Guide to Texas Hold'em Starting Hands

Half the battle of winning at poker begins with the knowledge how to play your starting hands. When you enter a pot with strong cards, not only do you avoid making tough decisions after the flop, but you also increase your chances of holding the best hand more frequently.

Whether you're just a beginner a seasoned player, this guide will help you sharpen your poker skills across various game types, variants, and tournaments, as well as provide valuable insights on the cards worth playing and how to use them skillfully to maximize your profits.

We will delve into the concept of position at the poker table, a vital aspect that often separates amateurs from pros. Understanding the nuances of different positions will be indispensable in your poker journey. So, let's dive in and elevate our poker game to new heights.

Learn Hand Descriptions First

Players are dealt pocket cards (or hole cards). These cards can only be used by the player who receives them to create his/her own combinations, unlike the community cards, that are shared by all players.

In the early stages of the game, the stakes are usually low since the auction or bidding process has not yet started, and players have only paid the blinds or ante. The player's objective during this phase is to assess the potential of their hand for the upcoming draw.

In poker, starting hands can be classified as either suited or off-suited. A suited hand is one in which all of the cards are of the same suit, such as ♠A♠6. Suited hands are generally considered more valuable than off-suited hands because they have the potential to form flushes, which can be a strong hand. They are marked with S (A6s).

An off-suited hand, on the contrary, is one in which the cards are of different suits, such as ♥A♣6. They are marked with O (A6o). While off-suited hands are generally considered weaker, they can still hold value depending on the rank of the cards and other factors such as position and the actions of other players.

If you encountered a "+" sign, it might be referring to a range of hands rather than a specific combination. A range can be expressed by using a "+" sign to indicate that a player has all the hands that meet a certain criterion. For instance, if someone says they are raising with "A9+," it means they are raising with any hand that includes an Ace and a 9 or higher.

A connector, or connected starting hand, is a hand that contains two cards of rank order, either suited or unsuited. Hands like AK, KQ and 67 are connectors. Hands like 68 or T7 may sometimes be referred to as connectors they are more frequently referred to as “gappers”. Connectors are stronger than hands that are not connected as there is a possibility to hit straights.

Starting Hands Based on Position

Misunderstanding the value of betting position is considered as a rookie mistake. Even Texas Hold’em players who have a good understanding of hand values get in trouble when they bet out of position. By doing so, poker players drift into the deep waters by over-betting hands that are weaker than they believe. Read this guide carefully for better understand the concepts behind pre-flop betting.

The decision to raise or fold is always affected by bet position, so it’s an important concept to grasp. Bet position and hand selection are closely connected. Your placement in the betting sequence around the table - called table position or bet position - is pivotal to deciding which hands to play. The calculation changes each hand, as the dealer button and the blinds rotate around the table.

Ignition Poker table with explained positions

Players in earlier positions must act before those in later positions, and this can significantly impact the decisions they make during the hand.

For instance, players in early position typically require stronger starting hands since they will face more players acting after them, thus having to fold against potential bets.

In contrast, players in later positions have more information to work with and can afford to play weaker hands. A 10-player table has ten different positions, divided into four groups: early, middle, late, and blinds.

  1. Early Positions: UTG, UTG+1 and UTG+2.
    The first to act after pocket cards are dealt is the player to the immediate left of the big blind. This player is 'Under the gun' (or 'UTG'). In a 9-max table (Full Ring), the early positions consist of UTG, UTG+1 and UTG+2. These positions are located directly behind the blinds and are commonly referred to as "Under the Gun" (UTG) positions. Those early positions are considered to be the weakest.
  2. Middle Positions: MP-1, MP-2
    The two middle positions in a poker game are commonly referred to as the Lojack (LJ) and Hijack (HJ) also known as MP-1 and MP-2. In a six-max game, the Lojack is the first to act preflop and will be Under the Gun. The Lojack and Hijack positions will most likely have several players left to act after them in each round, similar to early positions.
  3. Late Positions: BU and CO
    The two players in late positions are the dealer (also known as the "button" or "BU") and the player to their immediate right, known as the "cut-off" or "CO."
    The button (or Dealer) position is considered the most advantageous in Texas Hold'em and Omaha as it allows the player to act last in the post-flop betting rounds. Additionally, it presents a prime opportunity to steal the blinds if all players before the button have folded, making it the most profitable position to be in.
  4. Blinds
    Two players who pay the blinds before the hand starts occupy the positions of small blind and big blind, respectively. The player to the left of the dealer is the small blind, and the next player to their left is the big blind.

