4 Hands Poker Beginners Should Always Play (Don't Fold These!)

4 Poker Hands All Beginners Should Be Playing

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

One of the most common problems beginner poker players face is knowing which hands to play preflop.

And memorizing a bunch of preflop charts isn’t the most effective way to tackle that problem.

Instead, it’s more useful to think about starting hands in certain categories.

Thinking in this terms will make it easier to figure out which hands are profitable, and which ones you should just fold.

This article will show you 4 hand categories you should play as a poker beginner, and the best way to play each one.

There’s a lot to cover in this one, so let’s get right into it.

Best Poker Hands Category #1: Pocket Pairs

The first hand category you should play is pocket pairs, meaning everything from pocket Aces to pocket Twos.

Pocket pairs vary greatly in strength, so the best way to play them preflop varies as well.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll break down pocket pairs into three categories:

A) Strong (premium) pocket pairs: AA through TT

B) Middle pocket pairs: 99 through 77

C) Small pocket pairs: 66 through 22

Bear in mind that this is only a general overview, and the best way to play these hands will depend on the situation.

For example, there will be times where it’s best to treat pocket Tens as a middle pocket pair, or pocket Sevens as a small pocket pair.

The way you choose to play your pocket pairs will depend on the preflop action, the type of opponents you are up against, the effective stack sizes, the game format and so on.

With that in mind, here’s a general overview on how to play pocket pairs, starting with premium pairs.

A) Strong Pocket Pairs

Premium pocket pairs will be your biggest winning hands over the long run by far. These hands should always be played aggressively preflop.

This means betting and raising in order to build up a big pot while your hand is likely ahead of your opponent’s range.

Paired hands are stronger than unpaired hands for obvious reasons. They usually don’t need to improve post flop in order to be played profitably.

This means you should usually be comfortable with putting your chips in the middle preflop, so you can ship the rest of your stack post flop.

If you build up a big pot preflop, you are creating a small stack-to-pot ratio, which is favourable for strong hands like premium pocket pairs.

As the name suggests, stack-to-pot ratio (or SPR for short) is a ratio of the effective stack size (the smaller stack size of the two players involved in a pot) and the size of the pot itself. 

It tells you how committed you are to the pot, or in other words, how inclined you should be to play for the rest of your stack.

For example, if the pot size is $20, and you have $80 left in your stack, the SPR is 4.

The smaller the SPR, the more pot committed you are, and the more inclined you should be to put the rest of your money in the middle.

If the SPR is very small (3 or less), you are automatically pot committed with a top pair hand or better.

So why is this important when it comes to playing premium pocket pairs?

It’s because premium pairs often flop an overpair, meaning you will often be pot committed on the flop.

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

For example: 

If the flop is: Q52 

Pocket Aces and pocket Kings are an overpair.

So if you have an overpair on the flop, you can ship the rest of your money in the middle if the SPR is very small.

That’s why it’s crucial to play your strong pocket pairs aggressively preflop.

Another benefit of doing so is the fact that you are discouraging a lot of multiway pots.

A multiway pot is a pot with more than two players involved.

The more players involved in the pot, the bigger the chance of at least one of them making a stronger hand than you.

So when you hear players complaining about constantly getting their Aces cracked, one of the reasons for this may be the fact that they failed to “thin the herd” preflop, and allowed their opponents to catch up post flop.

Check out my recent video by the way, to find out why most people play Pocket Aces totally wrong!

Never miss my latest poker videos. Join 85,000+ who are already subscribed.

Bottom line: 

Getting paid off with your big hands is the cornerstone of a successful tight and aggressive (TAG) strategy, so don’t be afraid to play your big hands aggressively, especially preflop.

B) Middle Pocket Pairs

Middle pocket pairs are a bit trickier to play, because they won’t flop an overpair as often as stronger premium pairs.

This means you can’t stack off your opponent as often, because you are less likely to get action from weaker hands.

You can still stack off with them if the effective stack sizes are very small (if you’re playing tournament poker, for example).

As mentioned, paired hands are stronger than unpaired hands, so they have a lot of equity against a lot of hands your opponent may be stacking off with.

