inherent danger to your stack. You simply need to play the hands with the best chance of winning at your own pace. It is better to get to the bank late with money in your pocket than to show up early broke.

Three of the most frequent mistakes made by players are:

  • Playing mediocre cards when not in position
  • Trying to play hands that should not be played, ever.
  • Not folding a mediocre hand when faced with a raise

We have provided a list of the best starting hands, and by only playing the hands that are on the list in the positions stated, you are well on your way to building your bankroll.