Typical Starting Hands, strengths, weaknesses, how to play them
This section is meant to give additional explanations to the starting hands list, it is not meant to replace that list. You should be able to determine which type of hand has advantages in which situation, and how to play them under the right circumstances.
One general comment: players tend to generalize isolated events and develop patterns of behaviour from experience. They tend to do that although there is no logic reason for it.
Example nr. 1:
A player has played J9o from the Big Blind two times in a row, an both times he hit a straight and won a nice pot. Now all of a sudden he starts seeing J9o as a profitable hand, and starts playing it all the time because he was so successful with it. He ignores the mathematical facts and the fact that he simply got lucky with a bad hand.
Example nr. 2:
A player has lost with KK three times in a row against a flush or a straight. So he starts playing this hand unagressively (“I will lose with that hand anyway”). Now he just calls instead of raising. By doing that, he keeps all kinds of weak hands in the game, thus increasing the chance of getting beat by a hand that a raise would have eliminated in the first place. That will support his low esteem for KK (and lower pairs) further and further, and his game deteriorates.
At the end of the day, what counts is the average mathematical expectancy of starting hand to win from a specific position against a specific number of opponents. If you play that hand correctly for, say, 500 times (and you will!), your actual profit with that hand will match the mathematical model pretty closely. That is why you should stick to the starting hands list!
Now to the starting hands:
Monster Pairs (AA,KK,QQ)
Those of course are the best starting hands that you can get. AA is a 75% favourite against 2 players with random hands, for KK the number is still 70%. Those starting hands are strong in all kinds of situations, which is why you would usually raise and reraise (cap) them.
The good thing about them is that they win unimproved rather often.
With KK and QQ, you have to watch out for possible overcards on the flop, other than that, a flop with flush or straight possibilities can be dangerous.
Big Pairs (JJ,TT)
Those hands are still strong starting hands. The chances of seeing an overcard on the flop are higher though. Raise and re-raise them, but you should not cap them since you might be up against a higher pocket pair.
Medium Pairs (99,88,77)
Those hands are strong in two situations: first, against only one or two players who may miss the flop, and second, in multiway pots when you make your set (three of a kind) on the flop. When you flop a set, most of the time you will be paid out pretty nicely by players who have made top pair. This is a very profitable situation.
From early and middle position, limp with those hands (just call). Hope for the set, with as many players in as possible.
If nobody has entered the pot and you are in late position, consider raising to produce the desired short-handed situation. If someone raises before you, it’s a fold or reraise decision, because that raise means the pot will most probably not be multiway. If the raiser is a tight player, you should fold, since you will be up against two overcards at best.
Small Pairs (66 – 22)
For these hands, the same basic principles apply as for the medium pairs. Of course, there is a very high chance that the flop will bring one or two or even three overcards. The question therefor is, why play those hands in the first place? The answer is simple: if you get to see the flop cheaply, in those cases where you hit your set you will be paid out well. This profit justifies calling, even though you will have to fold them after the flop most of the time. Do not take them to the turn, not even for only one bet if you do not make your set. Fold them against a raise before you. After the flop, unless you have flopped an OESD or set, check/fold them.
The Big Suited Broadways (AKs to ATs, and KQs or KJs)
AKs and AQs are very strong hands, since they will make top pair with top kicker rather often, plus they have good flush potential. Raise and re-raise them.
Hands like KQs, KJs are still very good starting hands because they have high card strength, are suited and connected and thus hav good straight and flush potential. Against a raise before you they should still be folded because they can be dominated (like KJs by AKs)
The Small Suited Broadways (QJs or KTs or QTs or JTs)
Those hands, too, have good chance to make top pair with a good kicker, but they are often dominated (KTs by Ats etc.) and there are a lot of overcards. Their biggest chance of winning are the flush and straight potential, and therefor they are profitable in multiway pots. The chances of the pot being multiway are reduced by an early raise, which is why you should fold them against a raise. In an unraised pot, you should just plain call (limp) with those hands to make the pot multiway.
Suited Aces (A9s – A2s)
A tricky hand, since you may hit your ace to make top pair, but find yourself outkicked pretty often, especially with A7s or smaller.
So your best chance, again, is to make a flush. Just limp with those hands to get a multiway pot. First-in from late position you would consider raising. Do not cold-call a raise with suited aces.
When you flop two cards of the same suit, you will definitely take your hand to the river, but watch out for board pairs (full house?).
Suited Kings (K9s – K2s)
Same as suited aces, but with a higher chance of being dominated.
K9s and K8s are playable, while K7s and smaller should be folded.
Suited Connectors (T9s – 54s)
Good straight and flush potential, good for multiway pots. Those hands do not like raises at all because you will end up shorthanded after the flop, which will destroy your pot odds. Call with them from middle or late position and if someone has already entered the pot.
The semi suited Connector cards (J9s to 64s, Q9s to 96s, and Q9s, J8s)
Playable only from late position in an unraised pot when more than one player has called already.
The Big Offsuit Broadways (AKo or AQo or AJo or KQo)
Same as the suited broadways, with smaller flush potential of course. Cap with AKo, raise with AQo. AQo should be folded when someone raises before you, although you might consider the raising range of the player and decide accordingly.
Small Offsuit Broadway (ATo or KJo or QJo or KTo or QTo or JTo)
These are only profitable under special circumstances: unraised pot, late position, many callers. After the flop, fold them unless you have flopped an OESD and have good pot odds.
Any other hand not mentioned before is to be considered junk. Fold them! If you are the Big Blind of course, you can check and see the flop for free with any hand.