Saturday, November 19, 2005


The starting hand recommendations in most books are pretty similar and seem to provide a very good first lesson for NLHE. I sort of look at starting hands in 3 classes. The first class is the hands you are going to play in almost every circumstance. These are AA, KK, QQ, and AK. These hands should almost always be bet or raised pre-flop. The time to be careful is if you are holding QQ and there is a raise and a re-reraise before you. If the players are maniacs then don't worry, but if they are tight players beware. The initial raiser may have a hand like AQ or 99 but the re-raiser will almost always have a big pair or AK. In low limit games this usually means AA or KK and sometimes QQ or JJ. I can't recall too many re-raises with AK, low limit players seem not to push AK like they do high pairs.

The next set of hands are hands that are strong but you must be careful with. These are hands like JJ, 1010, 99, 88, 77, AQ, AJ, KQ and the suited face cards liked A10s, QJs, and KJs. The first class of hands can win without much improvement and so can these hands but you must be very cautious. These hands really like to improve to be profitable. On a flop of A, J, 2 holding pocket 10's is dangerous since most players with play any reasonable Ace(AK thru A-8) and any Ace if it is suited. The Jack is also dangerous because a lot of players with play any two facecards suited or not. With 10's you really are hoping for a flop that has all undercards like 6, 2, 9 or even better 10, A, 5. The second one is a great flop for you because you made a set of 10's and someone probably made a pair of aces. This is a hand you expect to win 90% of the time and the fact someone hit their ace makes it very likely you are going to get paid off bigtime.

The third set of hands are what I call 'peek' hands. These are hands you hope to get a cheap 'peek' at the flop. These are small pocket pairs and suited connectors(66, 55, 44, 33, 22, J10s, 98S, 78s, etc). The goal with these hands are to flop a set, two pair or a strong draw. Low sets are big winners in my experience. Flushes are a little bit harder to hide but a low straight can also be a big winner. The small pocket pairs can be played from any position but beware if there is a lot of action. For instance if there is a small raise in early position and three or four callers, I love to play pocket 2's here. I'm getting good odds and nobody has showed real strength. If I hit my set I am way ahead. Now if there is a big raise and a call I fold by 2's in a second. If one of those have a higher pair I am a big underdog and it is going to cost me a lot to see the flop. The odds of flopping a set is 7.5 to 1. If someone has a bigger pair I am a 4 to 1 underdog. Against a really bad player I will usually call the raise and pray for my set. If it comes I can usually get all their chips if they happen to connect with the flop also. This is a low percentage play but the reward is very high.

These requirements are for a full table of 9 or 10 players. As the table shrinks so does the starting hand requirements. In a 5 or 6 handed game a pair of 9's, KQ or A9 is probably the best hand at the table. In a 3 or 4 handed table A5o is a strong hand and so is any pair. Heads up any Aceor two semi high cards are good starting hands(A4o, K70, Q8o).


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