5 Best "Big Money" Poker Hands (Never Fold These)

5 Best "Big Money" Poker Hands (Never Fold These)

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Not all starting Texas hold’em hands are created equal. 

While you can theoretically “get lucky” and smash the flop with virtually any starting hand, some starting hands are obviously stronger than others.

In fact, a disproportionate amount of money you earn in poker will come from these strong starting hands. 

Think of the Pareto principle

80% of the money will come from only 20% of starting hands.

This article will take a closer look at 5 starting poker hands that will generate you the most money over the long run, how to play them, and when to fold them (if ever).

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1. Pocket Aces

Pocket Aces are by far the strongest possible starting hand to have in no-limit hold’em, and it’s not even close. 

When you get dealt the pocket rockets, life is good, because you don’t have to worry about literally any other hand that has you beat, because there aren’t any. 

Therefore, pocket Aces are the ultimate value hand, as all the other starting hands are an underdog by a huge margin.

A value hand is the one that’s comfortably ahead of your opponent’s calling range.

Against other premium pocket pairs, i.e. pocket Kings, Queens, and Jacks, pocket Aces have a whopping 81% equity, meaning you can expect to win with them more than 4 out of 5 times. 

Other strong premium hands don’t fare any better, either. For example, Ace-King suited, the strongest drawing hand in no-limit hold-em, has an abysmal 12% equity against pocket Aces.

Pocket Aces aren’t only a strong favourite preflop, but postflop as well. 

That’s because pocket Aces will flop an overpair on every board at the very least. 

If they flop a set, it will always be a top set, and if they flop a full house, it will be the strongest possible full house.

An overpair is a pocket pair that is stronger than the strongest pair on the flop. 

For example, on a flop: Q92, pocket Aces and pocket Kings are an overpair. 

When you flop a full house, the only hand that theoretically has you beat is quads, or four of a kind, but the odds of that happening are so astronomical they aren’t even worth considering.

The stronger your hand, the less likely it is for your opponent to have an even stronger hand. 

With that said, as pocket Aces will always flop an overpair, they will be comfortably ahead on most flops.

The only exception would be super wet and coordinated boards, where multiple straights and flushes are possible.

For example, on a board like




You’ll need to exercise more caution on this type of flop textures. 

As strong as pocket Aces are, it’s important to remember it’s still only a one pair hand.

In fact, overplaying pocket Aces is one of the most common amateur mistakes you should avoid.

If you have pocket Aces on a wet, coordinated board like in the example above, you don’t necessarily need to give up the hand right away. You can still make a continuation bet fairly frequently.

A continuation bet, or a c-bet for short, is a bet made by the previous street’s aggressor.

But if your opponent starts raising you at some point in the hand, especially on big money streets (i.e. turn and river) you need to reassess your hand strength, and think twice about continuing the hand.

If you have pocket Aces, it’s assumed you’re the preflop aggressor, because hey, you have the strongest possible hand.

As a general rule, you should avoid slowplaying pocket Aces preflop altogether, because trying to deceive and trap your opponent could end up backfiring more often than not.

Since you know your hand is a clear favourite preflop, your best bet is to ship as much money in the middle as soon as possible, and let the chips fall where they may.

Unless you’re playing in mid or high stakes games with deep stacks, you should play your pocket Aces aggressively preflop.

Otherwise, you’re letting your opponents realize their hand equity for cheaper, and inviting multiway pots, which decrease your own hand equity. 

The more players involved in the pot, the smaller your equity, even with a strong hand like pocket Aces.

For example, against three opponents with random hands, pocket Aces have only about 64% equity, which is significantly lower than in a heads-up pot where they have more than 80% hand equity.

When to fold pocket Aces preflop?

So is there a situation where you should actually fold pocket Aces preflop? 

Mathematically speaking, no. Pocket Aces are a clear favourite against any other starting hand by a huge margin.

However, pocket Aces still can, and will lose sometimes. So if you want to avoid the risk of losing altogether, then yes, you can fold them preflop.

For example, if you’re playing a satellite tournament, where the top x number of players receive an entry to another tournament, and you’re in the bubble and you’re just about to get to the prize, then there’s no point in risking getting eliminated.

