Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The 10 Best Poker Starting Hands Finally Revealed

Best Poker Starting Hands
Do you have a favorite hand in poker? How about a lucky hand that you always seem to win with? Many people have superstitions like this about what is the best poker starting hand.

However, the truth is that there are clear winners and losers in terms of the profitability of certain hands. In other words, some poker starting hands tend to win much more often than others.

So in this article I am going to break down the top 10 best poker starting hands so that you can finally start playing in the most profitable way. 


The Two Absolute Best Poker Starting Hands


Now despite what some people might think there are actually two poker starting hands that tower above all others in terms of profitability. 

I know this because I have checked my own database of millions of hands many times over the years. If you use a program like PokerTracker this is very simple to do. 

And again, this might be a big shocker to some but the two hands that are far more profitable over the long run than any others are, AA and KK. 

From my personal experience as much as half of all my winnings come from these two hands alone. Which is completely insane.

Go ahead and check it for yourself right now and let me know your results in the comments! 

The problem with these two hands though is that many people almost expect them to win every single time and this is frankly just not reasonable. 

In fact even the very worst hand in poker (72 offsuit) has nearly 13% equity versus AA before the flop.

lucky poker hand pocket aces

And when you start adding a few more people into the mix with a few random suited connectors, you can see that your equity with pocket aces drops dramatically, all the way down to nearly 50%.

Yes, a virtual coinflip!

best poker starting hand pocket aces

However, what many people fail to realize is that these two hands hands (AA and KK) still have a much higher chance of winning the pot than all the others. 

Also, the chance to cooler someone (they have a really good 2nd best hand like QQ or JJ) is very high with pocket aces and pocket kings.

So for all these reasons I think you will almost certainly find that these are the two best poker starting hands in the game. And by that I mean the most profitable!


These 3 Poker Hands are Also Hugely Profitable


The next three most profitable poker starting hands are as follows:

  • QQ, JJ and AK

In my experience (once again checking my own database of millions of hands) these are always the next 3 most profitable hands for me. 

And it only makes sense.

Pocket queens and pocket jacks, again despite what some might think, are actually extremely easy to play and among the very best poker starting hands that you can be dealt. 

Just like with AA and KK, they are going to lose frequently though especially in large pots with multiple players. But your chances of making an overpair or coolering someone are still very high.

best poker starting hand ace king

And ace-king is another excellent hand as well. While it is true that you will only flop an ace or a king 1 in 3 times, you need to remember that those times when you do hit, you often win a big pot. 

This is especially the case when another ace hand is involved such as:

  • AQ, AJ or AT

These hands are in big trouble versus AK when the ace comes on the flop.

favorite poker hand ace king

So once again it is important not to be fooled by short term results with these hands. Yes, sometimes you will lose the pot with QQ, JJ and AK several times in a row. 

And believe me I know, it sucks. But overall these hands are still absolute killers in the long run. 


These are the 5 Next Best Poker Starting Hands


The final 5 top poker starting hands are as follows:

  • TT, 99, 88, 77 and AQ

Here's the thing. Pocket pairs rule in No Limit Hold'em.

This is a simple fact. You can once again go load up your poker tracking program and double check this for yourself right now.

If you are a winning poker player then it is very likely that you are showing a profit with every single one of them. 

And the middle pocket pairs like TT, 99, 88 and 77 are some of the best.

Now of course, you are going to lose with these hands even more often. In fact with a hand like 77 or 88, the board on the flop is going to really suck at least 50% of the time. 

Many times with these hands you will simply be forced to check and fold. There really is nothing that you can do with 88 for instance when the flop comes:

  • AQT

And the guy starts betting or raising you.

However, the power of hitting a set with these hands is so important in a game like No Limit Hold'em where the stacks in a cash game are often 100 big blinds deep.

Just imagine what happens when you have 88 versus a bad poker player with AK and the flop comes:

  • A83

Ya, he is going to lose all of his money to you.

This is especially true if you are betting and fast-playing your hand correctly as I talk about at length in Crushing the Microstakes. 

And lastly, AQ is also a very good hand that will win you a lot of money over the long run. You can make a very strong top pair with it. 

