There are various theories regarding poker starting hands with the most thorough being that of Sklansky. We will look at this a little differently however. There are many ways to look at poker starting hands and it depends on many different factors. If you are playing at a full table (8 to 10 players) there are fewer hands that you would play than if you were at a short-handed table (6 or less players).
A very important factor to also take into account is your position and then to see which cards still make sense to play. The reason for looking at your position as well as the cards you hold is to consider the odds of people behind you holding stronger cards. If you are positioned just two places after the big blind for example, you don’t want to enter the pot with marginal hands.
Entering the pot with a marginal hand and then having someone with a monster re-raise you BIG TIME usually results in you having to fold. You only lose a few chips in this way, but it is a bad habit that will cripple you as the game goes on.
Poker starting hands at a full poker table
We will look at these hands from the strongest to the weakest. The ones we don’t mention should rather not be played. You might play them sometimes and win big, but the majority of the time you will lose.
The First Class hands are:
AA, KK, QQ, AK suited
These hands can be played from any position. When you get one of these hands you should raise pre-flop. Although these are strong hands, it makes sense to always narrow down the field of players you are up against. If you play against multiple players, players with weaker hands can get lucky and cause damage. Therefore raise so as to get a loose call from one or two other players, but to chase away the players holding rubbish.
The Second Class hands are:
JJ, 1010, AQ suited, AK unsuited
Even though these hands also beat most hands, they are not quite the strongest. Proceed with some caution. You can still play them from any position, but you should follow one of two strategies. Either raise a fairly large amount pre-flop so as to take down the flop or do a medium sized raise to get some action, but not over exposing yourself.
The Third Class hands are:
99, 88, AQ unsuited, KQ suited, QJ suited
With these cards you are normally better of playing them from a later position. If you wish to play them from an early position it is usually better to limp in. From a very late position you can attempt to steal the blinds by raising, but usually it makes sense to proceed with caution.
The Fourth Class hands are:
Pairs like 77 and smaller, suited connectors
These cards usually need help from the board to improve and become a strong hand. They do make sense to play, but in most cases only from a later position. They are not good hands to raise with, but you would like to see some flops with these cards.
Poker Starting hands at a short-handed table
If you use the poker starting hands suggested for full tables you will fare well. The odds do change however as the amount of players go down.
The odds that other players hold strong hands go down, while the strength of the starting hands increase.
You can therefore move up many of the starting hands to a higher level. You must however understand that it doesn’t turn pocket 8’s into the same class of pocket K’s.
It is also necessary to play a wider range of hands differently from the fuller tables as the blinds come around much more often. Therefore if you sit and wait for the very strong hands all of the time, you would slowly bleed chips.
As we mentioned there are many different factors that determine the strength of poker starting hands, but using them as set out here, would start you off in the right direction.
As you play more and more you will play some variations on these, but the basis will always stay the same.