Starting Hand Selection in Texas Hold ‘Em

Starting hand selection is the most hands-on element of basic poker strategy and it’s perhaps the most important as it keeps you from entering pots with hands that aren’t going to win. Simply put, “starting hand selection” is the art of choosing good hands over bad and thus folding the bad ones when they land in your lap.

Technically speaking, any hand can win in Texas Hold ‘Em poker, but if you stick to solid hand selection, you’re going to win a lot more often. Let’s take a look at the top two tiers of hands and how they affect your play.

The Math and The Top Tier
There are 1,326 two-card starting hand combinations from a standard 52-card deck. Since suits have no value, most of these hands are identical in value before the flop. AhJh and AsJs are identical in value because they’re both of the same suit. This means that there are 169 nonequivalent starting hands in hold ’em (13 pairs, 78 suited hands and 78 unsuited hands.) Of these, there are 25 starting hands with a probability of winning a ten-handed table greater than one in seven.

Of these twenty five hands, high-value face card pairs (AA, KK and QQ) are the absolute best to start off with connectors like AK (suited) and KQ (suited) right below them. Don’t be afraid to be aggressive with these before the flop.

Second Tier Starting Hands
Let’s face it: we’d be folding way, way more hands than we want to if we only stuck to top-tier hands, so the next five starting hands open up our game greatly: AK (not suited); AQ (suited); AJ (suited); JJ and TT. Playing these whenever they’re available means that you’re going to be in a lot more pots. They’re not as powerful as the top tier hands, but they’re still great starting hands that should help you win money.

I recommend that beginners stick to just these top ten starting hands when they’re first playing, no matter what position they’re in. As your game improves, you can start to open up your starting hand requirements and look at suited connectors and pairs like 88 and above. Again, though: beginners should definitely stick with the big hands to make post-flop play a lot easier.