Starting hands

There are 1 326 different starting hands in Texas hold'em, but if you leave out the different color constellations there are totally 169.

Which starting hands a player should play is something that has been discussed in many books about poker. By dividing different hands into categories could be helpful for the ranking. This gives an oversight and that method are going to be used here also.

The categories below are only based on the objective strength of the starting hands; therefore, it's not sure that a specific play should be applied on all starting hands in the same category. A-A (two aces) are clearly the best starting hand and there are never an option to fold with it, which may be the case for other hands in Category 1. In the choice of starting hands, you must also consider how many players there are on the table, which structure you are playing in and your own playing style (other articles on this site focus on these


Abbreviations used: A (Ace), K (King), Q (Queen), J, (Jack), T (Ten), s (suited)

Category 1


General playing instructions: Play in almost all situations and normally raise, re-raise or 4-bet.

Category 2


General playing instructions: Play in almost all situations and normally raise or re-raise.

Category 3


General playing instructions: Play in most situations and normally raise and sometimes re-raise.

Category 4


General playing instructions: Play in late positions and sometimes in midle positions depending on the circumstances.

The list will not necessarily correspond to which starting hands that win most in practical play a good term for this is ”equity-realization”, which is more about the effective odds than general playability. Which hand that works in practical play depends on different factors. One is that it's very easy to overplay some cards, like A-K. Another kind of problem hands is J-J and T-T. These are big hands, but the value of them decreases when a queen, a king or an ace hits the table.

Number of combinations for different hand categories

The most common hands are offsuited hands. Each offsuited hand have twelve possible combinations.
For example A-Ko: A -K , A -K ,A -K , A -K , A -K , A -K , A -K , A -K , A -K , A -K , A -K, A -K .

The next most common hands are the pairs. Each pocket pair have six possible combinations.
For example A-A: A -A , A -A , A -A , A -A , A -A , A -A .

The least common hands are the suited hands. Each suited hand have four possible combinations.
For example A-Ks: A -K , A -K ,A -K , A -K .

Starting hands charts

All starting hands in Texas hold'em can be displayed shematically in a chart:

All hands, both with suited and offsuited versions are included. The real benefit of these charts appear when they display ranges, as we will se below.

The green color marks which cards to play. It tells, for example, that if your hole cards are QT (queen-ten) you should probably play, but if your hole cards are Q5 (queen-five) you should fold. In the chart, only about 10% av the hands get a green light, which is a rather tight pre flop disposition. There are many ideas and theories about how many hands should you play in poker; see starting hands ranges for more examples and information about this.

Starting Hands in Texas Hold em

A K is of the same value pre flop as A K . Of course, if three hearts appeared on the flop, the A K would be much more likely to win, but since the flop cannot be predicted, these two hands have the same value before the flop. They would both simply be referred to as AK suited.Each of the 169 starting combinations falls into one of five categories:

Pairs ex. 8 8 or A A
Unsuited Connectors ex. 4 5 or Q J
Unsuited Gapped Cards ex. A J or 2 8
Suited Connectors ex. K Q or 8 9
Suited Gapped Cards ex. K 10 or 5 3

Starting Hand Standards

There are a few hands that are strong enough to play from any position on the table. However these hands don t come very often so you need consistent starting standards to be successful. Here is a table of playable hands relative to position.
Playable Texas Holdem hands from early position:

Pocket Pairs 7s through Aces
Suited Ace with a King, Queen, Jack, or 10
King with a Queen, Jack, or 10
Queen with a Jack or 10
Jack with a 10 or 9
10 with a 9
Unsuited Aces with a king, queen, jack, or 10
King with a queen or jack

Playable Texas Hold em hands from middle position (5th, 6th, or 7th player to act)

Pocket Pairs 5s and 6s
Suited Aces with a 9,8,7, or 6
King with a 9
Queen with a 9 or 8
Jack with an 8
10 with an 8
9 with an 8
Unsuited King with a 10
Queen with a Jack or 10
Jack with a 10

Late position is the last or next to last player to act. You can add a variety of hands to your standards if the pot has not been raised. Most of these hands you would call with to simply get a bargain flop and hope to get lucky.

