Last time we were discussing the structure of betting in a fixed-limit game of Texas hold ’em. This time we’ll look at the types of two-card starting hands you’re likely to encounter, which ones you should play, and which ones you should throw away or fold.
There are four different types of hands in hold ’em: pairs; suited cards; connected cards; and rags.
Pairs, of course, are hands where your two cards match. The higher the pair, the stronger the hand. If you start with A-A, for example, and your opponent starts with 3-3, then you have a tremendous advantage over her. The only way she can beat you is for the board to deliver one of the two remaining threes in the deck (unlikely) or four cards which work together with one of her threes to make a straight or a flush (even more unlikely still).
Suited hands are those with two cards in the same suit. With suited cards, you have the possibility of making a flush if three or more cards of the same suit turn up on the board. Again, you’d prefer to have high suited cards, because your opponent could make a flush in the same suit as you, and then the pot would go to the player whose flush featured the highest cards. Say, for example, you hold A-Th (ace-ten of hearts) and your opponent holds Q-Jh. The flop delivers the six and three of hearts, plus the deuce of spade (6h-3h-2s). Now you both have a flush draw, but yours is better because if another heart comes, you’ll have an ace-high flush, while your opponent’s will only be queen high. Even if the king of hearts should turn up, your opponent’s king-high flush won’t be as good as your ace-high monster!
Connected cards are hands like K-Q, T-9, 6-5 or any other two-card holding where the cards are adjacent in rank. The strength of connected cards lies in their ability to make straights. If you hold 9-8, for instance, and the flop comes T-7-2, you’ve flopped an open-ended straight draw, and any jack or six on the turn or the river will complete your hand. Not surprisingly, big connected cards are better than small ones. Sad is the person who holds 7-6 when the board shows T-9-8 and his opponent is holding Q-J!
Ragged hands, or rags, are holdings like K-8, J-2, 6-4, 8-5, etc. Sometimes these Slot Online hands will seem attractive, especially if they’re suited, or one-gappers like 9-7. Take my advice… don’t play ’em! Rag hands are trouble hands. The more often you fold them, the better off you’ll be.
In fact, that’s a pretty good rule of thumb for hold ’em hands of any kind: When in doubt, fold. The main mistake that most beginning hold ’em players make is that of playing too many hands. If you avoid this mistake, if you play tight instead of loose, you’ll give yourself a big advantage over your less-disciplined opponents.
It’s easy to lose your discipline in hold ’em. Once you’ve thrown away 8-5o (eight-five unsuited or offsuit), only to see the flop come 8-8-5, you’ll start to think that any two starting cards can make a hand in hold ’em. While it’s true that you might hit a big flop with any starting hands (heck, you only need three of a kind on board to make quads!) the odds are way against you. Any time you enter a hand with inferior cards, it’s like running a race where you give your opponent a big head start. Sure, you might win sometimes, but aren’t you more likely to win when you’re the one with the big head start?
Poker is a game that takes patience. You have to fold hand after hand after hand, waiting for those few quality hands that will give you the big head start against your foes. The good news is that, with the exception of the blinds, it costs you nothing to fold those hands! That’s why poker is such a good deal for the savvy casino gambler. In virtually every other game in the house, you have to put up some money to play (and since the house has an edge, you’re always, on average, going to get back less than you put up). But in hold ’em, or any poker game without an ante, you can look at hand after hand after hand for free! If you’re selective about which hands you play, you not only get more bang for your gambling buck, you’re much more likely to be successful in winning the pot!
Last time, you’ll recall, we talked about the importance of position in hold ’em. Here’s where we start to see it in action. Suppose you’re holding a hand like Q-Js: high cards, suited and connected. It looks like a good hand – and maybe it is. But how many better hands are out there? If you’re first to act after the blinds, you have no idea whether your hand is strong, relative to the rest of the players, or not. Anyone yet to act behind you might have a monster hand like A-A or K-K, and be just waiting for a chance to raise the bet. If you enter the pot in early position, you’re very vulnerable to raises from players waiting to act behind you.
On the other hand, if you hold that Q-J suited in last position (on the button) and no one else has called the blind bet and entered the pot, you can be fairly sure that your hand is superior to the random hands that the blinds may hold. Now not only can you call the bet, you can actually raise! Maybe the blinds will both fold and you’ll win the pot right there.
Hold ’em, then, is a game of big cards and good position. If you do nothing but play big cards in late position, you’ll have a sound basic strategy for success in the game.
Now here’s your homework: Get a bunch of friends together and practice playing hold ’em for free. Try to make the game as much like the casino version as possible, so that when you finally take the plunge into public poker, you’ll feel totally at ease and at home.