UTG Position

Under the Gun Position in Poker Chart

The players in this early position are the first ones to act in the preflop betting round. Playing profitably from these positions can be challenging since they have to act first preflop and will play just after the blinds in the post-flop rounds.

In early positions, it is important to exercise caution due to the limited information available about the actions of opponents. We recommend you play relatively tighter and focus on strong starting hands to minimize risk. Recommended hands to play include:

  • Pocket pairs of 10s or higher (10-10, J-J, Q-Q, K-K, A-A)
  • Ace-King (A-K) suited or unsuited

It is generally wise to fold weaker hands like low pairs (2-2 to 9-9), unsuited connectors, and low-suited aces (A-2 to A-9) in early positions.

LoJack (LJ) and Hijack (HJ) Positions

LoJack Poker Position Chart

In the middle positions, you have a slightly better advantage since you’ve witnessed the actions of some players. You can broaden your starting hand ranges a bit; however, it is still important to exercise caution. In addition to the recommended hands for early positions, you can consider playing:

  • Pocket pairs of 8s or higher (8-8, 9-9)
  • Ace-Queen (A-Q) suited or unsuited
  • Suited connectors (e.g., 8-9 suited)

Folding weaker hands like low pocket pairs (2-2 to 7-7), unsuited connectors, and low suited aces (A-2 to A-8) in the middle positions is advisable. When players in late positions fold before the flop, the Lojack and Hijack can adopt a more aggressive post-flop strategy.

Button (BTN) Position

Button Position Poker Chart

In late positions, most players have already made their decisions. This allows for a wider range of playable hands, such as:

  • Pocket pairs
  • Suited connectors and one-gapped connectors (e.g., 7-8 suited, 9-J suited)
  • Ace-X (A-10, A-J)

Additionally, broadway cards (10-J+), hands like small suited aces and suited kings can be considered in late positions.

Positions on SB and BB

When playing from the small blind or big blind positions, you have already invested chips, and the pot odds may influence your decision-making. It is possible to play a wider range of hands due to the advantageous pot odds, however, SB then BB will be the first to act in the next betting rounds, making those difficult positions to play.

In the blinds, consider playing:

  • All pocket pairs (2-2 and higher)
  • Suited connectors and one-gapped connectors
  • Suited aces

In the big blind, consider also playing hands like suited kings, suited queens, and suited connectors with higher gaps. Adjust your strategy based on the actions of the other players in those positions.

Texas Hold'em Starting Hand Types

After learning the poker hand rankings new poker players often ask which hands they should play. While there is no universal answer to this question, as the value of starting hands depends on several factors, there are certain hands that are generally considered better than others. In this regard, starting hands can be roughly grouped according to their decreasing value, which we will discuss.

Pocket Pairs

Best starting hands in poker usually include big pocket pairs and big connectors. You can find poker starting hands ranking below. These pairs are known are premium pairs:

4 sets of the best poker pairs

This is obviously the upper level of starting hands. If we were always dealt only these hands, then we would make a huge amount of money. In fact, if you were to fold all but these premium hands, it's fair to assume that you would win money over the course of the game. However, this approach will only work at smaller stakes. More experienced players will quickly catch up to this strategy.

