In poker, and notably in Texas Hold'Em, learning the basic rules is easy and you can begin to play almost right away. The problem is your strategy will probably be a bit sketchy at first, relying mostly on luck rather than skill. Since poker is not purely a game of luck, you will lose more often that you will win. Poker players need to know how reduce the luck factor as much as possible in order to win more money.
Your goal should therefore be to become a GOOD PLAYER. A good player is not a player who wins every time – it's not possible for the very reason that a little luck is always involved. A good player is someone who wins more often than his opponents in the long run. He wins more often because he adopts a proper strategy: learns the required gameplay, thinks about his game, learns to analyze his hands and those of his opponents, controls his emotions, anticipates his opponents, and so on. These are only a fraction of all the things that go through a good player’s head! Each game begins with two hole card dealt to each player. What should you do with them: fold? call? raise? The first step in a poker is about EVALUATING your starting cards. You cannot just play every hand. Some starting hands are very good, some are not. Learn to tell the difference. The combinations as below consist of the most interesting starting hands in Texas Hold’em and are listed in order of very good to less good.
A-A is the best possible starting hand. While holding two aces doesn't make you a guaranteed winner, it is a helpful hand on your path to success. The problem is that you probably won’t be dealt A-A very often.
Then you have K-K, and Q-Q.
Aces, Kings and Queens are such good hands that you will actively play them (almost) every time. It is generally worth raising during the first round of betting if you have any of these combos.
The same applies to A-K suited. Ace-King is a very strong hand. This isn't a pair, granted, but with the help of the 5 community cards, your chances of finding a pair of Aces or Kings is quite good. They also provide the opportunity to make the best possible flush (the “nut flush”) if three cards of the same suit appear on the board. Let's not forget about all the possibilities to get a straight. Last but not least, you can win with just your high card – the Ace – if none of your opponents has a pair.
J-J or T-T. These pairs are also very good starting hands in No Limit Hold'Em, especially when you are facing only one opponent. However, you should be careful playing these if you are up against several players at once as any Ace, King or Queen on the flop could give your opponents a better pair than yours.
9-9 or 8-8. These are interesting hands, but are probably not worth betting the whole farm. How to play these depends on the price you're paying to see the flop and on how many players enter the hand. You'll have to figure how much to risk and how to react depending on your opponent's bets and raises.
A-Q suited is also an excellent starting hand.
Finally, let's end this tutorial of the very best No Limit Hold'Em starting hands with Ace-King offsuit. Ace-King is basically a great starting hand, but the fact that your cards aren't of the same suit will make Ace-King somewhat less appealing. This is why we put it lower in our ranking.
The ten hands listed above represent the top 10 starting hands in Texas Hold'em No Limit. It's useful to give you a rough sketch of the hierarchy used. During your first games, you could just play those ten hands and do just fine. It would be your best chance to end up winning a bit while you're still learning the game. However, playing only these ten hands would make the game boring as you might have to sit out of the action for as long as an hour before you get a chance to play.
Therefore, in order to make the game more interesting, it’s a good idea to learn a wider range of hands as you master the basics. Here is some advice on how to play more hands: when you don't hold a pair in hand (called a “pocket pair”), make sure your two cards are of the same suit and as close as possible in rank. This will help to maximize your chances of improving your hand at the flop.
You can also extend your selection of starting hands to combinations like K-Q suited, J-T suited, sometimes A-J or Q-J suited.
As a rule of thumb, small cards are only good when they are “connected” and “suited”. This means that they should to be as close as possible in rank and of the same suit. For example, the 9-8 of clubs, 7-8 of diamonds or even 6-5 of spades are all possible combinations. Such hands are good because they are invisible when you “hit” your flop: your opponent will have a hard time figuring out what you have and will be more likely to think you're holding “big cards” such as the aforementioned A-K, K-Q and so on.
Now that you've got an idea of how to pick your starting hands, you need to remember that there are tons of other hands that constitute the majority of hands dealt. Those hands, to put it bluntly, SHOULD NOT BE PLAYED; 10-2, 9-4, J-3, K-4, etc, etc... All such combinations have little value, even if they are suited.
Imaging that you have a Q-7 in the hole. What's going to happen? Either you will miss the flop, and in that case you already lost the money you bet before the flop. Or, you'll make a pair of 7s or Qs on the flop. This is not that good either because you risk that your opponent will also hold the same pair, but with a better “kicker”.
The kicker is the second card you have in your hand when the first card makes you a pair or a three of a kind. The kicker is key in Texas Hold'em. Here, holding Q-7 on a Q high flop, chances are big that if you play a large pot, someone will have A-Q or K-Q or Q-J for the same pair, but with a better kicker. Granted, you could still beat your opponent by making a second pair with the 7, but it's highly unlikely. Poker is about odds and statistics. You need to make plays that have a positive expectation. In other words, play hands that will make you a winner IN THE LONG RUN, not just once in a while.
As you can see, there are only a few very good hands, and a few more that are interesting and playable. So, you'll just have to be patient. Patience is ESSENTIAL.
Note : the more your hand is marginal, the more you should be careful and take into account the way the hand unfolds, the price to pay and your position.