As any seasoned poker player can tell you, what you choose to play is just as important in a poker game as the manner in which you play it. New players often make the fatal mistake of overestimating the value of their hands, especially in Texas Hold'em, which this section will focus on. After a long string of lousy cards, hitting anything-- even a low pair-- can feel like an accomplishment, but that doesn't mean that you should play it! Another mistake that rookie players often make is getting attached to their cards when they have a good or decent hand, because they don't immediately consider that their nice hand may not be the nut hand, and instead of folding when another player likely has a better hand, they keep playing, considering themselves pot committed or determined that the cards they've been dealt can't possibly lose.
The truth is, in poker, most hands get folded-- you really only play 20-40% of the hands that you're dealt, and if you're playing more than that, you're probably not fully aware of how to pick your hands. Not only are some hands considerably more valuable and worth playing than others, but which hands you want to bother playing changes depending on your position, the way the other players are playing, the way the pot comes together (or not), and so on. In this guide, we'll cover which hands you actually want to play... and from where.
The Best Poker Hands
The following hands are almost always worth playing, because they give you a substantial shot at winning the hand, regardless of your position. Position does have a part to play here, but a really good hand is a really good hand, no matter where you're sitting; it's what you can do with it that changes. When you're deciding whether or not to play a hand, try to always play these.
This is the best Hold'em hand you can start with, and it will bring you a win the majority of the time. It can be beaten, but the odds are definitely in your favor if you're holding on to pocket rockets.
Only Aces can beat it (and things that develop on the flop for other players with draw hands), but given the nature of Hold'em, the chances are pretty good that if you're holding cowboys, you're going to end up taking the pot.
A pair of ladies is also going to beat the majority of things you'll be up against. You might want to pay attention if a solo king or ace comes down on the flop, but you'll have the upper hand against most other poker hands.
When suited, you have a run at Broadway, a flush, and a straight as well as having a shoe-in for high card, should it come down to it. While Ace of Clubs Ace of Diamonds , King of Clubs King of Diamonds , and Queen of Clubs Queen of Diamonds hold a higher win percentage, suited Ace of Hearts King of Hearts offers you more versatility than any other hand. Unsuited, it gives you great odds, just without the draw for the flush or Broadway.
You can expect Jack of Clubs Jack of Diamonds to give you the win 20% of the time, so if you can get a little protection and force some other players out, you've got a good shot of getting a win with this hand.
Like a pair of Jacks, suited Ace of Hearts Queen of Hearts will give you a win about 1/5 of the time in a ten-handed game of poker. Off-suit, it's not worth quite as much, but it's still a decent hand in what's ultimately a high card game.
This hand is versatile like Ace of Clubs King of Diamonds -- you only need to worry about other players nabbing a high-card hand with a pocket Ace.
Like the above hands, this is a great draw hand that's better suited. It's not going to pull a win as often as the others, but it's still going to give you a strong advantage over the competition.
The Worst Poker Hands
The following hands should always be folded, regardless of your position, because the changes are ridiculously high that you're going to lose the hand, even if you make the flop (if there's a way that the flop could give you something). The statistics that any of these hands would win a hand are very, very slim, so if you're overcoming the bad habit of not folding enough, you can greatly improve your game by always folding these hands.
This is the lowest hand in all of Texas Hold'em, and it's completely useless-- you can't get a straight, the card values are too low, and even if you made a flush, someone would surely have one higher.
Same principle as above, except you have a worthless card that's one rank higher-- it's still not going to give you anything.
These are only marginally better than 2 of Clubs 7 of Diamonds and 2 of Hearts 8 of Spades . With the 3 of Clubs 7 of Diamonds , you could potentially grab a straight, but it's such low value that you really don't want to even try for it.
Even if they're suited, and even if you grab a straight or flush, there's a very good chance that someone else is going to have a higher straight/flush than you-- the odds for a straight flush are so slim that it's not worth holding onto this weak hand.
2, 3, or 4-9
Same principle as the 2 of Clubs 7 of Diamonds , 2 of Hearts 8 of Spades , 3 of Clubs 7 of Diamonds , and 3 of Hearts 8 of Spades , except with a slightly higher card. With a 9 of Clubs high, you're not likely to catch a high card draw.
While the 10 of Clubs is fair in terms of a high card, your second card is so low that you have almost no chance of going anywhere with this hand.
You could draw the straight, but it's such a middle-of-the-road hand that it's really not worth taking the gamble, because you've got nothing if the flop doesn't make.