The bubble in poker tournaments is the period where only a few players need to be eliminated for you to get into the money, or win a satellite ticket.

Or if you’re playing a regular tournament, and you’re just about to get into the money, then yes, you can theoretically fold pocket Aces preflop.

However, it’s usually still better to risk it and try to win as many chips as possible during the bubble, and put yourself in a better position to try and win the whole thing, since poker tournament prizes are very top-heavy.

This is something Nathan talks about in his recent video on how to win more poker tournaments.

2. Pocket Kings

Pocket Kings are the second strongest starting hand in no-limit hold’em. It will make an overpair on the flop 77.4% of the time.

Similar to the pocket Aces, you should play pocket Kings fast both preflop and postflop most of the time. 

If you’re dealt pocket Kings preflop, chances are that you have the best hand, because it’s highly unlikely for your opponents to have pocket Aces.

This has to do with combined probability. In order to calculate the likelihood of you getting pocket Kings AND your opponent getting pocket Aces, you simply multiply the combined probability of both outcomes. 

If you have pocket Kings, the odds of running into pocket Aces are only 1:45,084. This equates to only 0.0022% chance.

Of course, the more opponents you face, the more the odds increase, but even then, it’s highly unlikely. 

For this reason, when you have pocket Kings preflop, it’s best to treat it as the strongest hand and just roll the dice.

It’s more profitable to play pocket Kings aggressively than to worry about your opponent having pocket Aces.

Of course, there will be times when your pocket Kings run into pocket Aces, and unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it. 

Coolers and setups are an integral part of poker, so your best bet is to accept it and keep playing the odds.

If you get into a raising war preflop with pocket Kings, you will, in fact, run into pocket Aces some of the time. 

But you will also have the best hand quite often too, as your opponents could be more than happy to stack off with weaker hands, like pocket Queens, pocket Jacks, Ace-King and so on.

And some players will stack off even lighter than that, with a bunch of broadway hands, suited Aces, pocket pairs and so on.

The only hands that have a significant chunk of equity against pocket Kings (besides pocket Aces, of course) are suited Ax hands like Ace-King suited, Ace-Queen suited and so on.

Ace-King suited and Ace-Queen suited have 34% and 32% equity against pocket Kings, respectively. 

This means that pocket Kings remain a huge favourite even against strong drawing Ax hands.

A lot of players might get apprehensive when an Ace comes on the flop, and they fear their opponent must have an Ace in their hand. 

This situation sucks without a doubt, but again, pocket Kings flop an overpair more than 3 out of 4 times.

And even if there’s an Ace on the flop, not all is lost, because your opponent won’t have exclusively Ax hands in their range.

If you played pocket Kings aggressively preflop, you can make a standard c-bet on the flop and “represent” an Ace yourself. 

Since you have the initiative and the range advantage, you’re the one that’s perceived to have the strongest hand, so you can credibly represent an Ace.

Even if your opponent calls you on the flop, you can take another stab on the turn to try and push them off mediocre Ax hands, like AJ, AT and so on.

It’s worth noting that in this case, you’re turning your pocket Kings into a bluff, because you’re trying to get stronger hands to fold.

For more info on when to turn your hand into a bluff and other advanced poker strategies, check out the Microstakes Playbook.

When to fold pocket Kings preflop?

Similar to the pocket Aces, you should almost never fold pocket Kings preflop. Even if you suspect your opponent may have pocket Aces, it’s usually worth it to just roll the dice and hope for the best. 

Even if you end up running into pocket Aces, you still have roughly 19% hand equity.

The only exception is if you’re sure your opponent’s range consists of pocket Aces exclusively. Again, this is almost never the case, and you can never be 100% sure about your opponent’s range, anyway.

But in some extreme cases, literally no hand other than pocket Aces make sense, so you can, in fact, find the fold button with your cowboys.

Big Money Example Hand #1

Cash game, effective stack size: 150 BB

You are dealt pocket KK on the BU (button).

