Even a "top 10 hand" can be the wrong hand to play depending on the situation you're in.
Since a definitive guide on every hand and how and when to play it in every situation would take more words than a novel, this article will touch on the major points of basic pre-flop hands with broad strokes.
Although you can write volumes about detailed lines and theories on maximizing profit with this hand, other than folding there is rarely a scenario in which you can ever make a mistake with this hand (pre-flop that is).
Post Flop: Even though this is the best starting hand, if the board doesn't improve your hand you only have one pair. Keep this in mind to avoid stacking off to random two pairs and sets.
Pocket kings are almost identical to pocket aces pre-flop. Although players have folded KK pre-flop, it's rarely the correct thing to do.
If someone else is dealt AA when you have KK, chances are you're going to get it all in. Don't worry about this, just write it off as a cooler and move on.
Post Flop: The same ideas about post-flop play with AA are applicable to KK. On top of the "one pair" concept, you also need to be on the lookout for an ace on the flop.
Although an ace flopping is not automatically a death sentence, it's never a good sign.
- Suggested reading: Poker Trouble Spots: KK in Early Position Part 1
Pocket Queens and Jacks
Queens and jacks are right in the middle - below the big pairs and above the marginal pairs. These hands can be some of the trickiest to play.
That being said, these two hands should still be in your list of top 10 most profitable hands.
Unlike AA and KK, these hands are very foldable pre-flop in certain situations. If you're playing at a tight table, where people are only raising with legitimate hands, many players would say that calling after one player raises and another re-raises pre-flop can be a mistake.
Post Flop: If there is heavy action pre-flop, you have to assume you're either beat, or at best up against AK. You only want to continue with these hands if the board improves your hand, or your opponents back off, showing signs of weakness.
- Suggested Reading: Pocket Jacks Part 1: Pre-Flop Play
Pocket Pairs Below Jacks
Example:9♠ 9♥, 8♣ 8♦
Playing the tight-aggressive style preached in the article How to Crush Live $1/$2 No-Limit Hold'em, all of these hands are playable with no raise or a single raise (especially with multiple callers) for set value.
You're set mining with these hands. If you don't hit your set, you don't make a bet.
Got that? No set, no bet. The only goal with these hands is to flop a set and double up through the pre-flop raiser holding pocket aces.
One Thing to Keep in Mind: The lower your pair, the greater the chance that you will find yourself in a set-over-set situation.
Anytime you flop the under set in a set-over-set situation, you will be lucky if you don't lose your entire stack. For this reason, many players will refuse to play pocket pairs below fives.
Example:A♠ K♥, K♠ Q♦
Hands such as A-K, A-Q, A-J and even K-Q can be profitable hands to play. At a loose table, these hands are great for raising when you have position (and no one has raised ahead of you).
The way to make money with these hands is to trap a loose opponent with the same top pair, weak kicker. The most important thing to keep in mind with hands such as K-Q or A-J is you almost never want to call a raise with these hands.
These hands are the most commonly dominated hands when faced with a raise, and as such will lose you significant money if you get into the habit of calling raises with them.
Post-Flop: Much like AA and KK, you need to remember that one pair is a hand easily beaten. If your opponent is a very tight player, there is little chance he will be putting in large bets against you if he can't beat top pair.
You need to change how you play depending on the players you're against.
- Suggested Reading: Ace-Queen Part 1: The Worst Best Hand
Suited Connectors (and Suited One-Gappers)
Example:8♠ 9♠, 9♦ J♦
Suited connectors can be some of the most valuable hands in No Limit Hold 'em cash games. That being said, they aren't sure things and will miss everything far more often than they will hit it big.
You want to fold small suited connectors (if not all suited connectors) from early position.
In middle to late position you want to play these hands with due diligence. You don't want to be calling large raises to play these hands heads up.
Your goal with these hands is to play the largest pots possible for the least amount of investment possible. You need great odds to make money on these.
Without the odds, they should be folded from any position.
- Suggested Reading: Playing Suited Connectors in Six-Max
Example:A♠ 4♠, A♥ 9♥
Similar to suited connectors, these hands are played only to take down very large pots for a very small investment.
You are not playing these hands to hit an ace and get into a betting war. As explained in this article, you don't want to play against an ace, even if you have a small ace yourself.
If you don't hit a draw on the flop (or better yet the nuts), you should be done with these hands. It's almost never profitable to be paying for backdoor draws.
Example:6♠ 9♦, 2♣ 7♣, K♥ 10♦
Simply put, every other hand you can be dealt is going to lose you money.
As a beginner or even intermediate player, hands that may look great - such as an off-suit Q-J or J-10 - are simply going to lose you money in the long run.
The worse the hands you play, the harder the decisions you're going to have to make post-flop.
The goal as a beginner poker player is to make as few mistakes as possible. And the best way to limit the number of mistakes you make is to reduce the number of difficult decisions you have to make.
The three most common mistakes a beginner makes are:
- Playing out of position
- Playing weak starting hands
- Playing marginal hands against a raise
Stick to only playing the hands in this list. Throw away the weaker of these hands when out of position, and only play against a raise if you have a very strong hand or the odds with a strong drawing hand.
Follow those guidelines, and you'll be on a fast track to making profit.
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