Texas Holdem Poker Lessons: Starting Hands

In Holdem, one should fold a lot and play only when the hand is worth something. This Texas Holdem Poker Lesson looks at starting hands and when to play them.

Types of Starting Hands

There are 169 possible starting hand combinations. Less than half are worth your time. Below is a typical cookbook chart of good starting pairs. It is not meant to be followed religiously, but is a helpful guide for beginners nonetheless.


Suited: Any suited combination of ace and court cards. Unsuited: An off-suit pair of ace and king.

Very Good

Suited: A ten with a court card or ace. Unsuited: A pair of court cards and/or ace. A nine or ten pair. A ten and jack or higher.


Suited: A sequenced seven to ten. An eight and ten. A nine and jack. Unsuited: A seven or eight pair.


Suited: Lower sequenced cards. Unsuited: Any pair.

How many of these cards you play depends on how tight you want to be. Very tight players will play only the best hands. Any other combination is a throw-away. Remember: FOLD OFTEN. It will save you a lot of trouble.

The reason for choosing high cards is they can make monster hands like a high straight flush, high flush, etc. Also, even if the flop shows no sign of that big hand you're chasing, you can still get a high one pair, two pair that would be hard to beat in a showdown.

But if you play a suited 3-5 and your chances of making either a flush or straight look grim after the flop, what does that leave you? Even a two pair could be easily beaten. And if the board shows an open trip, like three 7's, you have no high kicker to win a tie.


It would be a mistake to rely solely on hand charts. Other factors to consider are described below.

Number of Players

If there are many active players who will see the flop, you can play middle-suited cards like 7-8. These cards do better with a full table. Good-looking hands like ace and ten, queen and jack, etc. can easily become "trap hands," i.e. second-best hands (see below).

If there are few active players, high cards like ace and court cards do better.


Novices just love to see an ace with a face card (court card). Because they look so good, they quickly become trap cards�that is, you think you've got the best hand� until you get your ass whipped in the showdown. Traps will cost you dearly if you do not play them well.

Usual trap hands are unsuited ace-jack, king-queen, king-jack, queen-jack and any high card with a ten. Don't raise under the gun with these. Don't call a raise with them as your opponent may well have a high pair like kings or a suited king-queen. But trap hands can be played if no one has called or raised before you and you are late.


In case of a preflop raise, do not call it unless you have a great hand. Do not match raises in middle position with a trap hand. But if you are in late position and several players have raised before you, you can raise a trap hand. You might just win a big pot.

Table Position

If under the gun (to the left of the big blind), play with only the nicest hands. If you are late or have the button, you can play riskier hands. But still be choosy.

This concludes the Texas Holdem Poker Lesson on starting hands.