4-7, 4-8, 5-8, 3-6, and so on
More of the same. Low value cards that could potentially combine to make a very low straight, which isn't worth holding onto. Let them go.
Ace and low card
The ace might make this starting hand look awfully tempting (especially if you haven't gotten anything play-worthy in a while), but if you're playing against more than one or two opponents, there's a good risk that someone is going to come up with something more valuable. If the ace becomes a factor, there's a chance that another play also holding an ace will also be holding a higher second card.
K, Q, J and low card
Same principle as above, but worth even less because of the lower value of the face cards as compared to the Aces.
Position and Hand Selection
Now that you know which hands are worth holding and which ones you should pretty much always flop, it's time to add another dimension to your poker strategy education: hand selection that's dependent on your position at the table. Contrary to what many beginner players believe, not all positions are created equal, and what works for the person with the dealer button is not going to be same as what can pass when you're going first after the blinds. One of the best things that you can do to improve your poker game is learn how to choose your hands based on your position, as your position is going to determine your potential for success with a given hand.
If you're in early position:
Play tight from early position-- because you're in one of the most vulnerable positions, the kinds of hands that you can get away with playing is pretty limited. What looks like it might be a decent hand (and would be, from any other position) may not get you very far if you're sitting in the first couple places after the blinds. You can get away with playing Ace of Clubs Ace of Diamonds , King of Clubs King of Diamonds , Queen of Clubs Queen of Diamonds , Jack of Clubs Jack of Diamonds , 10 of Clubs 10 of Diamonds , 9 of Clubs 9 of Diamonds , 8 of Clubs 8 of Diamonds , but you're going to have to be careful with the lower pairs-- limp with any pairs that aren't face cards-- you can raise and re-raise with Ace of Clubs Ace of Diamonds , King of Clubs King of Diamonds , and Queen of Clubs Queen of Diamonds , but be more cautious with Jack of Clubs Jack of Diamonds . It's a calling hand, not a re-raising one.
You can also play the following suited cards: Ace of Spades King of Spades , Ace of Diamonds Queen of Diamonds , Ace of Hearts Jack of Hearts , Ace of Spades 10 of Spades , King of Clubs King of Clubs , King of Diamonds Jack of Diamonds , Queen of Spades Jack of Spades as well as some unsuited: Ace of Clubs King of Diamonds , Ace of Clubs Queen of Diamonds , you can go wild and re-raise with Ace of Clubs King of Clubs suited, but with Ace of Diamonds King of Diamonds suited, you should lay off the re-raising and stick to calls and raises. With the other suited combinations and the unsuited, you should limp, folding if you face more than one bet.
If you're in middle position:
In middle and late position, you can get away with playing a wider variety of hands, but you generally want to shy away from playing anything that you wouldn't play in early position unless the people to your right have only called (or you believe that they're bluffing). If the players that you have position on aren't betting, they probably don't have great hands, or they're waiting on a draw, so you can make an educated guess about what cards are worth the risk.
In addition to what you can play in early position, if you're sitting in middle position, you can also play middle pairs, such as 7 of Clubs 7 of Diamonds , 6 of Hearts 6 of Spades , and 5 of Clubs 5 of Diamonds , suited Ace of Clubs 9 of Clubs , King of Diamonds 10 of Diamonds , Queen of Hearts 10 of Hearts , Jack of Spades 10 of Spades , 10 of Clubs 9 of Clubs , and 9 of Diamonds 8 of Diamonds , all of which give you a shot at a flush, a straight, and a straight flush, while holding mediocre value for a high card hand, and unsuited Ace of Clubs Jack of Diamonds , Ace of Hearts 10 of Spades , King of Clubs Queen of Diamonds , and King of Hearts Jack of Spades .
If you're in late position:
In late position, you have the most information and can make the best decision about what cards are worth playing. In addition to what you can play in other positions, here you can also play the lower pairs (4 of Clubs 4 of Diamonds , 3 of Hearts 3 of Spades , and 2 of Clubs 2 of Diamonds ), unsuited Ace of Hearts 9 of Spades , King of Clubs 10 of Diamonds , Queen of Hearts Jack of Spades , Jack of Clubs 10 of Diamonds , and 10 of Hearts 9 of Spades , along with suited Aces and any card 8-2, K9 and K8, Q9, J9, T8, 87, 86, 65, and 54. Depending on how players before you have played, you can determine the potential strength of any of these hands.