It’s been said that No-Limit Hold’em is a game about playing the player, not the cards. There’s some truth to that statement but when you’re starting out, the single most helpful skill will likely be understanding relative hand strength. That’s why lists of the top 10 best starting hands can be somewhat of a cheat code for new players. In the following guide, we break down the top 10 premium starting hands and provide some tips about How To Play Texas Hold’em.
What’s the Best Hold’em Hand?
If you’re pre-flop the answer is easy: pocket aces.
Outside of those rather narrow perimeters the answer is always: it depends.
There are simply so many variables in Hold’em that the best hand can change numerous times from the flop to the river.
For instance pocket kings are an extremely strong hand but all it takes for them to suddenly look very vulnerable is a single ace on the flop. The rollercoaster nature of Hold’em is a big part of its appeal.
Even the best starting hand in Hold’em (pocket aces) can be beaten by trash like 7-2 around 12% of the time.
All that said there are hands that have significantly better odds. In general big pocket pairs like pocket aces, kings and queens dominate the rest of the starting hands.
We’ve compiled a list of the best starting hands in Hold’em below, which should provide a solid framework for beginner and intermediate poker players. Of course you'll want to start by memorizing the overall hand rankings for Hold'em, check out our Best Online Poker Sites, and learn How To Deposit if you haven't done that already.
The list of the best starting hands is based on raw all-in percentages vs. random hands so there is some room for interpretation.
Pocket aces is the best starting hand in poker. When you’re dealt pocket aces you’ve got the best hand pre-flop, period. One of the best things about pocket aces is that you dominate other strong starting hands like KK, QQ and JJ so there’s huge potential to win a massive pot. You generally want to bet hard with this hand unless you run into a very dangerous board with straight or flush possibilities. It's common for players to get too attached to pocket aces so be aware if you run into serious opposition. Pocket aces also holds up better when there are less players in a hand. Statistically you’ll only get dealt pocket aces on average once every 221 hands.
Nickname: Bullets, pocket rockets, rockets
Pocket kings are the second best starting hand in Hold’em and an absolute monster in most situations. You should always be betting this hand pre-flop and it’s generally never a good idea to fold this one pre-flop (unless someone accidentally turned over pocket aces). The Achilles heel of pocket kings is when an ace hits the flop. Suddenly your powerhouse is crushed by weak aces like A-9 and even A-2. Usually you’ll want to slow your betting and attempt to control the size of the pot.
Pocket queens are another extremely strong starting hand that beats the vast majority of the deck pre-flop. Players with pocket queens tend to like betting hard pre-flop in order to figure out if their opponent hold monsters like aces, kings or ace-king. There are a number of hands that pocket queens dominates like JJ, A-Q, A-J and A-T that will contribute money to a pot. The flop can be a bit of a minefield for queens, however, as both kings and aces will immediately put you in a tough spot.
Pocket jacks are considered one of the hardest premium hands to play in poker. While the hand has a huge winning percentage against any random two cards, it’s absolutely crushed by pocket aces, pocket kings and pocket queens. It’s also only a 50/50 against ace-king. It’s for all these reasons that you should be extremely cautious when playing pocket jacks. It’s still a good enough hand to open a pot and it’s far ahead of drawing hands like K-J, J-T and Q-J in addition to all pairs form 99 to 22. Don’t be afraid of letting this one go when you hit a flop full of danger cards like kings and aces and encounter serious resistance.
Ace King Suited
The ultimate drawing hand. Ace-king suited is a favorite amongst experienced poker players for its ability to hit the best straights and flushes. Ace-king is also great for hitting aces or flops on the flop because if any other player also has an ace or a king in their hand you’re likely going to make some serious money. On the other hand if you completely whiff the flop than ace-king turns into a very weak ace-high. Be prepared to lay that one down. It’s a good time to mention now that suits don’t matter in Hold’em so there’s no “best” version of ace-king suited or similar double suited hands.
Nickname: Big Slick
Pocket tens is essentially the best hand out of a lower-tiered group of starting hands. It’s still a very good hand against rags but it’s crushed by the aforementioned AA, KK, QQ and JJ. It’s also a coin flip against ace-king. Big pairs are still very strong, however, and this one can be a good one to bet pre-flop and after the flop provided the board is relatively safe (limited aces, kings, queens etc.). One way that pocket tens can leap in front of its stiffer competition is by hitting a set (another ten) on the board. Be aware of what other players are doing because it can be correct to fold pocket tens pre-flop if there’s heavy betting action in front of you.
