Starting hands in poker usually fall into one of five main categories: high pocket pairs, small or medium pairs, two high cards, high and small card hands and suited cards. Exactly how you should play starting hands will largely depend on which group of hands you’re playing, along with other factors such as the opponents you’re playing against.
High pairs are some of the best starting hands you can receive in Texas Holdem. They should almost always be played aggressively as the community cards can pose a threat to the pair in your hand. Even with pocket aces, in a big multi-way pot, you’re less than 50% chance to win the hand, so it’s in your best interests to narrow down the field even though there are no higher cards that can come on the flop.
Small or medium pair
Small and medium pocket pairs are cards such as 22 or 77. These pairs are extremely difficult to play the times you don’t hit a set! However, whenever you hit a set, you can be confident you have the best hand pretty much all the time. Furthermore, flopping sets can be really well disguised, allowing you to win big pots when you hit them, especially against opponents who get attached to top pair hands.
Two high cards
AK is one of the strongest starting hands in Texas Holdem because it can form very strong poker hands. Even when you don’t flop a pair, there is a good chance you still have the best hand when there has only been one pre-flop caller.
With cards such as KJ and QJ, however, the decision of whether to play the hand is a bit more difficult especially when you’re facing an open raise in the hand. Many players do not recommend these or similar starting hands due to the “Gap Concept”. An exception would be if these cards are suited, also known as suited connectors, since these starting hands can make stronger hands like flushes or even a royal flush. More on these hands below.
Small and high card
In this category are hands like A3 (also known as “ace rags”.) The ace can be worth something especially in short-handed play when you can be more confident you have the best hand. However, if the ace with a better kicker is in another player’s hand, it becomes problematic, hence why you should usually fold this group of hands when you’re facing aggression in the hand, since there is a good chance you could be dominated. There can be split pot opportunities, but should the board not play, the round will be decided with a pair of aces wins the hand with your opponent’s higher kicker taking down the pot.
Suited cards are more valuable than unsuited starting hands of equal rank, since it opens up the opportunity to form stronger hands, especially when the two hole cards are connected, like for example, 87s. Where novice players get it wrong is they start playing any suited cards regardless of their connected-ness or high card value.