Friday, April 11, 2008

Learn Poker Free Lesson 2 - Starting Hands

Playing your starting hands selectively is probably the first step in progressing from a Texas Hold 'Em Poker 'noob' to a casual amateur. In general, what starting hands you play should be determined not only by the quality of the hand, but also by position relative to the button and your knowledge of the other players at the table. However at first you must learn about the different classes of hands and what is generally better than other hands. The following are the hand rankings that I personally use when I play poker:

1. Premium Hands

These are your big pairs. Premium hands are any hand that you almost always want to get your chips all in with before the flop. You always want to raise with these hands. There are only three of these hands - AA, KK, and QQ. Queens barely makes this category, as I have successfully folded them to pocket kings and aces before. However the vast majority of the time when you have queens against kings or aces you're going to get all of your chips in and there will be nothing than you can do - this is understandable as it is not that common of an occurrence.

2. Sub-Premium Hands

These are hands that you love to look down at, and it is not entirely uncommon that you end up all-in before the flop with them. You always want to raise with these hands, usually even if there is a raise ahead of you. There are 5 of these hands - AK, AQ, JJ, 10's, and 9's. Again, 9's are at the bottom end of the spectrum, as you are not always happy getting your chips all in with them. Jacks, tens and nines often times will go all-in pre-flop regardless as they are very difficult hands to play post-flop, considering that an over card will hit the board against jacks 40% of the time and almost all of the time for pocket nines.

3. Mid-Pocket Pairs

88, 77 and 66. You will sometimes want to raise with these hands before the flop in order to try and only go to the flop against one opponent, thus decreasing the likelihood of someone hitting an over card. You want to call small to medium sized raises ahead of you and possibly re-raise if you sense weakness. Of course if you flop a set, that's a moot point. You only usually want to end up all in pre-flop with these hands if you are playing very short-handed (4 or fewer players) or if you are short stacked.

4. Good Big Connectors

These are your big connecting cards. You will sometimes want to raise with these hands depending on position and whether or not another player has raised in front of you. You usually want to call small to medium sized raises behind you and fold to large raises or re-raises. There are 2 of these hands - AJ, KQ. You can often flop top pair, best kicker with these hands. Often times with these hands you will raise then make a continuation bet on the flop, whether or not you hit the flop. If you face resistance or get called you usually give up unless you flopped top pair.

5. Small-Pocket Pairs

These are all pocket pairs 5's and below. You only ever want to raise with these when you are playing short-handed or short stacked. You will call small to medium raises behind you, depending on your stack size, hoping to flop a set. If you don't, you generally surrender the hand immediately.

6. Weak Big Connectors

These are the lesser big connectors. You only generally want to play these from late position without a raise ahead of you. There are 6 of these hands: A10, KJ, K10, QJ, Q10, J10. The value of these hands goes up slightly when they are suited and I have for example raised from late position with suited KJ, though this isn't a common occurrence. You hope to flop top pair with a good kicker with these hands, though you will often have an inferior kicker when you flop top pair. This is why you will usually fold these hands to raises pre-flop - you don't want to have KJ and be up against an AK that raised from early position, do you?

7. Suited Ace

This is an ace along with any other low card as long as it is the same suit, for example both the ace and the eight of spades. It is not uncommon that I see flops with a suited ace. You will usually fold when raised pre-flop and you need to be very careful to not go all-in if you pair your ace on the flop - there is a good chance someone out there has an ace with a better kicker. Instead, what you are hoping for is to flop a flush, flush draw, trips or two pair with this hand. It isn't that often that you hit, but when you do you get paid off well. Often times when you flop two pair with this hand, you will get paid off by someone who only paired their ace but has a better kicker.

8. Suited Connectors, One-Gappers & Two-Gappers

Suited connectors are any two suited cards that numerically follow each other (for example 89, 76, 65 and so on. Suited one-gappers are any two suited cards that are one number apart (for example J9, 86). I think you can figure out what suited two-gappers are. Only the highest couple of each of these groups are considered highly playable. With these hands you hope for a flush, straight draw, trips or two pair. Usually you only play this sort of hand when you can see a cheap flop, hoping to hit it big.

9. Suited King

This is the worst class of hand that I will usually play. I will occasionally limp in with a suited king based on the same reason I will do so with a suited ace, playing with the same precautions as well. With a suited king your flush will be nearly as likely to be good as an ace high flush if you make it, and I tend to get paid off well on king high flushes when they hit. You hope to of course make a flush, trips or two pair with this hand. Often times when you flop two pair with this hand, you will get paid off by someone who only paired their king but has a better kicker.

10. Junk

Everything else is junk and shouldn't generally be played except in unusual circumstances (for example raising to steal blinds). There are some hands in this category that are rarely playable, such as a suited Q8, but for your average 10-person table in tournaments and cash games you don't want to be caught playing junk like that.

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