A tight and aggressive player open-raises to 3x UTG (under the gun). A loose and aggressive player 3-bets (re-raises) to 9x. You cold 4-bet to 20x.

A nitty player 5-bet shoves 150x from the SB. Other players fold.

You: ???

You should fold.

Folding pocket Kings preflop may seem too nitty, and fair enough. Even if you suspect your opponent to have pocket Aces, sometimes it’s best to just suck it up and roll the dice. 

But in this particular spot, you can be nearly certain your opponent has pocket Aces exclusively. 

Based on the player type, the action sequence, and the effective stack sizes, no other hand makes sense.

Nitty players don’t just shove their whole stack in the middle out of the blue, especially not against such aggressive actions before their turn, and they certainly don’t do it with such deep effective stack size, unless they’re sure they’re a favourite to win.

And the only way to know that you’re a favourite to win is by having the strongest starting hand, and nothing else.

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3. Pocket Queens

Pocket Queens are the third best starting hand in no-limit hold’em. While not as strong as the first two hands on the list, it will still be one of your biggest long-term winners.

Pocket Queens will flop an overpair or better only 58.6% of the time, which is significantly less often than pocket Kings. 

Still, pocket Queens will flop an overpair more often than not, and it will often be the best hand both preflop and postflop.

As other premium pocket pairs, your best bet is to play them aggressively, especially preflop, when you’re still likely to have the best hand. 

As a general rule, you should always open-raise and 3-bet pocket Queens preflop when given the chance.

But what about the times where you face a 3-bet yourself? Then the question becomes whether or not to just flat call the 3-bet or make a 4-bet.

A 4-bet preflop is a re-raise against another player’s 3-bet. If the 4-bet is made by the player who was not previously involved in the hand (i.e. the player who open-raised) this is called a cold 4-bet.

If you are the one to open-raise with pocket Queens and you face a 3-bet, your next action will depend mainly on the type of player you are up against.

If you decide to 4-bet, you need to make sure you can be called by weaker hands. If you’re only likely to get action from pocket Aces and pocket Kings, there’s no sense 4-betting, because you’ll only get action by hands that have you beat. 

You also won’t be able to 4-bet as a bluff, since your opponent obviously isn’t folding Aces or Kings.

But if your opponent is likely to stack off more lightly, you can theoretically 4-bet pocket Queens for value. 

You will, of course, run into Aces or Kings from time to time, but you can also potentially get action by weaker hands like pocket Jacks, pocket Tens, Ace-King etc.

Against the range of Ace-King and pocket Tens or better, pocket Queens are a slight favourite with about 52% equity.

Of course, if your opponent is likely to stack off even lighter than that, this makes 4-betting with pocket Queens even more +EV. Against recreational players, for example, you can stack off pocket Queens quite comfortably preflop.

But if you’re only likely to get action by hands that have you beat, and 4-betting would only make your opponent fold their bluffing hands, it’s better to just flat call the 3-bet preflop and play some poker post flop.

You should be more inclined to call a 3-bet with pocket Queens in position, because you’ll have the informational advantage postflop, as well as the ability to control the size of the pot, or put the rest of your stack in the middle, depending on how you hit the flop.

When to fold pocket Queens preflop?

As is the case with pocket Aces and pocket Kings, you should almost never fold pocket Queens preflop. 

The only exception to this rule is when you’re certain your opponent holds exclusively pocket Aces or pocket Kings themself. 

Even against Ace-King, pocket Queens are a slight favourite to win with 56% hand equity.

Big Money Example Hand #2

You are dealt QQ in the CO (cutoff). 

A tight and aggressive player open-raises to 3x UTG under the gun). You 3-bet to 9x. A nit 4-bets to 20x on the BU (button).

You: ???

You should fold.

Folding pocket Queens preflop may appear way too nitty, but in the example above, it’s absolutely warranted.

That’s because the 4-bettor in this spot will have exclusively pocket Aces, pocket Kings, and maybe Ace-King. 

This type of player doesn’t cold 4-bet as a bluff, especially when there’s so much action in front of them. They are politely letting you know they have the best hand.