For example, pocket Eights have about 55% equity against the range of Ace-Jack through Ace-King (suited and offsuit).

This means that medium pocket pairs are decent enough to stack off with in tournament poker, especially if you have a medium to small stack.

If you have a deeper stack, you should exercise more caution, because your opponents aren’t as likely to pay you off with weaker hands.

If you’re playing cash games, on the other hand, you can’t stack off with middle pairs, unless your opponent is a huge fish who is likely to pay you off with some nonsense hand.

That’s because the effective stack sizes are a lot deeper in cash games, so you need a stronger hand to stack off comfortably.

For this reason, it’s better to treat middle pairs as small pairs, and try to hit a set with them post flop.

Check out my article on how to set mine profitably for a much deeper dive on this.

Alternatively, you can use middle pocket pairs as bluff catchers, as they usually have decent showdown value if they don’t make a set post flop.

A hand with showdown value is the one that’s not strong enough to value bet with, but can often win the pot unimproved at showdown.

C) Small Pocket Pairs

Finally, small pocket pairs have way less showdown value than stronger pairs, meaning they need to improve post flop to be played profitably.

This means that small pocket pairs are speculative hands that are best played as set mines.

Set mining means calling preflop with a pocket pair with the intention of hitting a set post flop and winning a big pot.

When talking about set mining, it’s worth mentioning that it’s quite rare to hit a set if you have a pocket pair.

If you have a pocket pair, the chance of flopping a set is only about 12%.

So you should only set mine if you have decent implied odds, since you won’t hit a set very often.

Implied odds refer to the amount of money you can potentially win on future streets if your hand improves.

And if you don’t hit a set, small pocket pairs are practically unplayable post flop.

For example, if you have pocket Twos and you miss your set, you only have a fourth pair, and you only have two outs left to improve on future streets.

For these reasons, small pocket pairs are either hit-or-miss. 

If you hit a set, you stand to win a huge pot (provided you have good implied odds). If you don’t, you can only hope to see a cheap showdown, otherwise you’ll be forced to fold in most situations.

Best Poker Hand Category #2: Broadway Hands

Broadway hands are the cards that can make the strongest possible straight, like Ace-King, King-Queen, Jack-Ten and so on.

If you play strong broadway hands, you will often dominate your opponent.

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

For example, if you hold Ace-King, you are dominating all the other Ax hands with weaker kickers and all Kx hands as well.

4 Poker Hands All Beginners Should Be Playing

A kicker is the card in your hand that doesn’t help you make a certain hand combination, but can often determine the winner if both players have the same combination.

For example, if both you and your opponent have a pair of Aces, the player with the stronger kicker wins.

And since the most common hand combination you’ll make in no-limit hold’em is single pair, it’s important to play hands with strong kickers. 

This way, you’re reducing the risk of your hand being dominated and ending up with only the second best hand.

Apart from strong pairs, broadway hands can make other strong combinations like straights.
This can potentially win you a huge pot if your opponent also makes a weaker straight.

For example, let’s say you are dealt Ace-King and the flop is: QJT

In this spot, your opponent could also potentially have a straight if they hold 98.

In poker, most of your money will come from spots like this where you have a very strong hand, and your opponent has a weaker hand that’s willing to pay you off.

Apart from that, suited broadway hands can also make strong flushes, meaning they have great nuts potential.

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

Again, the cornerstone of a successful TAG strategy involves making strong hands like these, then getting action from weaker hands.

This is especially the case in low stakes games where players are likely to call a lot. 

This means that the best strategy to use is simply waiting for a strong hand, then value betting it relentlessly.

Value betting means betting when you can get called by a lot of weaker hands.

This is the opposite of betting as a bluff, where you want stronger hands than yours to fold.

Similar to premium pocket pairs, strong broadway hands should be played aggressively, especially preflop when you can often get called by a lot of weaker hands.

This means open-raising or even 3-betting them preflop.

3-betting means re-raising when another player open-raised before you.

The goal is to see the flop as the preflop aggressor.

The preflop aggressor is perceived to have the strongest hand, which gives them the opportunity to continue the aggression post flop with a continuation bet.

