4 Hands All Poker Beginners Should Play

4 Hands All Poker Beginners Should Play

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

One of the most common beginner poker mistakes is playing too many hands.

If you want to improve at poker quickly, your best bet is to simply tighten up preflop, and only play strong hands that have a reasonable chance of connecting with the flop.

In this article, we’ll go over 4 poker hand categories all beginner poker should play before the flop.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it will give you a decent overview on what makes a good starting hand in no-limit hold’em.

By only playing these hands, you can see a dramatic improvement in your overall results.

Let’s get right into it.

Beginner Poker Hand Category #1: Pocket Pairs (AA through 22)

The first hand category all beginner poker players should play is pocket pairs.

Pocket pairs have a statistical advantage over unpaired starting hands for obvious reason: you already have a made hand preflop.

The best way to play pocket pairs is going to depend on the strength of your pocket pair.

Some pocket pairs are strong enough in and of themselves, while weaker pocket pairs usually need to improve post flop to be played profitably.

For the purpose of this article, we can categorize the pocket pairs into 3 categories:

a) Strong pocket pairs (aka premium pocket pairs): AA through JJ

b) Medium pocket pairs: TT through 77

c) Small pocket pairs (aka baby pairs) 66 through 22

This categorization is not set in stone, as there can be a certain overlap between the categories.

For example, in some cases you can treat pocket Tens as a premium pocket pair, or pocket Sevens can be treated as a small pocket pair, depending on the situation.

Let’s start by discussing the best way to play premium pocket pairs.

a) Premium pocket pairs

Premium pocket pairs are going to be your most profitable hands over the long run, meaning the vast majority of your winnings will come from these hands specifically.

If you’re using a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4, you can check these stats yourself.

Chances are, you’d be surprised by how much more you win with these hands compared to other starting poker hands.

If you are dealt a premium pocket pair, you can be sure you have the strongest hand most of the time.

This means you need to push your edge and try to build up the pot with these hands as quickly as possible.

In other words, you should always open-raise or 3-bet these hands preflop.

A 3-bet preflop is a raise against another player’s open-raise, a 4-bet is a raise against another player’s 3-bet and so on.

You really shouldn’t be slowplaying these hands preflop, as this strategy can easily backfire.

To slowplay means to play your hand passively (check or call) instead of betting and raising in order to conceal your hand strength.

If you slowplay your premium hands preflop, you run the risk of inviting a lot of multiway pots.

A multiway pot  is a pot with more than 2 players involved.

The more players involved in the pot, the less likely you are to win the hand, because each additional player is going to have some chunk of equity against you.

So when players complain about constantly getting their Aces cracked, one of the reasons might be the fact that they failed to “thin the field” preflop by not playing aggressively enough.

Another reason to play premium pocket pairs aggressively is to build up the pot while your hand is likely ahead of your opponent’s calling range.

The bigger the pot you build up preflop, the easier it is to ship the rest of your stack in the middle post flop.

With this in mind, pocket Jacks can be tricky to play at times, because they aren’t as likely to flop an overpair as stronger premium pairs.

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

For example, on a board like Q84, pocket Aces and pocket Kings are an overpair. 
Pocket Jacks will flop an overpair only 36.2% of the time.

Still, your best bet is to play pocket Jacks aggressively preflop for the reasons outlined above (to get value out of weaker hands and to thin the field).

If you still have trouble with playing pocket Jacks, check out my other article on how to play pocket Jacks like a pro.

b) medium pocket pairs

Medium pocket pairs are a lot trickier to play, because they won’t flop an overpair nearly as often as premium pocket pairs.

This means you need to play them more cautiously, both preflop and post flop.

If you’re the first player to enter the pot, you should still do so with an open-raise.

But if another player open-raises before you, you can flat call with them and play some poker post flop.

You can also mix in some 3-bets preflop, especially with stronger pairs like pocket Tens or pocket Nines.

3-betting medium pocket pairs preflop is going to lead to relatively easier post flop play, because

a) you will get to the flop as the preflop aggressor, which allows you to make a continuation bet (c-bet for short) on the flop

b) you will create a smaller stack-to-pot ratio, meaning you can stack off more comfortably if you hit a favourable flop.

A stack-to-pot ratio (or SPR for short) is the ratio between the pot size and the effective stack size.

For example, if the pot is $20, and you have $100 left in your stack, the SPR is 5.

The smaller the SPR, the more pot committed you are, meaning you should be more inclined to play for the rest of your stack.

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

If your opponent’s open-raising range is very strong, it may be better to slow down and simply flat call with medium pocket pairs instead of 3-betting, and treat them more like small pocket pairs.

So the best way to play medium pocket pairs is going to depend greatly on the situation, namely the effective stack sizes, your opponent’s ranges, the action sequence and so on.

If you’re still foggy on how to play medium pocket pairs, check out my ultimate preflop poker cheat sheet to learn how to play any preflop spot.

c) small pocket pairs

Small pocket pairs are considered to be speculative hands, so the best way to play them is going to differ greatly from other pocket pairs.

