5 Poker Hands That SKYROCKETED My Winnings

5 Poker Hands That SKYROCKETED My Poker Winnings

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

In no-limit hold’em, most of the money you’ll win will come from only a handful of starting poker hands, so knowing how to play these hands profitably is crucial for your long term success in this game.

In this article, we’ll take a look at 5 starting poker hands that skyrocketed my winnings, and hopefully they’ll do the same for you.

Let’s get right into it.

1. Pocket Aces

The first entry on this list should be fairly obvious. Pocket Aces, (aka the Rockets, Bullets) are the strongest starting hand in no-limit hold’em, period.

This hand will be your biggest long term winner, and it’s not even close.

Pocket Aces have a huge advantage against virtually every other starting poker hand.

Here’s a brief rundown of how much hand equity pocket Aces have against some other strong starting hands to see how overpowered they are:

AA vs KK: 83% hand equity

AA vs AKs: 88% hand equity

AA vs 87s: 77% hand equity

As you can see, pocket Aces are a huge favourite to win regardless of what your opponent is holding.

When your opponent holds another pocket pair (like pocket Kings or pocket Queens), they really only have two outs to save them.

An out is a card that improves your hand on later streets. So if you hold pocket Kings, for example, you only have two Kings left in the deck to improve to a set.

The chance of flopping a set when you have a pocket pair is only about 12%.

Of course, there are other strong combinations you can theoretically make, like, straights and flushes, but the chances of making these are even slimmer.

The beauty of playing pocket Aces is that your hand doesn’t need to improve post flop, since you already have the strongest hand possible.

This means you should play your pocket Aces fast preflop (i.e. betting and raising aggressively) while your hand is guaranteed to be the best.

Don’t give your opponent the opportunity to catch up for cheap, and potentially crack your Aces.

Pocket Aces Statistical Underdog

This is a common amateur poker mistake where players tend to slowplay their big hands like pocket Aces in order to deceive their opponents and conceal their hand strength.

This is a huge mistake in 99% of the cases.

When you have a strong hand like pocket Aces, you want to build up the pot as soon as possible while your hand is ahead.

You also don’t want to invite too many players into the pot, because every additional player reduces your hand equity.

For example, if you are playing a heads-up pot (meaning a pot with only two players involved), pocket Aces have 85% equity against a random hand.

But if you’re playing in a multiway pot against 3 random hands, your hand equity with pocket Aces is reduced to 64%.

When amateur poker players complain about constantly getting their Aces cracked, this might be one of the contributing factors.

Check out Nathan's article on why your pocket Aces get cracked all the time.

The more players involved in the pot, the less often you can expect to win the hand.

This is especially important with a hand like pocket Aces, because it’s still only a one-pair hand, so it’s vulnerable to getting outdrawn.

For example, notice that a suited connector hand like 87s actually has better hand equity against pocket Aces than other strong premium hands.

That’s because suited connectors are speculative hands that can hit the flop in a variety of different ways, meaning they can make strong combinations like straights and flushes.

So as strong as pocket Aces are, they will still lose from time to time.

That’s why it’s important not to get overly attached to any hand, and be ready to ditch it the moment you think it’s no good anymore.

Example Hand #1

You are dealt AA in the MP (middle position). 

You open-raise to 3x. 

A tight and aggressive (TAG) player calls from the BB (big blind).

Pot: 6.5 BB

Flop: T74

TAG player checks. You bet 5 BB.

Pot 16.5 BB.

Turn: 6

TAG player checks. You bet 8 BB. TAG player check-raises to 20 BB.

You: ???

You should fold.

In this spot, it's highly likely your pocket Rockets are no good anymore. Let's break down the action streeet by street to see why that's the case.

Preflop you have a standard open-raise and you get called by one player in the big blind. You can narrow down their range to something like medium pocket pairs, suited connectors, weak broadways, suited Aces etc.

Based on the player type, they're probably not calling you with garbage hands, so you expect them to hold something reasonable.

The flop is semi-wet, so you make a big c-bet in order to charge a premium for your oppenent's drawing hands.

You are not too thrilled about the turn card, but you decide to double barrel anyway. Then your opponent comes back at you with a check-raise.

In this spot, there's nothing to do but to begrudgingly fold your hand.