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

C-bets are usually profitable, so you should be inclined to make one on most flops, unless there’s a specific reason not to do so.

If you connect with the flop in some way, you can c-bet for value, expecting to get called by weaker hands.

If not, you can still make a c-bet with the intention of getting your opponent to fold. This is known as the light c-bet (or a bluff c-bet).

Check out my other article on advanced flop strategy for more information on the topic of c-betting.

Bottom line: Broadway hands have the potential of making strong combinations postflop, and suited broadways have the additional ability to make strong flushes.

In practice, however, the most common hand combination you’re going to make is single pair, so by playing strong broadways, you will often make a top pair hand with good kickers.

This will allow you to bet for value and get called by a lot of weaker hands.

Learn to Make $2000 Per Month in Small Stakes Games With My Free Poker Cheat Sheet

Are you struggling to create consistent profits in small stakes poker games? Would you like to make a nice part time income of at least $2000 per month in these games? Blackrain79 free book 
If so, then I wrote this free poker cheat sheet for you. 

This is the best completely free poker strategy guide available online today. It shows you how to crush the small stakes games step by step. 

Learn exactly what hands to play and when to bet, raise and bluff all in! 

These are the proven strategies that I have used as a 10+ year poker pro to create some of the highest winnings of all time in these games. 

Enter your details below and I will send my free poker "cheat sheet" to your inbox right now.


Best Poker Hand Category #3: Suited Aces

The next hand category you should play as a beginner is Suited Aces (Ace-King suited through Ace-Two suited).

Suited Aces vary in strength depending on their kicker, so you should be careful when playing suited Aces with weak kickers.

Still, suited Aces have an insane nuts potential, with the ability to make nuts flushes.

The advantage of playing suited Aces is the fact that you are always drawing to the nuts flush, i.e. the strongest possible flush.

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

Reverse implied odds refer to the amount of money you can potentially lose if you complete your draw, but your opponent ends up having an even stronger hand.

When you make a flush with suited Aces, the only way your opponent can beat you is if the board pairs, and they potentially make a full house (or four of a kind).

But this is extremely unlikely, because the stronger the hand combination, the less often it completes.

Small suited Aces (Ace-Five through Ace-Two) have the additional ability to make straights, which gives them an additional nuts potential.

Even if you don’t make strong combinations like straights and flushes, you can still make a top pair hand, meaning that suited Aces have a great overall playability post flop.

Again, if you hit a pair of Aces, be careful not to overplay them, especially if you have a mediocre or weak kicker.

Suited Aces also make for great 3-bet bluffing hands (aka light 3-betting preflop).

This is thanks to 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 for your opponent to have strong combinations like pocket Aces, Ace-King, Ace-Queen and so on.

This makes it more likely for your opponent to fold to your light 3-betting.

Small suited Aces are especially effective for light 3-betting, because they have the ability to make straights as well as nut flushes.

Example Hand #1

You are dealt A3 in the SB (small blind). A tight and aggressive player open-raises to 2.5 BB from the BU (button).

You: ??? 

You should 3-bet (re-raise) to 10 BB.

This is a good spot for a light 3-bet.

You have a decent speculative hand, and you are attacking quite a wide range from the open-raiser. 

Most hands in your opponent’s range won’t be able to stand the pressure of a 3-bet, so you can get them to fold quite often in spots like these.

Even if your bluff gets called, your hand still has great playability post flop.

Since you are playing out of position, you can increase your 3-bet to 4 times the open-raise to charge your opponent a premium for the pleasure of playing in position against you.

In today’s games, it takes more than waiting around for a premium hand to be a profitable long term winner.

You also need to look for edges in less than ideal circumstances. This means knowing how to play out of position against skilled opponents who won’t just roll over.

If you want to learn more about light 3-betting and 4-betting, blind defense, and other advanced poker strategies, enroll in Blackrain79 Elite Poker University.

You will get a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to play every single street in Texas Hold'em, along with countless example hands to make learning easier.

You will also learn advanced poker strategies to quickly build your bankroll and climb up the stakes with confidence.