In general, the following groups are recognized the most in the poker community:

  1. Premium pocket pairs (usually JJ – AA).
    Are each dealt only once every 110 hands, so players should stay in the pot when receiving these. AA and KK are the best hands in Texas Holdem, though they still do not improve on the flop as much as AK or suited connectors do. For that reason, it's best to raise when holding AA or KK. This pushes as many potential opponents out of the pot pre-flop. If you let multiple opponents stay in the hand, it increases the odds someone flops something bigger than your pair. Remember, these cards only appear once in 110 hands, but at a table with nine players, that means once every 12 deals. Once you include the three cards from the flop, the odds of losing while holding AA or KK increase significantly. You're the favorite, but not by as much as you think. QQ is even more problematic. If you don't flop a set of queens, then you'll be beaten by anyone who holds a single king or single ace and flopped a pair of kings or aces. For that reason, many players don't like to go all-in or get involved with re-raises pre-flop holding QQ. So much depends on positioning, but also so much also depends on the other bettors at the table. Each poker table is different, which is yet another reason poker is so challenging. Tight poker tables exist, both online and in live games.
  2. Medium pocket pairs (77 – TT).
    Hold decent value in poker, offering potential for strong hands when set mining or hitting a higher pair on the flop. While they may require more careful play post-flop, they can still be profitable if played strategically under the right circumstances.
  3. Small pocket pairs (66 and below).
    Are considered speculative hands that rely heavily on hitting a set to have significant value. They generally have a lower probability of improving on the flop and require caution when facing aggression from opponents. Small pocket pairs are often played with the intention of set mining, where the goal is to hit a three-of-a-kind on the flop to maximize their potential.

While small and medium pocket pairs may seem appealing, they are mostly valuable in multi-way pots. Aggressive play with pocket pairs can be effective, especially if there are low-value cards on the board, but the chances of making a set (three of a kind) are only 12% making it difficult to win showdowns if your hand did not improve.

Small and medium pairs can be profitable in the long run if several opponents limp into the pot, allowing for a cheap attempt at hitting a set. Alternatively, if an opponent has a large stack, hitting a three-of-a-kind presents an opportunity to win a big pot (cf implied odds).

Suited Hands

Poker Starting Hands Chart - Suited and Pairs

Suited starting hands are highly valued in poker because they have the potential to make strong flushes and straights. Hands of the same suit increase the chances of making a Flush, although it only happens in 0.8% of hands on the Flop. However, 11% of the time, a Flush Draw will be available.

  • Suited connectors like 78s, 89s, and 9Ts can make strong draws. They consist of two consecutive cards in rank of the same suit. They hold value because they have the potential to hit strong combinations or to make strong draws. The suited and connected factors enhance their playability as it increases the chances of hitting flush, straight, or straight flush draws.
  • Suited gappers like 79s, and TQs are also valued. They have a gap between the ranks of their two cards. Despite the gap, these hands are still valued because they can potentially form strong combinations or draws and connect with the community cards to make straights. The suited nature adds to their potential as it improves the odds of hitting a flush draw or a straight flush draw.

High-suited connectors are very valuable as they offer the possibility of obtaining strong pairs but are even more valuable because of the added potential to obtain a Straight and Flush simultaneously. Suited connectors are more promising than off-suit connectors or suited cards that are not adjacent in rank.

It's also worth noting that they are less “obvious” to read and can create extremely valuable situations. However, they should not be played too loosely and should be folded quick when they don't connect with the board.

Off-suit Hands

Poker Starting Hands Chart - Off-Suited

Off-suited hands are one of the most common types of starting hands in poker. They consist of two cards of different suits, and they are usually weaker than their suited counterparts. Although off-suit unpaired cards may not seem like strong starting hands, they can still be valuable, especially when playing in position. These hands are often used as "workhorses" in poker, allowing players to make profitable plays and earn consistent winnings over time.

Therefore, it's important not to underestimate their value especially when playing on the button or in other favorable positions.