There are now multiple completed straight draws and flushes on the board, and based on the player type, the villain is very rarely bluffing here.

There aren't many hands you're beating here except some bluffing and semi-bluffing hands, and there aren't that many of them in your opponent's range.

So if you continue playing here, you are turning your hand into a bluff catcher.

On top of that, you have another street to play, so you aren't guaranteed to see a cheap showdown.

Check out Nathan's recent video on the 6 bad plays good poker players never make.

2. Pocket Kings

Pocket Kings are the second strongest starting hand in no-limit hold’em, and it should be your second biggest long time winner.

If you’re using some good poker software such as a hand tracker, you can actually just check these stats yourself. 

You can see how profitable certain hands are over the long run, and you can also filter for different spots to see how they perform.

This should give you an idea of which hands are actually making you money over the long run, and which hands you’re better off avoiding altogether.

Pocket Kings aren’t quite as straightforward to play as pocket Aces, but they come close.

That’s because pocket Kings aren’t always guaranteed to flop an overpair on the flop.

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

For example: 

On a flop like: Q53

Pocket Aces and pocket Kings are an overpair.

Pocket Aces are easy to play because they always flop an overpair, which is always likely to be ahead of your opponent’s range. 

This means you can make a continuation bet on most flops and be quite confident your hand is ahead a large majority of the time.

With pocket Kings, on the other hand, the situation is not always as clear-cut.

Preflop you should treat pocket Kings as the strongest starting hand, and play them the same way you would play pocket Aces (meaning betting and raising aggressively).

That’s because it’s very unlikely you will run into an opponent who’s holding pocket Aces themselves.

While this has certainly happened to me a number of times, it’s important to remember that these events are statistical anomalies that stand out in our memory just because they are so unexpected.

This can lead you to think that your “Cowboys” run into pocket Aces far more often than they actually do.

And even if it does happen, there’s nothing much you can do about it anyway.

Remember the shoe’s going to be on the other foot someday, and it all evens out in the end.

Let’s say you’re playing at a 6 max table against 5 opponents. The chance of you running into pocket Aces when you have pocket Kings is only 2.4%.

And remember, the chances are even lower the less opponents you face. Against a single opponent, the chance of running into pocket Aces while holding pocket Kings is a measly 0.48%.

So for all intents and purposes, you want to treat pocket Kings as the strongest starting hand, because it will be the case in a vast majority of situations.

If not, recognize that it’s just the nature of poker, and sometimes you lose despite the odds.

Playing pocket Kings postflop gets a bit trickier, because you won’t always flop an overpair.

If you hold pocket Kings, the chance of an Ace appearing on the flop is about 11.8%

Still, you can make a c-bet on the flop most of the time even if there is an Ace on the board. 

That's because if you're the preflop aggressor, you can credibly represent an Ax hand yourself.

However, if your opponent plays back at you in some way, you might need to slow down and reassess your hand strength.

For more information check out my complete guide to playing pocket kings.

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3. Ace-King Suited

Some players dislike “Big Slick” because they feel like they don’t win with it nearly as often as they feel they should.

But regardless about how you feel about Ace-King, it’s still one of the strongest starting hands in no limit hold’em, and it should be one of your most profitable hands overall.

It’s also the strongest drawing hand, because it can make the strongest possible straight and flush combinations.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that like other drawing hands, it still needs to improve postflop.

In no-limit hold’em, you will miss the flop 2 out of 3 times, and Ace-King is no exception to this rule.

So it’s important not to overplay Ace-King and be aware of its limitations.

When you do connect with the flop, though, life is good, because Ace-King will always make a top pair top kicker hand at the very least.

Ace King Top Pair

This means you can be confident that you have the best hand most of the time.

Like other premium poker hands, your best bet is to play Ace-King fast preflop (i.e. bet and raise). This will make your post flop play easier as well, whether you connect with the flop or not.

If you connect with the flop, you can continue the aggression with a c-bet, because your hand will be ahead of your opponent’s range most of the time.

If you flop some sort of a drawing hand, you can also c-bet with a high frequency, because you will be drawing to the nuts (i.e. the strongest possible hand combination).

This means you don’t have to worry about the reverse implied odds.

Reverse implied odds (the opposite of implied odds) refer to the amount of money you can potentially lose on future streets if your draw completes, but your opponent ends up having an even stronger hand.