A speculative hand is the one that’s not strong enough in and of itself, but has the potential to make strong combinations post flop.

The best way to play small pocket pairs is to use them as set mines.

To set mine means to call preflop with the intention of hitting a set post flop and potentially taking down a huge pot.

However, this doesn’t mean you should set mine every single time you’re dealt a small pocket pair.

Whether or not you can set mine profitably depends on whether or not you can get paid off enough if you do manage to hit your set.

And since you’re not going to hit a set most of the time, you need to make sure you can get your money’s worth if you do hit a set.

The chance of flopping a set with a pocket pair is only 11.8%.

So as a rule of thumb, you should be able to win at least 10 times the price of the call to set mine profitably.

If you’re the first player to enter the pot, you should still do so with an open-raise.

The only exception would be if you’re playing in super early table positions, in which case you can just make a tight fold, instead.

That’s because it’s quite hard to play small pocket pairs profitably from early table positions if you don’t manage to hit a set post flop.

Beginner Poker Hand Example #1

Cash Game, Effective Stack Size: 100 BB 

You are dealt 22 in MP (middle position). A tight and aggressive (TAG) player open-raises to 3 BB from UTG (under the gun).

You: ???

You should fold.

Set mining in this spot is unlikely to be profitable for a few reasons.

As mentioned, hitting a set with a pocket pair is quite unlikely, so if you don't hit a set, you'll be forced to fold your hand most of the time.

Also, calling leaves you vulnerable to getting 3-bet squeezed.

A squeeze is a 3-bet when at least one player calls the original open-raise.

If you get 3-bet, you'll need to invest a lot of chips to see the flop, meaning you're getting a worse risk-to-reward ratio for your set mine.

If you're playing on a particularly soft and passive table where you're not likely to get 3-bet squeezed, you can still call and try to set mine, because the implied odds will justify the risk.

I take about this more in my recent video, 10 beginner poker tips I wish I knew when I was starting.

Never miss my new poker videos. Join 120,000+ who are already subscribed.

Beginner Poker Hand Category #2: Broadway Hands

The second hand category all beginner poker players should play is broadway hands. 

Broadway hands are high cards that can make the strongest possible straight, like KQ or AJ.

It’s worth mentioning right off the bat that not all broadway hands are created equal.

Suited and connected broadways have better playability than offsuit broadways with a gap between them.

The former hands have better nuts potential, with the ability to make both strong straights and flushes.

With that in mind, all broadway hands have good playability post flop, and they are going to be some of your most profitable hands overall.

Apart from the ability to make strong straights and flushes, the biggest benefit of these hands is their ability to make strong pairs with good kickers.

In no-limit hold’em, the most common post flop combination you’re going to make is going to be one pair.

So you want to make sure you play hands that can flop a top pair more often than not.

You also want to play hands with good kickers to give yourself an edge.

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

For example, if both players have a pair of Aces, the player with the stronger kicker wins the hand.

If you play hands with strong kickers, your hand will often dominate your opponent’s, instead of the other way around.

So if you play a hand like Ace-King, for example, you will dominate all the other Ax hands.

The reason kickers are important is the fact that you’re much more likely to flop a one pair hand than to flop other, stronger combinations like straights and flushes.

For example, let’s examine how Ace-King suited connects with the flop.

Ace-King suited will flop a top pair 29% of the time, but it will only flop a straight and a flush 0.32% and 0.84% of the time, respectively.

Of course, like other hands, it will miss the flop completely 2 out of 3 times.

For this reason, it’s important not to overplay your broadway hands if you miss the flop completely.

Unlike pocket pairs, offsuit hands need to improve post flop to be played profitably.

With that in mind, you don’t necessarily need to give up on your hand right away if you miss the flop.

With AKs in particular, even if you miss the flop, you still have 2 strong overcards, so you can improve to a top pair top kicker hand on future streets.

This means you can still consider making a standard c-bet on the flop unless there’s a very good reason not to do so.

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

For example, if you open-raise preflop and get called, you have the opportunity to make a c-bet on the flop.

Beginner PokerExample Hand #2

Cash Game, Effective Stack Size: 100 BB 

You are dealt AK in the MP (middle position). You open-raise to 3 BB.
BB (big blind calls).

Pot: 6.5 BB

Flop: J62

Villain checks. 

You: ???

You should c-bet 3 BB.

Even though you missed the flop, you can still make a standard c-bet on a flop like this.

There are a few reasons for that.

First of all, the board is very dry, so there’s not a lot of ways villain could have connected with the flop.

Unless villain is a huge fish, they probably didn’t defend their big blind with a hand like J6, J2, or 62.

Even if they have some sort of a Jx hand, your hand is still in good shape, because you have 6 outs to improve to a top pair.

You also have a backdoor straight and flush draw, which gives you a nice equity boost.

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

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? 4 Hands All Poker Beginners Should Play 
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.