  • High-Ranking Hands:
    AK, AQ, and KQ are the best off-suited hands to play. They offer the potential for strong top pairs, two pairs or a straight, making them capable of winning significant pots. These hands have good playability and can be confidently played in most situations. Example: AK (Ace-King), AQ (Ace-Queen), KQ (King-Queen)
  • Playable Off-Suited Hands:
    Off-suited hands like J10, QJ, and KJ can be played in certain situations. While weaker than the best hands, they still hold some value and can potentially connect with favorable flops to make decent pairs or strong draws. These hands require more caution and selective play, focusing on extracting value when favorable situations arise. Example: J10 (Jack-Ten), QJ (Queen-Jack), KJ (King-Jack)
  • Weakest Off-Suited Hands:
    Low-ranking off-suited hands such as 72, 83, and 94 are the weakest off-suited hands and should be folded almost always. These hands lack significant value and have little potential to improve post-flop. Playing them often leads to difficult situations and the risk of being dominated by stronger hands. Example: 72 (Seven-Two), 83 (Eight-Three), 94 (Nine-Four)


Suited Hand Ace and Qeen of hearts on a poker table next to chips

The value of getting an Ace in poker depends on the accompanying card. While AK, AQ, and AJ are some of the strongest starting hands, not all Ace combinations are considered good.

This is because the second card (kicker) plays a crucial role in determining the strength of the hand. In the event that both players have an Ace, and an Ace falls on the board, the one with the higher second card typically wins. Additionally, the higher the face value of the second card, the greater the potential for obtaining a Pair.

Lastly, having a Ten or higher as the second card increases the chances of making a Broadway Straight. Aces with small or medium kicker are usually not recommended in early or middle positions at a full table, but may be played aggressively in a one-on-one game (Heads-Up).

Top 10 Best Texas Hold’em Starting Hands

The best starting Texas Holdem poker hands are called premium hands. While the definition of a premium hand varies from one poker expert to the next, a solid core of hands that are considered the best by everyone are AA, KK, QQ, AK, and JJ. Four of these five hands often won’t improve on the flop, so it’s important to seize the advantage early in the hand by raising pre-flop. Raising forces most of your opponents to fold, reducing the number of hands that can improve on the flop and beat your pocket pairs. If you are a novice player, we recommend you learn Hold’em hands and start with playing only these top 10 starting hands to gain experience and confidence.

  1. AA
  2. KK
  3. QQ
  4. JJ
  5. AKs
  6. TT
  7. AKo
  8. AQs
  9. 99
  10. AJs


What are the different types of starting hands in poker?

In poker, starting hands can be classified as connected or not connected and suited or off-suited. A suited hand is one in which all of the hole cards are of the same suit, such as the ace and king of spades. An off-suited hand, conversely, is one in which the cards are of different suits, such as the ace of hearts and the king of clubs. A connected hand gives the possibility to hit a straight when “connecting” with the board.

Why are suited hands more valuable than off-suited hands?

Suited hands are generally considered more valuable than off-suited hands because they have the potential to form flushes.

What is a position in poker?

The order in which players make decisions during a hand is determined by their position relative to the dealer (or button). 

How does position affect starting hand selection?

Players in early position must act before those in later positions, and this can significantly impact the decisions they make during the hand. For instance, players in early position typically require stronger starting hands since they will face more players acting after them.

What are the different positions in poker?

In a 10-player table, there are ten different positions, divided into four groups: early, middle, late, and blinds.

How does position affect the strength of starting hands?

Players in later positions have more information to work with and can afford to play weaker hands. In contrast, players in earlier positions typically require stronger starting hands since they will face more players acting after them.

What are pocket pairs in Texas Hold'em?

Pocket pairs are two cards of the same rank, dealt to a player as their hole cards. Those are particularly valuable if the player manages to hit a set (three of a kind) on the flop, turn, or river.

Are off-suited unpaired cards ever valuable in Texas Hold’em poker?

Although off-suit unpaired cards may not seem like strong starting hands, they can still be valuable, especially when playing in position and other players profiles.