Even if you miss the flop, you can still consider throwing a c-bet on most flops. When you make a c-bet with the intention of getting your opponent to fold, this is known as a light c-bet.

Example Hand #2

You are dealt AK UTG (under the gun). You open-raise to 3x. 

A player calls you from the SB (small blind).

Pot: 7 BB

Flop: J52

Villain checks.

You: ???

You should c-bet 3.5 BB.

Just because you missed the flop doesn’t mean you should give up the hand altogether, especially when you have a huge chunk of equity to fall back on.

Let’s break down the action in more detail.

Preflop you have a standard open-raise and you get called by one player. You will play the rest of the hand in position, which is always good for your EV (expected value).

Villain checks to you on the flop and you need to make a choice at whether or not to c-bet.

Even though you missed the flop, you can still c-bet with a high frequency with Ace-King.

The villain could have missed the flop just as easily as you, and since you are the preflop aggressor and you’re playing in position, you can get villain to fold quite often here.

Even if your c-bet gets called, you still have 6 outs left that will improve your hand to a top pair, top kicker.

An out is a card that improves your hand, so in this case, you have 3 Aces and 3 Kings that will improve your hand.

By the way, you can quickly calculate the percentage chance of your hand improving by using the so-called rule of fours.

Rule of fours: simply multiply the number of outs you have by 4 to determine the chance of your hand improving from flop to river.

If you want to know the chance of improvement on a single street (flop to turn or turn to river), simply multiply the number of outs by 2 instead of 4.

In this spot, you also have additional equity because you have a backdoor straight and flush draws.

A backdoor draw means you need both turn and river cards to improve your hand.

In this spot, you need a Queen and a Ten to make a straight, or two hearts to make a flush.

Backdoor draws have a fairly low chance of completing, but they do improve your hand equity nonetheless.

Check out my other article on common Ace-King mistakes for more info on the topic.

4. Ace-Five Suited

Ace-Five suited is not a premium poker hand by any means, but it can skyrocket your winnings if you play it the right way.

Small suited Aces (Ace-Two to Ace-Five) are great speculative hands and can potentially be very profitable.

What I particularly like about small suited Aces is their versatility. You can play it a bunch of different ways depending on the situation.

Small suited Aces have an insane nuts potential, with their ability to make the nuts flush.

Unlike other suited hands, you will always draw to the strongest possible flush with small suited Aces. 

This means you don’t need to worry about the reverse implied odds, as you will always have the strongest hand if your flush completes.

The only exception would be if the board is paired, which gives your opponents a theoretical ability to beat you with a full house.

But this is very unlikely to happen. The stronger your hand, the harder it is for your opponent to have an even stronger hand.

Small suited Aces also have the ability to make a straight, which adds to their insane nuts potential.

Even if you don’t manage to hit a flush or a straight, your hand still has some playability postflop. You can hit a top pair hand if you get an Ace on the board.

Of course, in this scenario, you need to play your hand carefully due to the less than ideal kicker.

Another great feature of small suited Aces is their blocker power.

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

For example, if you hold an Ace, it’s less likely your opponent will have strong holdings like pocket Aces, Ace-King, Ace-Queen and so on.

This makes small suited Aces great bluffing hands.

You can use small suited Aces for light 3-bets and even an occasional light 4-bet preflop.

A light 3-bet and a light 4-bet means you’re betting with the intention of getting your opponent to fold. 

This is opposed to a value 3-bet or 4-bet where you want your opponent to call you with weaker hands.

Small suited Aces have decent equity even against strong premium hands. For example, Ace-Five suited has 34% hand equity against pocket Kings and pocket Queens, and 30% equity against Ace-King suited.

For these reasons, you can often play small suited Aces aggressively. This is especially the case if you manage to flop some sort of draw, like a flush draw, for example.

Since you will be drawing to the nuts, and you will have plenty of outs, you can get away with playing your hand very aggressively.

As a general rule, the stronger your draw (in terms of outs), the more aggressively you should play it.

Check out my other article on how to play flush draws for more info on the topic.

Example Hand #3

You are dealt A5 on the BU (button).

You open-raise to 2.5 BB. 

A tight and aggressive (TAG) player 3-bets to 10 BB.

