Becoming a successful poker player begins with knowing which cards to play and which to throw away. Poker is a game of patience that often requires a lot of waiting around for good hole cards to appear that will give you the best chance of winning a hand. The best players maximize their odds of winning by playing only the best starting hands. We will take a look at the ten best and worst starting hands in poker. However, always keep in mind that a strong starting hand can become not so strong rather quickly depending on the flop, as well as the turn and river cards.
The ten best poker starting hands
As even amateur real money poker players are aware, a pair of aces is what every player most wants to see when peeking at their hole cards. Also known as “bullets’ or “pocket rockets,” A-A in the hole is the ultimate starting hand in poker. Your betting style holding aces should be to try and get as much of your opponents’ money in the pot as possible. Not always right away, but at some point during the progression of the hand. Following aces, a pair of “cowboys” or Kings ranks second on the list of the best starting poker hands, but if you’re holding K-K, beware of an ace appearing on the flop, as one of your opponents may be holding an ace to better your pair of Kings – as big aces make up a large proportion of someone’s calling range when you raise up with your kings.
Queen-Queen comes next as the most desirable hole cards to have in your hand. Known as a pair of ladies in poker parlance, Q-Q can often be a big winner when other players are holding an ace or king and are hoping to pair up on the board. Rated as fourth best to start a poker hand is “big slick” or Ace-King suited. Although not a pair, A-K is the ultimate in drawing hands. Generally, you will need help on the flop or the full board of community cards to make good. One word of caution, A-K is one of the most overplayed hands, especially by newbies to the game. If you don’t catch another Ace or King on the flop to pair up and someone is betting heavily, your A-K is most likely no longer a good hand.
A pair of Jacks or “hooks” ranks fifth in starting hand excellence. Some players will tell you that Ace-Queen suited is a stronger starting hand based on the draw possibilities. I would have to disagree. Starting hands means starting pre-flop, and I’d much rather be looking at a high pair such as Jacks instead of hoping to catch a pair or more on the draw. Not to say that A-Q or “little slick” isn’t good. It is. But it falls just below Jacks on our list of the best poker starting hands.
King-Queen suited places 7th best, while Ace-Jack suited comes in eighth in our ranking. Some players feel that holding that ace in the “blackjack” hand should outrank the royal coupling of a King and Queen. Statistically, K-Q will win slightly more times than a starting hand of A-J. However, which of the two hands would win you more money is another matter of contention that would depend upon your betting style and also the prowess of the other opponents seated at the table.
Ace-King offsuit comes in ninth place on our list. Again, beware of overplaying this hand. Any pair will beat you if you don’t catch your own pair from the community cards. Coming in place no. 10 is the hand of 10-10. Honorable mention goes to King-Jack suited, which some players would rank higher than a 10-10. Again, I would prefer to look at a mid-to high pair of 10’s in the hole than have to draw and hope for a King or Jack.
The ten worst starting hands in poker
Now that we have made clear the most favorable starting hands in poker, let’s take a look at the hands that should be avoided if you’d like to be known as a winning real money online poker player. As it’s true that any hand can win at any time, depending on the flop, turn and river, a poor starting hand will statistically cost you more money if you try to get lucky and play with hands that are less than favorable to start.
The ultimate in bad starting hands is 2-7. It’s impossible to make a straight and if you did happen to pair up, its a very low pair. Throw this hand away immediately unless you’re the big blind and get to see the flop for free. The second worst poker starting hand is 2-8. Same situation, with only the 8 slightly better than a 7. Hole cards of 3-8 ranks third in muckable hands. Next worst is 3-7, which is a bit better than 3-8 because you can catch a straight if 4-5-6 happens to land on the board. Holding 2-6 is also a terrible starting hand and falls in at 5th worst. As with the 3-7, you do have straight possibilities, but this hand will lose 9 out of 10 times even against only 4 opponents seated at your table. Wait for something better is the best advice available.
For the sixth, seventh and eighth worst starting hands in poker, 2-9, 3-9 and 4-9, respectively, take their places as poor starters. You may have some hope if you can pair up the 9, but your opponents’ higher pairs of 10’s or any face cards will cause you to lose money. The next worst hand, 2-10, has achieved legendary status thanks to one of poker’s most colorful personalities, Doyle Brunson, winning not one, but two, World Series of Poker Main Event titles with those terrible hole cards. Brunson is one of the greatest poker players of all time. And his wins with the 2-10 came against only one other player as only two players remained in heads-up competition each time he managed to pull off the win with that terrible starting hand. Don’t let the legend sucker you in. Its a horrendous starting hand in poker and ranks ninth worst.
Rounding out our list of the 10 worst starting hands in poker is the 5-9. This hand is sometimes called the “Dolly Parton” because of the famous song and movie title affixed to “9 to 5,” which always sticks in my head once I hear it. It may be a catchy song and delightful movie, and Dolly Parton certainly has a nice pair of her own, but playing the 9-5 will most often make you a losing player and seeking a 9-5 job instead of achieving the dream of becoming a professional poker player.