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The Top Starting Hands in Poker

Home » The Top Starting Hands in Poker

The Top Starting Hands in Poker

Texas hold'em Poker hand rankings combination set vector.

One of the most important decisions in a game of Texas Hold’em poker is whether to see the flop or not. A poker player will often see the flop just because they want to play, and that’s totally fine provided they just want to have fun and don’t expect to win. Players who are serious about winning live or online poker games are more cautious because they know that not all starting hands are worth playing. But with 169 different two-card starting hand combinations, how do you know whether your starting hand is telling you to fold, call, or raise pre-flop? Arm yourself with our guide to what are generally considered the best starting hands when you play poker online.

Pocket Rockets and King Kong

The best-starting hands, or premium hands, in Texas Hold’em poker break down into three main groups. Top of the list is a pair of aces, otherwise known as “pocket rockets,” followed by a pair of kings, otherwise known as “cowboys” or “King Kong.” Either of these hands only comes around once in every 110 hands-on average, and it’s a good idea to play them pre-flop. But as valuable as pocket kings and aces are, they’re not unbeatable.

If you’re playing live poker or online poker against multiple opponents, be wary of how many players enter the pot. The more opponents who do, the higher the likelihood of someone beating your pocket aces or kings. It might be a good idea to raise pre-flop to narrow the field. Be extra careful with King Kong any player with a single ace in their starting hand will beat you if an ace falls on the flop. Remember that bad things can happen, even on the best online poker sites. It’s possible for the best pocket cards to lose to two pairs of any other cards. In fact, it happens once in every 221 hands, on average.

Poker player showing two aces on a green casino table.

Ladies and Fish Hooks

If you’re dealt “ladies” (a pair of queens) or “fish hooks” (a pair of jacks), then you’re off to a good start. Unless an opponent has pocket aces or kings (remember the odds of getting those?), you’ve probably got the strongest hand in the game, so it’s generally sound advice to play strongly and raise. That doesn’t mean that your hand won’t get busted, though. If a higher card comes on the flop, chances are your queens or jacks won’t make it to the showdown.

Big Slick

Big Slick is the suited or unsuited combination of ace and king. It’s a drawing hand, not a made hand, but it’s got great potential. Big Slick dominates a broad range of other hands such as ace-queen, ace-jack, ace-ten, and so on. These are the hands players often go all-in with towards the end of both live poker and online poker tournaments. For Big Slick to represent value, you need to start building a flush, straight, or pair with the flop. You also stand a decent chance of landing a straight, high pair, nut flush (with ace as high card), or even a royal flush (suited ace, king, queen, jack, and ten). Note that a suited Big Slick has a better chance for the flush combinations than an unsuited Big Slick.

Little Slick, Blackjack, and Dimes

Here’s another strong group of starting hands. “Little slick” is the suited ace-queen combination and it gives you the chance to develop a nut flush, royal flush, straight, or high pair. A suited ace-jack is called “blackjack” and comes with opportunities for a nut flush, royal flush, straight, or high pair. A suited king-queen combination is a royal couple that can get you a flush, although you’ll only stand a chance for a nut flush if the suited ace comes on the flop. Then there’s a pair of tens, also known as “dimes”. It’s the only premium starting hand without any aces or faces. Look to raise pre-flop with any of these hands.

Poker Tournament Tips

Closeup of poker cards with chips in the background.

If you’re looking to enter live or online poker tournaments, starting hands are the most important and easiest thing to grasp. According to best-selling poker writer Dan Harrington, table position is the most important factor that determines a poker player’s starting hand selection. That’s because the further away you are from the dealer, the more information you have at your disposal. Here’s a starting hand range that ought to keep you out of trouble in the early stages of a tournament 90% of the time.

In early position – that is, you’re one of the first two players to act – then you’re good with dimes, fish hooks, ladies, cowboys and pocket rockets, Big Slick, and suited Little Slick. That’s pretty much what we’ve covered above. But if you’re in the middle position (places three to six), then you should also consider a pair of eights or nines, unsuited ace-jack or better, and a royal couple. In late position (button and cut-off), a pair of sevens has value, as well as any ace combined with jack-ten (or better) suited connectors.

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A poker player’s starting hand is the key to survival. Read our guide to the premium hands and pick up some handy poker tournament tips.