Playable Texas Holdem hands from middle position

Pocket Pairs 4s, 3s, and 2s
Suited Aces with a 5,4,3, or 2
King with an 8,7,6,5,4,3 or 2
Jack with a 7
10 with a 7
9 with a 7 or 6
8 with a 7 or 6
7 with a 6 or 5
6 with a 5
5 with a 4
Unsuited King with a 9
Queen with a 9
Jack with a 9 or 8
10 with a 9 or 8
9 with an 8 or 7
8 with a 7

If you mastered Texas Hold em and are looking to improve your Pot Limit Omaha game, this article explains the differences between Pot Limit Omaha and Texas Hold em starting hand values.

Texas Hold'em Starting Hand Rankings

In this article, we ranked starting hands in Texas Hold'em by the winning chance.

Using our poker odds calculator engine, we first calculated the fixed-preflop, post-river winning probability of all 169 types of starting hands. Then, we ranked and ordered the starting hands from the best to worst in the table and chart below.

Essentially, we use the winning chance as a measure of hand strength.


Texas Hold'Em Hand Ranking Table

RankHand Type6p. win odds9p. win odds

  1. We define the fixed-preflop, post-river winning chance as follows. The hero's hand is fixed to be the hand of interest. For example, this could be paired A. Then, in N players game, our simulation deal random cards for the (N - 1) other players game. Next, we would deal all the shared cards randomly up to the river. We then check if the hero is the winner and keep track how many times has the hero won using the fixed hands. Finally, we repeat this whole process again for 10,000 times. The winning probability is simply = (number of times winning after post river)/10,000

Texas Hold'Em Hand Ranking Chart


Based on the tabulated data and chart generated, there are a few interesting observations to be made. The are listed below:

1. Pair A is best hand

There should be no surprise that Pair A is the best hand. Having a pair A, helps you to easily get the best possible double pair combo or three-of-kind combo. While it might be harder to strike straight or flush with it, those scenarios are typically less likely to happen. Thus, making pair A better in general.

2. Offsuit 72 is the worst hand

This might be less known to people and it could be counter intuitive. Some might have thought that perhaps Offsuit J2 would be worse than Offsuit 72. But, that is not the case.

To understand why this is the case, we can start thinking about what are combinations that are most likely to lead to a winning combo assuming no one folds. Given any hands, we are more likely to win with double pair, followed by 3-of-a-kind, straight flush and so forth.

With offsuit 72, we are more likely to win double pair of pair 7 and pair 2, followed by three-of-a-kind and so on. However, it is also worthwhile to note that it is highly like other players has a better double pair or three-of-a-kind. This bring us to the next important lesson to learn.

3. Having a suited, closely connected hand with A, K or Q is better than having pairs that is less than 9

If you were to investigate the table or chart, the hand ranked 5th is Suited AK. What is even more interesting is pairs hand only took 6 spots from rank 1 to rank 20. Most of the remaining spots were taken up by suited, closely connected hands with a high card like A, K or Q.

The reason for this is similar to previous point that we made. It is more frequent that players will win using double pairs or 3-of-a-kind. Therefore, having a higher card helps to push you to a better standing to win.

One final note on this topic - Pair 9 is the last pair hand ranked in the top 20 hands. Playing any other pairs hand may not be as good as conventional wisdom might suggest.

4. Winning chance drops fast within the top 7 ranked hands

This is the lesson that really took us by surprised. While developing our poker odds calculator, we did had a sense that odds of winning was somewhat asymmetric. But, the chart above really solidify how much the asymmetry was.

Within the top 7 ranked hands, the probability of winning drops really fast from paired A to paired K and so forth. If you get the top 7 hands, you really should work hard to get through the preflop.

5. You are more likely to win a 6 players match than a 9 players one

A player with hands that are in the top 7 ranks in a 6 players game have a much better chance of winning in a 9 players game. For example, Paired A has roughly 49.5% preflop winning probability in a 6-player game compared to only 35% in a 9-players game. While 14.5% difference is not as big as it sounds, it has a significant impact on the pot odds that you will need to make a value play. In short, it might be easier to make money off a 6 players game rather than a 9 players game.

6. In a no-folding six players match, your hand range to play is very large

This point is not as crucial as other points we have made. But, we find this observation quite interesting although it is unlikely to happen in real life.

