At The Poker Tables: Beginners Series 003 - Starting Hand Selection (Part 1)

The start of some thing is almost always the best place to start that thing, and that's exactly what we are going to do, with a quick foundational proof.

If you are to be a successful punter at the poker table then you need to have a solid strategy in place. A.

If you want to have a solid strategy in place then you need to make sure that the first step you take is taking you in the right direction. B

The first step you take at the poker table is your starting hand selection. B -> C

Therefore, by logical implication: If you are to be a successful punter at the poker table, then you must get your starting hand selection right. A -> C

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Choosing your starting hand when playing Texas Hold'em Poker is like choosing your weapon before a duel. Choose the wrong weapon, and you will probably lose. An inflatable toy sword will almost never beat a Glock 9mm, and an unsuited 2,5 will hardly ever trump Aces. Generally speaking, to win any given hand, you either need a better weapon than your opponent, or you need to understand their weapon better than they do.

There are various categories of "hole" cards which you will be dealt when playing Texas Hold'em poker. Below we will go through them one by one and detail the kinds of situations in which they are strong, how you can use them and what are the possible associated pitfalls.

The Cream of the Crop - AA, KK

These hands are no brainers. You will get dealt pocket aces only one in every 221 hands. Most of the time that you are at the poker table, you will not be getting aces or kings. So when you do get them, it is important to maximise your winnings, whilst avoiding getting carried away and ending up losing a monster pot. Here are some "do's" that are worth considering when you peek a look at hole cards like these.


  • Play these in any position at the poker table - a pre-flop raise is a must here.
  • Play these hands aggressively - remember - you need to get value from them. Try and build pots as early as possible. Slow playing these massive hands is always tempting, but rarely the best way to optimise profit.
  • Try and avoid playing against multiple opponents. You will be more likely to run into a situation where someone has hit something weird and unexpected, resulting in you losing a huge number of poker chips.

A tough spot: You have KK, and an ace appears on the flop.

Ooft...this one is a killer. How much of a killer will depend on who your opponents are. Are they the kind of people that will play any ace to a raise pre-flop? The chance of hitting a random flop is about 1 in 3, so their chance of hitting the Ace is more like 1 in 6. So not that likely...but...if you know that they always play any Ace, then you need to adjust these odds to take that into account. My strategy here is usually to take a deep breath, (an imaginary one, in my mind), bet the flop anyway and keep betting unless I come up against some serious resistance, for example, a check raise or a re-raise.

High Pairs (JJ, QQ) and AK Suited

These hands are almost always no-brainers as well, and you should raise them pre-flop, then often bet on the flop regardless of what appears. Overcards to your high pair are always scary and can be approached with some caution when they appear. However, taking a shot on the flop despite the overcard (most of the time - remember to vary your play at the poker tables occasionally to keep people guessing!) will be profitable on average. AK suited is a hand that should usually be played aggressively, as it is not a made hand and will miss the flop most of the time. Fortunately, especially on a suited board you often have many outs to allow you to fire off a semi-bluff (more on semi-bluffs in a future article!).

A tough spot: You have AK suited and miss the flop. Your opponent called your pre-flop raise out of position (first to act after the flop) and then leads out with a bet.

There is probably no obviously right (read, profitable) play here but I think that a call is likely to be a bad idea unless you know that this person likes to lead out on the flop much more often that he can be hitting something. As is usually the case in No Limit Hold'em a tight/ aggressive style is your safest strategy. A raise here would clarify your opponents strength, and even if they call the raise, then the pressure will be on them to lead out again on the turn - a high-risk move because as far as they know you could easily come over the top of them again. A fold is also acceptable in this situation if you know this player to be tight - they could have had a medium pair pre-flop or have hit some part of the flop.

Valuable but Defeatable (99, TT, AK offsuit, AQ suited, AJ suited, KQ suited)

All these holdings are profitable but should be approached with some caution. Middle pairs can be dominated in ways that you do not expect, as can AJ. Don't get too attached to these hands and be willing to fold to sustained pressure. That said these holdings should be, on average, winning poker chips for you so you should be looking to raise them up pre-flop and then play tight-aggressive. These hands also tend to play better against fewer opponents, another reason to not try and limp in with them. 

A tough spot: You have AJ suited and raise pre-flop. You get a caller and then someone raises behind them. 

This is a tough spot for a number of reasons. First is that the re-raiser is representing real strength here, which usually means that, at best, he has a similar holding to you. However, there is a good chance that he has you beaten or, even worse, dominated with an AQ / AK type of hand. You also have the problem that you have this other player to act after you. If you call, and then they re-raise after you, you will have to fold. If you call, and they also call, then you are playing a three-way pot with a marginal hand, against two players who are in for a re-raise pre-flop, are probably out of position. A raise here is an even riskier move but could be a good call if you have strong reasons to believe that the re-raiser is wild or that they are trying a "squeeze" play. So I would say a fold or a raise here are your only options, heavily weighted towards folding unless you have a strong reason not to.


Continued in Part 2!

In part 2 we will look at some of the less powerful hole cards, lower pairs, suited connectors, etc. We will pick out some situations where they can be profitable and look at how they can be played to maximise your poker chips. 

However, if you were only to play the starting hands above, with a spattering of others to keep people guessing, you would most likely be a profitable poker player on most of the amateur poker tables that you will find at lower stakes online or in poker rooms.

Good luck!


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