You: ???

You should light 4-bet to 20 BB.

Light 4-betting is not something you should do too often, but if you can pull off an occasional bluff like this, it can do wonders for both your table image and your bottom line.

A 4-bet is a very strong play, and most players don’t resort to it unless they have a very strong hand (like pocket Queens or better and Ace-King, for example).

So when they see another player 4-betting, they naturally assume they also have a similar nutted range (and they’re usually right).

So if you can credibly represent a strong hand like this, you will be able to take down the pot preflop, because most players will just give you the benefit of the doubt.

Later on in the session, if you’re lucky enough to actually wake up with pocket Aces or pocket Kings, you’ll have a far better chance of getting action, because other players will assume you’re out of line with your bluffing.

However, it’s important not to go overboard with this, and pick spots in which your opponent is likely to fold to your light 4-bet.

In the example above, you’re up against a solid player who probably thinks you’re trying to steal their blinds, so they defend them with a 3-bet.

In this spot, their 3-bet range is probably quite loose, and they’re not exclusively betting with strong value hands that have you beat.

With that in mind, you can play right back at them with a 4-bet. Sizing it to about 2 to 2.5 times the 3-bet amount should do the trick. 

Since you are playing in position in this spot, sizing it to 2 times the 3-bet is fine.

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5. Eight-Seven Suited

Eight-Seven suited is also not a premium hand, but it can be extremely profitable for you if you play it the right way.

87s is a suited connector, so it has more than one way to connect with the board. The ability to make strong hand combinations like straights and flushes gives it a great playability postflop.

However, it’s worth noting that 87s and similar suited connectors are speculative hands, meaning they need to improve postflop to be profitable.

This makes them weaker than premium pocket pairs that don’t need to improve post flop to be played profitably.

87s can hit a variety of different flop textures, and it can make a straight in a number of different ways.

This makes suited connectors more playable than one-gapper and two-gapper hands like 86 or T7, for example.

87s can make a straight four different ways, whereas gapper hands have less ways to connect with the board.

The bigger the gap between the cards, the less playable they are.

Check out my massive guide to playing suited connectors optimally, for much more on this.

As for the way you should play suited connectors, it’s different than playing other strong hands like premium pocket pairs, for example.

Since suited connectors need to improve post flop, you don’t necessarily want to play a huge pot with them right away.

When playing suited connectors, you want to win a huge pot if you manage to hit a strong combination like a straight or a flush, but you don’t want to immediately commit a lot of money into the pot.

In other words, you want to have favourable implied odds.

So ideally, you want to see a cheap flop, then try to play for a huge pot if and when you flop something playable.

If you don’t manage to hit some sort of a flush or straight draw, you will end up with a mediocre hand at best, and you won’t be able to play for a huge pot.

Suited connectors rely on hitting strong combinations to be played profitably, and without them they make for mediocre hands at best.

For more, check out Nathan's recent video on the 3 bad draws you should NEVER chase.

5 Poker Hands That SKYROCKETED My Poker Winnings - Summary

To sum up, here are 5 best money-making hands in no-limit hold’em that will pad your winrate the most.

1. Pocket Aces

Pocket Aces are the best starting hand in no-limit hold’em, and it’s not even close. It’s a huge favourite to win against virtually every other starting hand, and it will be your most profitable hand overall.

2. Pocket Kings

Pocket Kings aren’t as strong as pocket rockets because they’re not always guaranteed to make an overpair on the flop. Still, they’re the second strongest starting hand, and it should be your second most profitable hand overall.

3. Ace-King suited

AKs is the strongest drawing hand in no-limit hold’em, but unlike other premium pocket pairs, it needs some help post flop to be profitable. If you connect with the flop, however, you will usually have the best hand.

4. Ace-Five suited

Small suited hands have an insane nuts potential, with the ability to make the nuts flush, as well as a straight. They also have blocker power, which makes them a great bluffing hand.

5. Eight-Seven suited

Suited connectors are great speculative hands that can connect with the board a bunch of different ways, which gives them great playability postflop. 

However, their profitability relies on hitting big combinations like straights and flushes, which happens rarely, so you need to make sure to get your money’s worth once you actually manage to hit a monster hand.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $2000+ per month in small/mid stakes games, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.