Suppose that we are in a no-folding 6 players Texas Hold'Em match. During every betting session, our pot odds is 5-to-1. This means that for every $1 we bet, we stand to win $5.

Based on this pot odds, our break-even pot equity or winning odds is around 16.67%. Using the chart above, we can see that we can play any hands better than rank 106. This means that players can play 105 types of hands out of 169 types (59.2% of all types) and still perform better than break even! Basically, you have a very large hand range to play in this type of situation.

Nonetheless, this is a just-for-fun analysis, which does not happen that often in real life. Based on some of our experience playing, it could happen sometimes during preflop though.

7. Our hand rankings are similar to Sklansky hand groups

Sklansky hand groups was formulated by David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth. Both of these old school poker players understand the math very well. It is no surprise that our hand rankings aligns very well with their proposed hand groups.

Sklansky hand group proposes that Tier 1 group consists of pair A, pair K, pair Q, pair J and suited AK. These cards are essentially ranked 1 to 5 via our Monte Carlo simulation. The same observation can be made for Sklansky Tier 2 and Tier 3 hand group.


In our analysis of poker hand ranking, we used winning probability as a metric to rank each starting hands. We show that the top 7 hands have a significant winning advantage over any other hands, especially the best hand - paired A. We hope that poker enthusiasts can used this information and our poker odds calculator to improve their game.

Starting Hand Selection in Hold em

One of hold ems most crucial decisions is, do I see the flop or don t I see the flop? In this lesson well examine the importance starting hand selection and what factors you need to consider before deciding whether to hold em or fold em.

There are 169 different two card starting hand combinations in hold em poker. This number assumes, for the sake of argument, that is the same as , or any other suited combination. If you are not dealt a pair, then your starting hand will either be suited or unsuited, and either connected or unconnected (gapped). This means your starting hand will fall into one of the following five categories:

  • Pairs e.g. , ,
  • Suited connectors e.g. , ,
  • Connecting cards e.g. , ,
  • Suited unconnected cards e.g. , ,
  • Unconnected cards e.g. , ,

Unconnected cards might be one, two, three-gapped, or more. The bigger the gap, the less chance you have of hitting a straight. For example, if you hold 73, then you d need a flop of 456 for the straight. But holding T8, you could flop a straight with 9JQ or 679.

The Best Starting Hands in Hold em

Lets start by talking about the best starting hands, which are often referred to as premium hands . There is some disagreement amongst poker players as to which starting hands are the best, but few would dispute the value of the first of our three main groups, Aces and Kings.

Group 1: AA, KK

These two starting hands are the major players in hold em. It s not often you ll get dealt Aces or Kings. In fact you get either Aces or Kings once in every 110 hands, so it s not nearly as often as we d like. Aces are by far the best possible starting hand in hold em, closely followed by Kings. However, you should be aware that even Aces or Kings can get cracked, and they don t play too well against multiple opponents. This means you should definitely be raising pre-flop to narrow the field. Extra caution is necessary when playing Kings, because if an Ace falls on the flop then you re losing to anyone who has a single Ace in their starting hand. While they are very strong hands which most players love to get, they are certainly not unbeatable.

Group 2: QQ, JJ, AKs

Queens and Jacks are great starting hands, and with either of these, you can usually be confident you have the best starting hand. Of course they are dominated by Aces and Kings, but they re a favourite against all other starting hands. While Queens and Jacks will occasionally run into a player holding either Aces or Kings, it doesn t happen too often. Play these cards strongly, and always look to raise with them.

Ace-King is known throughout the poker world as Big Slick, and when suited it s often called Super Slick. While it isn t a made hand , unlike a pair, it offers great potential. It s only a big underdog to Aces and Kings, and even pairs like Queens and Jacks are only slight favourites. The beauty of AK (suited or unsuited), is that it dominates so many other hands like AQ, AJ, AT, and so on. These types of hands are the ones that players usually end up pushing all-in with late in a tournament.

Group 3: TT, AK, AQs, AJs, KQs

This next group of starting hands is also a strong bunch. You should definitely be looking to raise pre-flop with any of these hands too. We ve already talked about the power of AK, but starting hands like AQs, and AJs, are also very strong and often run into weaker Ace-X combinations. Even though these are all strong starting hands, and most of the time you ll be winning pre-flop, you have to be careful particularly a hand like KQs, which you can easily fold to a re-raise.

