Starting hands

Before defining the opportunities of your starting hand you should consider a number of facts.

In case you are to start the professional poker player career, or simply want to have an advantage over your opponents, you should remember that pro players fold nearly 80% of their starting hands and the cards you received should fit the information available to you.

Basic Concepts

When you have a choice, whether you should play, having some cards on your hands, always remember which cards you can play:

  • Older cards
  • One-piece cards
  • Connectors
  • Pocket pairs

Starting hands should normally fit at least 2 of the above mentioned criteria (unless it is a pocket pair) otherwise, you’d rather «muck» your hand. Pocket pairs are considered to be great starting hands in case you were dealt relatively high cards but you also must be aware that a starting hand of KK can (and often does) lose to a much lesser starting hand of A10 when an Ace appears on the flop. This means that you do not have to get too attached to Pocket Pairs unless they improve when confronted with a big raise. Many poker beginners tend to treat a pair of Aces as an unbeatable hand, but usually they find their aggressive actions rather inappropriate when the flop shows 3 cards of the same suit or an obvious Straight Draw.

What starting hands should I play

This question is one of those that are almost impossible to answer, because as usual, it will always depend on your poker experience and style of game. In case you have good reads on your opponents then you can be closer to making a right choice when evaluating your starting hand. When you are sitting at the poker table for the first time, (after you have spent some time just observing and analyzing the process) you are highly recommended to play premium hands only. This will not only allow you to better understand and «read’ your opponents but will also give you a possibility to establish a tight table image which will be useful for your gain in experience.

Below you will find an extended guideline which will become quite handy when it comes to choosing which starting hands you should play and which you should not. After this guideline we’ll also provide you with two starting hands charts, one for the fixed limit and one for no limit game.

There are many things to consider when selecting your starting hands but some of the most important ones are listed below:


The number 1 thing to take into consideration is the following: Taking the early position will always mean the tight game. So the later you are in the order, the looser your starting hands may be. We would highly recommend the newcomers to avoid the early positions and if possible take only the Button position i.e the late one. This is explained by the following: the further you are sitting from the early positions, the more information you may obtain concerning your opponents’ cards prior to the action comes to you. This will help you easily understand whether play this or that starting hand or not. Or in case you are happened to be the first one to make decision, it’s highly recommended to play only the premium starting hands. In case you are lucky enough to perform an action on the late position – in 70% of cases you may play any starting hand you are dealt, as all the players before you have already called or raised and you may easily start forming your hand on the flop.

Calling Raises

You should be especially careful when supporting the previous raise (calling). Has someone raised before it’s your turn to act? This may change things considerably. They are showing strength and you need to be cautious that you are not running into a Monster Hand (a player with the strongest starting hand, who will always be ready to raise).

The number of players

Before starting to play at the table with a great amount of players involved, you should always keep in mind the following two principles. The more players are involved in the game – the tighter will the game be. The more players are playing at the table, the greater will be their possibility to catch a good starting hand. Till now you know that the value of your starting hand may depend on many factors, one of the most important ones is the number of players involved in the game. Some of your starting hands will always be at stake in case the play involves more than 8 players. On the other hand, the value of the same cards may increase in inverse ratio to the decreasing of the number of players at the table. For instance, the starting JK combination may appear not that strong in case the game involve a great amount of players, as some of them are likely to have the better hand, meanwhile, the value of these cards will significantly increase when the game involves less players. 

Starting Hands - No Limit

From now on you have a guideline and a starting point for your growing as a professional poker player. So let us draw a line under the positioning. The Early position is the two seats after the blinds. The Middle position is the next three chairs. The Late position is the last three chairs.

In No Limit, it is not that important to raise if you are determined to steal the blinds as they are so small in comparison to the pot. It is perfectly acceptable to limp in (to call the Blind or the bring-in without raising).Again, avoid being a predictable player. It means you must often change your poker habits and behavior otherwise you will be easy to read and you may become a fair game for the more experienced players. To avoid that call when you would normally raise, raise when you would normally call and generally keep your opponents guessing! Here are the recommendations on these or that specific poker situations depending on the position you may take.

Early Position

If no one has raised you can call (limp in) holding any pair, suited connectors down to 3,4s or any suited Ace (i.e. A5s, where s – the same suit). Sometimes you should also call with one gap suited connectors (i.e. 79s).

In case no one has raised before you – feel free to raise with AA-QQ and AK (suited or not suited).

If someone has raised – you may easily call with AK, AQ and QQ - 99. You may also re-raise a raise with AA and KK notwithstanding the suits. Re-raising and calling raises should be done with just about the same cards from any position. This happens due to the «GAP» concept. So when calling or re-raising a raise you must use the same starting hands notwithstanding your current position.

In case the pot has been raised and re-raised before it’s your turn to act – play AA and KK only. Moving all in would also be a rather sound decision. This rule is valid for any position so you must pay close attention to the game in case the pot has been raised twice.

Middle Position

In middle position you are free to play some few more hands. So now you can enjoy calling with any one gap suited connectors down to 53s. You should start raising with hands JJ, AQ and two suited cards Jacks or better as well.

The ways how to re-raise and call raises see «Early position».

Late Position

When you are happened to play in the late position – play approximately the same hands as in the middle one. So in case someone has called before you please feel free to call with two gapped suited connectors as well (i.e. 59s). You can also raise with AA and sometimes 99 in this position. The ways how to re-raise and call raises see «Early position».


From the Blinds position you should play approximately the same way as from the middle position. The difference is in the attitude, because as a matter of fact, the Blinds constitute such a small part of the pot so they often appear not that important to defend as they are in the limit game. So in case you are raising here you should raise a bit more. You will be in the worst position the rest of the hand so you might as well take a chance to soften the opposition.