Ace King Offsuit
Ace-king offsuit takes a hit in the power rankings versus its suited sibling because it doesn’t have the same outs to hit a flush. It’s still a strong drawing hand and is ahead of all non-pairs and a coin-flip against all pairs except pocket aces and pocket kings. One of the best features of ace-king is its ability to crush all weaker ace-x hands.
Nickname: Big slick
Ace Queen Suited
Ace-queen suited is another strong drawing hand that can run out of gas on the flop if it doesn’t spike at least a pair. Interestingly ace-queen suited retains its ability to hit the nut-flush because it still has the highest card (the ace) of its respected suit. With ace-queen suited you’ve still got to be concerned about pocket aces, pocket kings and pocket queens. Facing ace-king is especially bad for ace-queen since you lose all your ace outs.
Nickname: Big chick
Pocket nines is a strong pair that gets crushed by the true premium pairs such as AA, KK, QQ, JJ and even TT. You should play this one cautiously as there are a lot of cards that beat you. It’s a good one to play if you’re in late position and action has been folded to you. It’s also extremely strong in heads-up situations where you’ll be facing weaker cards. Keep in mind that you’re coin-flipping against the vast majority of connectors that people play from A-K all the way down to J-T.
Ace Jack Suited
Ace-jack suited is another hand that performs well against random cards but can get absolutely rocked by the true powerhouse starting hands. It’s similar to how pocket jacks are at the bottom of the premier pairs, except it's at the bottom of drawing hands like ace-king and ace-queen. There are many beginner poker players who have lost significant pots when the flopped an ace only to have an opponent out-kick them with ace-king or ace-queen. Be very careful playing this hand.
The Rest of the Top 20 Hold'em Hands
The top 10 best starting hands in Hold’em are a good starting point for poker players but every potential starting hand can be ranked all the way down to the lowly 7-2 off suit, which only has a 4% chance of winning versus random cards.
You’ll notice some similarities as we move down to the remaining top 10 hands of the overall top 20. There are a large number of face cards (Ace, King, Queen or Jack) that are suited along with one pair (pocket eights) thrown into the mix.
Face cards are valuable in Hold’em because they can hold up as high cards even if no one flops anything else. Meanwhile pocket pairs are also valuable when the board goes dry.
Generally pocket pairs from nines to sixes are considered middle pairs and should be played roughly the same.
Meanwhile somewhere from pocket fives to pocket deuces are considered low pairs and have the added disadvantage of getting crushed by middle pairs.
Most of the time when you’re playing weaker pairs you’re looking to hit a third card and make a set against your unsuspecting opponents. Flopping a set is one of the single best ways to win huge pots in Hold’em as players with pocket aces or pocket kings will be hard-pressed to make a fold because your hand is very disguised.
When it comes to the drawing hands like king-queen suited and ace-ten suited you’re generally looking to either call or make a play from late position and hopefully hit the flop.
Finally while this chart is based on raw all-in percentages it should be recognized that poker players tend to have a fondness for drawing hands like jack-ten suited and 8-7 suited. The advantage of these hands is that they are easy to fold when you miss on the board and when you hit you tend to get paid off because your hand is significantly disguised.
As we mentioned at the top of this article the answer to most questions in poker is “it depends” so this guide should just be used as a rough framework to improve your poker game.
Never fold aces pre-flop, though.
Best Texas Hold’em Hands FAQ
What are good starting hands in Texas Hold’em?
Pocket Aces (Ace-Ace) and other big-pocket pairs such as King-King, Queen-Queen or Jack-Jack are definitely the best starting hands in any position in Texas Hold'em. Then there’s big-suited connectors like Ace-King that would be next. And then unsuited big connectors would be the least favorable starting hands in Texas Hold’em.
What's the worst hand in Texas Hold’em?
Holding 2 and 7 off suit is considered to be the worst hand in Texas Hold'em. 2 and 7 are the lowest two cards you can have that can’t make a straight. Even if 2 and 7 are suited, those cards will make you a very low flush. And if either of 2 or 7 make pairs, it’s still a low hand.
Do you shuffle after every Texas Hold’em hand?
Yes, you shuffle after every Texas Hold’em hand. It's actually called Shuffle and Cut, and it's done after every single hand. The deck has to be shuffled after every round is over, and the pot has been won and distributed. In order for the dealer to deal the next hand, the deck has to be cut with minimum four cards with the bottoms of the decks hidden from players.
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