Calling is not great in this spot, either. You will play the rest of the hand out of position, and you need to pray that no Ace or King shows up on the board. 

You’re also committing a huge chunk of your stack preflop, so you’ll be forced to ship the rest of it in while your hand is more than likely behind.

You’re essentially set mining if you call a 4-bet, which is a losing play, as you won’t flop a set nearly as often as you might hope for.

Against other player types, calling a 4-bet or even 5-bet shoving may be viable options. But against this type of player and against this action sequence, it’s usually better to make a begrudging laydown and save yourself some money.

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4. Ace-King

People either love or hate the Big Slick. Ace-King suited is the strongest drawing hand in Texas hold’em, but a lot of players are under the impression that they don’t win nearly enough with this hand as they should.

That’s because as strong as Ace-King is, it’s still a drawing hand, meaning it needs some help postflop in order to win, as opposed to premium pocket pairs that are strong in and of themselves.

Regardless how you feel about Ace-King, it’s still a premium hand that will be one of your biggest long term winners in no-limit hold’em.

The problem with Ace-King is that a lot of players either overvalue it, or they are not playing it fast enough (both preflop and postflop).

Check out my recent article on common Ace-King mistakes.

As with other premium hands, you should usually play Ace-King fast both preflop and postflop.

This means 3-betting (and even 4-betting) preflop, and c-betting the flop most of the time, regardless of whether or not you connected with the flop.

Even if you miss the flop, you’ll still have the initiative and the range advantage, meaning you can often take down the pot with a simple c-bet. 

You also have some hand equity to fall back on, as you have two overcards (i.e. any Ace or a King on the turn or river will give you a top pair, top kicker hand).

If you do connect with the flop, though, you will always have a top pair, top kicker at least, which means your hand will often be comfortably ahead of your opponent’s range. 

In other words, Ace-King will often dominate your opponent’s hand, meaning it  will be quite profitable over the long run.

A dominated hand is the one that’s unlikely to win against another hand, due to an inferior kicker.

So if you hold Ace-King, you’re dominating all the other Ax and Kx hands that can potentially give you action.

However, as strong as Ace-King is in theory, it’s important not to overplay it, especially if you don’t connect with the flop.

Ace-King is still a drawing hand, and it’s behind premium pocket pairs equity-wise.

Against the range of pocket Jacks or stronger pocket pairs ( abbr. JJ+), Ace-King suited and Ace-King offsuit have 38% and 35% hand equity, respectively.

So if you get into a raising war preflop with another player, your Ace-King may very well be an underdog.

The good news is that Ace-King blocks other strong combinations in your opponents range, namely the pocket Aces and pocket Kings.

A blocker is a card that reduces the number of combinations in your opponent’s range.

For example, there are 6 different combinations of pocket Aces. But if you hold one Ace in your hand, there’s only 3 remaining possible combinations of Aces in your opponents range, because you “block” some of the combinations.

But even with blocker power, it’s important not to get carried away with Ace-King, especially against tight opponents who have quite value-heavy 3-betting and 4-betting ranges.

Sometimes, it may be prudent to simply flat call a 3-bet instead of 4-betting with Ace-King.

The reason why has already been mentioned: your 4-bet probably won’t get called by weaker hands. 

By flat calling a 3-bet instead, you allow your opponent to keep barreling into you postflop, while being none the wiser about your hand strength.

For advanced 3-bet and 4-bet bluffing strategies, check out my massively popular free step by step guide right here.

Another caveat: you should only consider slowplaying preflop if you’re up against a skilled opponent. 

Against the fish that like to stack off very lightly (with any pocket pair, Ax hand, broadway hands etc.), you can put the rest of your stack in the middle preflop quite comfortably.

As far as the postflop play is concerned, it’s worth noting that you shouldn’t overvalue a hand like top pair, top kicker, especially on wet, coordinated boards.

Top pair hands are vulnerable to getting outdrawn, so if you start getting action on big money streets, i.e. the turn and river, look out for potential draws completing.

Chances are, your Big Slick may be dead in the water. Remember, top pair is still only a one pair hand, and it can be beaten just as easily as other hands.