But also, and like with all of the hands on this list, you need to remember that you will almost always be raising (or re-raising) preflop with them. 

Therefore you can often take down the pot on the flop with just a simple CBet. In other words, you don't always have to connect with the board in order to win the pot with a hand like AQ.


Suited Connectors are Bad Poker Hands (But You Should Still Play Them)


You may have noticed that everybody's favorite (suited connectors) are nowhere to be found on my list of the top 10 best poker starting hands.

By the way these are hands like:

  • 65s, 76s, 87s, 98s, T9s and JTs

What's the deal with this you might be asking? Well, they aren't mentioned because they absolutely suck! 

Go ahead and fire up PokerTracker once again and check it for yourself. I am willing to bet that even if you are a winning poker player, you are still losing with all of your suited connectors.

suited connectors are bad poker hands

The reason why is that these hands really only win a big pot when you connect with the board extremely hard such as making two pair, a straight or a flush. 

And of course, these hands do not come around very often at all. 

What's worse is that many people will hit top pair with a hand like T9s and end up paying off one of the better hands that I already listed above such as QQ when the flop comes:

  • T62

Now ironically though, this doesn't mean that you should stop playing suited connectors. They do still have a very key function. And that is that they give your starting hand range a lot more depth. 

You see logically many people would conclude, well if only around 10 hands are really big winners in poker, then I will just play those 10 hands only. 

And yes, logically that argument seems to follow. 

But in practice this is a recipe for disaster. The reason why is because these top 10 hands come around so rarely that even the drunk fish will be able to tell that you are just sitting around waiting for the nuts all day.

Therefore, he won't pay you off when you hit like he will against the other players who are much more active. 

So what these hands like suited connectors (and also suited aces) do for you is add depth to your poker starting hand selection.

They essentially make you a much harder player to play against. And that is because it makes it that much harder for them to put you on a hand.

What this does is make sure that you get lot's of action when you do finally get one of the best poker starting hands that I talked about above. 


Should You Have a Lucky Poker Hand?


What about having a lucky poker hand or a favorite poker hand though? Some people will swear that they always win with some wacky holding like 85 suited.

Heck, I am guilty of this too!

I go by the screen name "BlackRain79" in online poker. So you can probably already guess what my favorite poker starting hand is.

favorite poker handfavorite poker hand

However, once again the evidence just doesn't support the idea that having a lucky hand like this in poker is a good idea.

85 suited and 79 suited are both going to be losing hands for you in the long run. And I don't care if your name is Daniel Negreanu or Phil Ivey. 

So when people ask me what my favorite poker hand is I alway say it is AA. Because while I don't win every time with it, I seem to get a lot more "lucky" with pocket aces than any other hand. 


Final Thoughts


So here are the top 10 best poker starting hands.

1. AA

2. KK

3. QQ

4. JJ

5. AK

6. TT

7. 99

8. 88

9. 77

10. AQ


Does this mean that these are the only profitable poker starting hands though? Absolutely not. 

As a winning poker player you should also be showing a profit with many more hands like small pairs, worse aces and many broadways as well.

And there will also be many other hands like suited connectors and suited aces which are not winning hands. However you should still play them in order to add depth to your starting hand selection range.

You need to make sure that you are playing these hands from the right positions at the poker table though. The "Starting Hands Cheat Sheet" which comes as a free bonus with any of my poker strategy books can help you out with that. 

Let me know your favorite poker hands in the comments below. Do you have a lucky poker hand?

Lastly, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker guide if you want to know my complete strategy for crushing the micro stakes games.

Best Poker Starting Hands

18 comments:

  1. Everyone I think picks a favorite based on some good experience in their early poker career. I won my first tournament after busting 3 players at the FT with A5, including some bigtime luck with an A5 of spades, which became my favorite hand. It's at least worth a 3 bet in position a lot of the time, but most players learn not to overplay the favorite hand the hard way. Usually not the first time though :D

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    1. Haha definitely agree with that. I can still remember the hand I won my first tournament with, 86 of spades :)

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  2. One poker coach I follow has shared tons of very eye opening stats from his Poker Tracker database.

