How Not to Suck at Poker: Play Fewer Hands

Are you just unlucky – Or are you making huge mistakes? Are you missing one simple concept that could change things? The key could be to simply play fewer hands. Find out how to do this effectively.

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The truth: You're really not that far behind 95% of the poker players in the world. And you don't need to be the foremost expert on the game to become a winning poker player. In fact, a relatively small amount of basic poker principles can produce massive improvements in your results almost immediately. The first step to becoming a good poker player: simply figuring out how to stop sucking at it. One of the ways to do so is to start playing fewer hands. Here' what we mean and how to put it into practice.

Play Fewer Hands

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In Texas Hold'em there are 169 different possible starting hands you can be dealt (this is ignoring specific suits). Out of all these possible hands, there are only five hands that are considered "premium."

  1. AA
  2. KK
  3. QQ
  4. AK (Suited)
  5. JJ

Regardless of your position at the table, a premium hand should always be played if there is no raise ahead of you. If there is a raise ahead of you - especially if there are callers or re-raises - sometimes it can even be a mistake to play anything below Aces or Kings. When you think about Texas Hold'em starting hands this way, you'll realize you should be folding around 80% more hands.

Naturally, the hands you play, and how you play them, will change depending on thousands of different variables at the table. But at the very core of the game there are very few hands that are considered playable. If there has been no player to open the pot (meaning no one has raised, or even limped ahead of you) you can play almost any hand with any sort of potential value.

Once someone has raised ahead of you, your hand selection should be narrowed down to only the hands that can give you the nuts, and help keep you out of any situation which has you dominated.

For example: you should never play KQ into a raise, as AA, KK, QQ, AK, and AQ all have you dominated. Unless you have a very good reason to do so, as a beginner poker player you should stick to playing only the top 10 to 15 hands, period.

The more you play, and the better you become at the game, the more hands you can add to your playlist. Until then, keep it simple, and always head to the flop with the best of it.

Top 15 Hold'em Starting Hands

  1. AA
  2. KK
  3. QQ
  4. AK (suited)
  5. JJ
  6. 1010
  7. AQ (suited)
  8. AJ (suited)
  9. AK (off suit)
  10. KQ (suited)
  11. A10 (suited)
  12. KJ (suited)
  13. AQ (off suit)
  14. 99
  15. JQ (suited)

Related Reading:

Pick Your Texas Hold'em Hands Wisely

By playing fewer starting hands you can give yourself a huge advantage against loose, aggressive players. Exactly the kinds of players mentioned above. You'll also make your post-flop decisions much easier and cut way down on the times you're putting money into the pot with the worst hand.

When you have more experience you can begin to play more hands and get more creative with your post-flop play. But until then, it's a much more profitable enterprise to keep it simple. And only put money into the pot when you have a good hand. In this beginner poker strategy video we teach you how to tighten up your starting hand range to win more money playing Texas Hold'em poker.

Related Reading:

Check out this quick video and continue with the rest of the How Not to Suck beginner poker strategy series below:

More on How Not to Suck at Poker:

  1. How Not to Suck at Poker: Play Fewer Hands (you're here!)
  2. How Not to Suck at Poker: Play in Position
  3. How Not to Suck at Poker: Count Your Outs
  4. How Not to Suck at Poker: Learn Basic Odds
  5. How Not to Suck at Poker: Pay Attention
  6. How Not to Suck at Poker: Have a Proper Bankroll
  7. How Not to Suck at Poker: Stop Bluffing
  8. How Not to Suck at Poker: Stop Talking So Much
  9. How Not to Suck at Poker: Track Your Results
  10. How Not to Suck at Poker: Talk to Better Players

More Beginner Poker Tools:

Donald Draper
2016-11-20 10:22:44

That’s why betting is a big portion of the game. If you’re sitting with KK, you NEED to preflop raise. This pushes weak hands like 3/6 out of the pot and does not allow them to even have that possibly of a small full house.

Felix Gerdtsson
2016-09-06 08:47:25

I like this, but the problem is: Whenever I turn down the bad hand like 3/6 there’s a full house with those cards. Whenver I stick with the good hand like K/K someone else happens to get a full house with 3/6 😉

2016-06-25 17:46:45

My first two times trying this strat I got 5th in a 45 man tourney and first in a 9 man, not bad, not bad. I’ve definitely gotten into a bad habit of trying to make something out of negligible hands, which led to too many beats with slightly better hands. Will definitely be more disciplined going forward, thanks!

2014-06-17 07:38:10

Hey Sean!!

Can i use this guide on a 6-max table or do you suggest something else?


2013-02-17 08:37:30

im skeptic about beginners playing 99 .. its a good hand to limp or call a small bet but theres alot of fish in the sea who’s going to play anything with an A .. so basically your hoping for all low cards preflop to get good odds .. personally i rather play J 10 suit then 99 because if A K Q J 10 or any draw you will be second guessing your 9s .. with 99 forget about flushes or str8 all you can wish for is your 9 or a board filled with undercards

2012-05-03 16:38:37

Good series of posts Sean. Def still relevant at low to mid stakes live play.

One place I’d disagree.

Provided players are getting the right pot-to-stack odds (at least 10 to 1), pocket pairs should be played by beginners over the many of the “top 15” hands listed. Small pocket pairs are far easier to play than A10, KJo, QJs, etc. The beginner either flops a set and pushes the action or puts on the breaks.

2012-02-05 05:31:25

This should help me in my poker game.

Arty Smokes
2011-05-30 18:18:57

I basically use the advice on this page and play like a rock until I get a feel for what hands my opponents are playing, but there is one thing that I keep seeing that is contradicted elsewhere in the text.
Newbies are often advised to “fold 80% of the cards you are dealt” and “Only play the top 15 starting hands”. If there are 169 possible starting hands, then 15 accounts for less than 9%. (Since the list of 15 contains suited and unsuited versions of AK and AQ, there’s only 13 hands mentioned). If you’re only playing 9%, then you’ll probably only be in the pot once every orbit of a full ring. When you consider you’ve got to post small and big blinds with each orbit, you can’t really afford to only play 9% of the cards you are dealt unless you win decent pots when you finally get AA or KK. Many times with those monsters you’ll just win back the blinds you’ve already paid out, unless it goes to a flop and you trap someone.
To the list of hands mentioned above, I think you have to play 66 77 and 88, especially if you have position and there wasn’t a large raise. If you flop a set, these hands have much more value than KJ, AQ etc.

sara puskarits
2010-11-06 01:15:32

Let Jack know I am at [email protected] thanks

sara hanson puskarits
2010-11-06 01:13:29

Some body please let Jack Binion know I am looking for him. I am a looong time friend of the family. He is hard to reach from New York

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