When to fold Ace-King preflop?

As with other hands on this list, the answer is almost never. Still, you’ll need to consider dumping Ace-King preflop more often than other premium pocket pairs. 

That’s because AK is actually an underdog against premium pocket pairs equity-wise.

So if you suspect your opponent’s range consists exclusively of premium pocket pairs, you may need to find the fold button preflop, or at least slow down the aggression and play some poker postflop.

5. Jack-Ten suited

Jack-Ten suited is not a premium poker hand by any means, and purely from a hand equity perspective, it’s behind premium pocket pairs and other broadway hands (like KQs or AJs, for example).

Broadway hands are the ones that can make the strongest possible straight, like AK or QJ.

For example, JTs has about 37% hand equity against KQs, and it’s dominated by stronger Jx hands (i.e. AJ, KJ, and QJ).

While an underdog to other premium pocket pairs and broadway hands, JTs is still a great hand for one important reason: its versatility.

JTs and other suited connectors have a great nuts potential, meaning they can be insanely profitable if you manage to hit a strong combination like a straight or a flush.

The nuts refers to the strongest possible combination on a certain board.

Speculative hands perform best with deep effective stack sizes, and the deeper, the better. 

The deeper the stack sizes, the better the implied odds, and with a speculative hand, you want as much implied odds as possible, because you want a bigger upside once you actually do manage to hit a strong combination like a straight or a flush.

Implied odds simply refer to the amount of money you can potentially earn on future streets if you manage to hit your draw.

Another thing a hand like JTs has going for it is the ability to hit a variety of different boards. It can absolutely smash a variety of middling boards, and it will often flop some sort of a flush or a straight draw.

If you hit a straight draw, for example, your draw will usually be well concealed, i.e. your opponent will have a hard time putting you on your exact hand.

For example, if you hold JTs, 

And the flop is


You have an open-ended straight draw with 8 outs. If the turn is an Eight or a King, it won’t be glaringly obvious your draw completed.

Check out my recent article on how to play straight draws for more info on the topic.

The more concealed your hand, the better implied odds you have, which means this hand can be insanely profitable once you hit a strong hand combination.

Even if you don’t hit a strong hand like a straight or a flush, you’ll often hit a top pair with a decent kicker.

This means that suited connectors like JTs have a lot of playability postflop. 

While not strong enough in and of themselves, their ability to connect with a variety of different flops and their nuts potential definitely make them a “big money” poker hand.

5 Best "Big Money" Poker Hands - Summary

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The majority of money you make in this game will come from a select few strong hands, and do your best to maximize their profitability.

To sum up, here are 5 starting hold’em hands you should (almost) never fold:

1. Pocket Aces - By far the strongest starting hand in no-limit hold’em, pocket Aces are the ultimate value hand. They have an insane amount of equity against virtually any other starting hand, and it’s not even close.

2. Pocket Kings - If you get dealt pocket Kings, it’s best to treat them as the strongest starting hand, because the probability of you having pocket Kings AND your opponent having pocket Aces is extremely thin. 

Even when it happens, it’s best to remember that there’s nothing much you can do about it. The shoe’s going to be on another foot the next time.

3. Pocket Queens - While not as strong as the previous two, it will still be one of your biggest long-term winners. It will hit an overpair on the flop more often than not, so your best bet is to play it fast, both preflop and postflop.

4. Ace-King (suited) - The strongest drawing hand in no-limit hold’em. Unlike other premium pocket pairs, it’s not strong in and of itself, but has the ability to make very strong combinations postflop. 

When it connects with the flop, you will ALWAYS have at least a top pair, top kicker. 

Ace-King suited also has an insane nuts potential, with the ability to make the strongest possible straights and flushes.

5. Jack-Ten suited

Jack-Ten suited is not a premium poker hand by any means, but still deserves a place on this list due to its playability and versatility.

It can connect with the variety of different flops, and it has the ability to make strong combinations like straights and flushes. 

Suited connectors like JTs are speculative hands, and they prefer deep effective stack sizes to maximize their implied odds.

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5 Best "Big Money" Poker Hands (Never Fold These)