    He pointed put the # of bb that is typically won on average by each of the toppest of top hands...

    AA earns 10bb, KK=5, QQ/JJ=4, AK/AQ=2, TT/99/88=1.5

    Almost no other hands are profitable, longterm. Unless you 3bet them, against loose openers -- or even TAGs -- who will raise-call out of position vs you then play fit-or-fold ($cha-ching$!)

    IMO those bb earn numbers are critical to keep in mind when considering loosely (impulsively? tilted?) snap calling a big river bet ... OR when tempted to be "greedy" when sizing a river value bet with nutted hands but you are likely up against a tight villain range!

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    1. Those numbers look about right from my experience as well. It is pretty crazy how few hands are actually significant longterm winners.

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    2. Not really, there are 2598960 possible Poker hands you can form from a 52 card deck. Over half of them can't beat a pair of deuces. That's the nature of the game (any card game actually) garbage hands prevail. That's *a lot* of garbage hands. Chances are you won't like your hand and your opponent(s) won't like his either.

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  3. Another great article Nathan! Always enjoy your work.

    I would have loved to have seen your thoughts on reciprocity incorporated in this. What happens when *you* have AK on the A83 example? If you get stacked there, then you're just trading coolers back-and-forth with your opponents and the set of 8s isn't really making you money. Having these types of realizations (along with reading a lot of your work) is what turned me into a winning player.

    Keep up the great articles, always look forward to them.

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    1. Thanks Dennis. I would not get stacked if the roles were reversed. This is why I focus so much on understanding player types in my articles and books :)

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    2. Nathan, to be clear, I was referring to the generic "you"; I'm sure that you, Nathan, are just fine in that situation :). I meant that you can use an article like this to segue into another article about reciprocity and how that plays into winning. I would posit that this is why hands like QQ aren't as profitable - it's not that you don't *make* money *with* them, it's that when the roles are reversed, you *lose* way too much *to* them.

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    3. Ya that is an important topic. I am a big fan of Tommy Angelo's work and I believe he basically coined the term reciprocity as it applies to poker.

      I have written a few articles which touch on this a bit, in getting away from overpairs and such. And of course I cover this a lot in my books as well. I will look to write more on it in the future though.

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  4. hi did you work out all of your hands from best to worst , andy

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    1. Hey Andy,

      Yes, you can load up a program like PokerTracker and easily find the profitability for all of your hands.

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  5. You should probably give Phil Helmuth a credit for this blog. Phil wrote a much maligned book on this subject called "Play Poker Like the Pros" with the exact same hands. It was the first poker book I read and even though to this day everyone makes fun of it I think it is the best beginner book I have read and I highly recommend it to any beginner and any intermediate player would get valuable information from it. Phil goes through the thought process better than anyone I've read because he has a knack for making the complicated sound simple. good blog

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    1. Nice, I have never read Phil's book. He liked a tweet of mine last week though so I guess great minds think alike lol. Phil Hellmuth will actually be prominently featured in my article next week, coincidently :)

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    2. Phil's book is also the first one I read (Super System was the second), and it got ridicule because of his "animals" metaphor. But still, it is worth the read.

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  6. Can't argue with your Top 10 list, nor with your advice to have a secondary list of hands you consider "playable" at least to see a flop with (assuming of course that it isn't too expensive to do so). In that vein I like suited gappers (Q 10, J 9, 7 5). Reason being that if they hit it will be a straight and will usually be hidden. I don't worry about being suited with these because if I were to hit a flush I would most likely not be holding a high card and the low flush would kill my straight.

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  7. Hey Nathan,

    Very helpful! Can you reveal the next best top 10 in your database? Thanks.

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    1. I am sure Nathan will reply soon enough with ranking based on actual stats, but my prediction would be something like [AJ KQ KJ AT KT QJ 66 QT A9 A8] ... but only because in his original Top 10 he did not differentiate suited from offsuit -- but TBH that makes a BIG difference (see the Top 20 hands in PokerStove, or on ProPokerTools.com for example)

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    2. Hey Mike,

      The next 10 best starting hands would be similar to what Darren just listed. This should be the same for most people regardless of their overall poker results.

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