Suited Cards

You ll often hear novice players responding to questioning of why they played a particular starting hand with the line well, because they were suited. Some suited cards are worth playing and it s certainly better to start with suited cards than unsuited cards. However, the odds of flopping a flush is 1 out of 118 hands (0.8%) with two suited cards, and youll only make a flush after the river around 6.5% of the time. Don t fall into the trap of playing any two cards just because they happen to be suited it doesn t make a big enough difference to make junk hands valuable.

Kicker Issues

The word kicker means the smaller of your two cards. Some players play a hand if it contains an Ace with any other card (such as an Ace with a 3 kicker), and this type of play ultimately cost players money and tournaments. For example, let s suppose a player calls with A6 and the flop comes A83. What does the player do? bet? call? raise? call a big raise? go all-in? What if the flop comes Q63? The player has middle pair which is very hard to play. Hey, the flop could come A6X the player has two pair, Aces and sixes but this happens only 1 out of 49 hands (2%). Until you learn when and how to play Ace junk (AX) go slow with it. One good thing about A junk and K junk, is that you do not need to play these hands to learn when they may be profitable. Let experience from other hands and study be your teacher.

Table Conditions

Hold em starting hands can be a complex subject because every situation is different. If you were to ask a professional poker player, should I call, raise, or fold this hand pre-flop? his response would almost certainly be it depends! Here are some of the main reasons why it depends:

The Number of Players

The value of certain starting hands is very dependent upon the number of players at the table. Certain starting hands are always going to be under threat against a table of nine or ten players, but the value of these same hands increases when there are fewer players. A starting hand like KJ might be vulnerable against a full table of players, but is considered a strong hand if there are just a few other players.


Your position on the poker table will be a major factor in deciding which starting hands you should play. The later your position in the betting order, the better because you get to decide what to do after most of your opponents have acted. Well talk much more about the importance of position throughout our lessons on Pokerology, but as a first step please see our lesson on the value of position. Playing position can elude us at first because it is a part of poker that lends itself to be exploited through experience. However, you must quickly realize that your position at the table should heavily influence the choice of starting hands that you play. Until a player has a feel or grasp for positional play, just believe and follow some of the suggestions on the subject.

A Raised Pot

Whether or not a pot has been raised should be a very important factor in your decision to play a particular starting hand. Your selection of starting hands should change when the pot has been raised by a reasonable player. If there has been a raise and a re-raise before you re due to act, then you should only consider playing with a very strong hand. Of course this will also depend on the personality types of the other players and whether the game is very loose or passive.

Starting Hand Charts

When you first start playing poker it can be helpful to use a starting hand chart as a point of reference. We ve created a couple of starting hand charts that can be used by beginners. Please click on the following links to view these charts (they will open in a new window):

Each of these charts loads as a PDF, meaning they be viewed on screen, bookmarked or better still, can be printed and studied offline.

Beginners can treat starting hand charts as the gospel, but once you know enough about the game to recognize appropriate opportunities, you can deviate because your adjustment may represent a more profitable play. Our starting hand charts are a guide, not a set of intractable rules. There is no such thing as a perfect starting hand chart, because every game is different and there are many variables at work. Game texture and table conditions can t be measured and included into a neat formula.

There are many factors that may encourage you to tighten or loosen your play from our guidelines. If you have a starting hand that s not listed on the chart, then there s a good reason it should almost always be mucked. But as in all poker decisions the phrase, It depends comes to mind. However, before you decide to deviate from our guidelines, have a reason for taking such an action.


Don t fall into the trap of playing any two cards. Most poker players want to play hands and as a beginner it s very easy to be seduced by suited cards or picture cards, or any two-card holding that contains an Ace of a King but if you play hold em correctly, you re going to be selective and toss away the vast majority of hands you re dealt.

When you gain more poker playing experience you can begin to open up your range of starting hands but until then, proceed with caution and only play the best hands. Loose, promiscuous play will get you into trouble and is the downfall of many players.

In future lessons we ll expand much more on the topics discussed in this poker lesson and get you to think beyond the actual cards youre dealt. We also have hours of video footage covering starting hand selection for both no-limit and fixed-limit hold em so depending upon your preference, be sure to check them out!

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