The course contains 17 hours of advanced poker training, hundreds of step by step example hands and downloadable "cheat sheets" below all 50 videos.

If you are serious about taking your poker game to the next level, enroll today.

Get $100 OFF Use Code: ELITE100

Best Poker Hand Category #4: Suited Connectors

The last hand category you should play preflop is suited connectors (hand like T9 or 87). 

Suited connectors are great speculative hands that can connect with the flop in a variety of ways. 

They can make both straights and flushes, meaning they have great upside potential.

Still, these hands need to improve post flop in order to be played profitably.

For this reason, suited connectors favor deep effective stack sizes, and the deeper, the better.

The deeper the stack size, the better implied odds you are getting, meaning there’s more upside potential if you manage to hit a monster hand.

While premium pocket pairs and strong broadway hands favour small SPR, speculative hands like suited connectors favor very deep SPR.

This makes suited connectors less effective in games with shallow stack sizes, like multitable tournaments.

That’s because even if you hit a monster hand, you won’t get paid off as much as you would if your opponent had a deep stack size.

Also, suited connectors don’t mind multiway pots as much as strong pocket pairs, for example.

The more players involved in the pot, the better the chance of at least one of them having a hand that’s strong enough to pay you off.

With that in mind, you should still take the reverse implied odds into account, because you aren’t always drawing to the stone-cold nuts.

This is especially the case with small suited connectors. So you should think twice before playing very small suited connectors like 43s or 32s, for example.

Check out my other article on the 4 shockingly bad poker hands you should avoid playing for much more.

As to how to play suited connectors preflop, you should still open-raise them if you are the first player to enter the pot.

If another player open-raises before you, you can usually flat call and hope to catch a favourable flop.

Example Hand #2

You are dealt 87 on the BU (button). Villain open-raises to 3x from the MP (middle position).

You: ???

You should call.

As mentioned, you should see most flops as the preflop aggressor. But you won’t always have the chance to open-raise, so you do need a calling range preflop.

In a spot like this, flat calling is the best option.

You have a decent speculative hand, and provided the players in the blinds don’t 3-bet too often, you will get to see a cheap flop with a lot of upside potential.

You also don’t mind the players in the blinds coming along for the ride, because more players gives you better implied odds.

This is especially the case if at least one of them is a recreational player who is likely to pay you off.

Finally, you are playing in position, meaning it’s easier to dictate the price of the pot post flop.

For more beginner poker tips, check out Nathan's recent video.

The 4 Best Poker Hands to Play as a Beginner - Summary

You don’t need to study a ton of advanced poker strategy to start winning at poker. 

All you need to do is know the basics of a tight and aggressive (TAG) strategy to beat low stakes poker games.

This includes being selective with the hands you choose to play preflop, and avoiding weak or marginal hands that can get you in trouble post flop.

To sum up, here are the best starting poker hand categories you should play.

1. Pocket pairs

You should play premium pocket pairs (AA through TT) very aggressively preflop while your hand is likely ahead of your opponent’s range. 

Small pocket pairs (66 through 22) are more speculative hands, so they are best played as set mines when the stack sizes are very deep.

2. Broadway hands

Broadway hands (like AQ or KJ, for example) are the ones that can make the strongest possible straights. Suited broadways can also make strong flushes.

More often, however, these hands are profitable because they can often make top pair hands, and will also dominate your opponent’s hand with their superior kickers.

3. Suited Aces

Suited Aces have an insane nuts potential with their ability to make nuts flushes. Small suited Aces (A5s through A2s) can also make straights.

Suited Aces are great 3-bet bluffing hands due to their great playability post flop and their blocker power.

4. Suited connectors

Suited connectors are great speculative hands that can connect with the board in a variety of ways, and can make strong combinations like straights and flushes.

However, you should be careful when playing small suited connectors due to the reverse implied odds.


This article was written by Fran Ferlan
Poker player, writer and coach
Specializing in live and online cash games

For coaching enquiries, contact Fran at email@franferlan.com
Or apply directly for poker coaching with Fran, right here

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.

4 Poker Hands All Beginners Should Be Playing