Beginner Poker Hand Category #3: Suited Aces

Suited Aces are great hands that can connect with the flop in a bunch of different ways, so they have great post flop playability.

They have an insane nuts potential, with the ability to make a nut flush.

Small suited Aces (A2s through A5s) and big suited Aces (AT and above) also have the ability to make a straight, which further increases their nuts potential.

In poker, most of your money will come from your strong value hands where your opponent has a weaker hand that‘s willing to pay you off.

This is why you want to play hands with good nuts potential, i.e. the ability to make very strong combinations like straights and flushes.

Aside from their great nuts potential, suited Aces also have the ability to make a top pair hand.

With that in mind, you should still be careful when flopping a pair of Aces with a weak kicker, because you run the risk of your hand being dominated by stronger Ax hands.

Small suited Aces also make for great 3-bet and 4-bet bluffing hands.

When you’re first starting out with poker, it’s bets to keep your 3-betting and 4-betting range very value-heavy.

This means you 3-bet mostly with your strong value hands, like premium pocket pairs and strong broadways like AK, AQ etc.

But the problem with this approach is that you become fairly predictable to any player that’s paying attention to your betting patterns.

For example, if you only 3-bet with a range of pocket Jacks and better, Ace-King and Ace-Queen, this means you’re only 3-betting 4% of all starting hands.

Any decent player can quickly pick up on that pattern, and start exploiting you by simply refusing to give you action any time you 3-bet.

Provided they don’t have a very strong hand themself, of course.

This means you need to add a few bluffing hands to your 3-betting range to always keep your opponents guessing.

And the best 3-bet bluffing hands are the ones that have decent playability in case your 3-bet bluff gets called.

This is where small suited Aces come in.

Small suited Aces have great post flop playability, so even if your 3-bet gets called, you still have a chance to make a very strong hand post flop.

Suited Aces also have blocker power, which makes them ideal for light 3-betting.

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

For example, if you hold an Ace in your hand, it’s less likely for your opponent to have strong combos like pocket Aces, Ace-King, Ace-Queen and so on.

Beginner Poker Example Hand #3

You are dealt A4 in the SB (small blind). 

A tight and aggressive (TAG) player open-raises to 2.5 BB from the BU (button).

You: ???

You should light 3-bet to 10 BB.

This is an ideal light 3-betting spot for a few reasons.

First of all, you are attacking a relatively wide and weak range.

Most TAG players will have a fairly wide open-raising range on the button, as the positional advantage is going to allow them to open more hands profitably.

However, a lot of hands in that range won’t be able to stand the pressure of a 3-bet, so you can often take down the pot right away if you 3-bet.

If you flat call instead, you run the risk of getting 3-bet squeezed from the big blind.

The big blind can also call behind you, which means you’re going to be playing in a multiway pot out of position without the initiative.

So if you call, it’s going to be a lot harder to win the hand post flop.

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

You also need to learn how to win pots in less than ideal spots, like playing out of position against tough players who won’t just roll over.

If you want to learn more about light 3-betting, blind defence, 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

Beginner Poker Hand Category #4: Suited Connectors

The last hand category all beginner poker players should play is suited connectors (hands like T9 or 87). 

Suited connectors are great speculative hands that can connect with the flop in more than one way.

They have the ability to make both straights and flushes, meaning they have great nuts potential.

With that in mind, these hands need to improve post flop to be played profitably.

So the best way to play them is to try to get to a cheap flop and get paid off if you manage to hit a strong combination.

This means that suited connectors favour deep effective stack sizes, and the deeper, the better.

Deep effective stack size means better implied odds, because you want to be able to get your money’s worth if you happen to hit a monster hand like a straight or a flush.

So suited connectors are likely to be less powerful in tournament poker, where the effective stack sizes are a lot shallower compared to cash games, for example.

The exception would be playing in deep stack tournaments or early tournament stages where the effective stack sizes are deep compared to the blinds.

So if you’re considering playing suited connectors, always check the effective stack sizes first, and make sure you’re getting good pot odds and implied odds on a call.

If you want to know how to use pot odds to make more profitable calls, check out my ultimate pot odds cheat sheet.

Suited connectors also make for decent 3-betting hands, since they have great post flop playability in case your 3-bet gets called.

But if you do decide to 3-bet with suited connectors, it’s best to do so sparingly.

That’s because 3-betting will create a much shallower stack-to-pot ratio, which means you won’t have as much manoeuvrability post flop.

Most suited connectors also lack blocker power, which means you’re less likely to get your opponent to fold to your 3-bet.

With that in mind, you can still call an occasional 3-bet with suited connectors, since they have a decent amount of equity even against premium pocket pairs.

Beginner Poker Example Hand #4

You are dealt 65 on the BU (button). You open-raise to 2.5 BB.

Villain 3-bets to 8 BB in the BB (big blind).

You: ???

You should call.

Calling 3-bets preflop is unlikely to be a profitable play over the long run, but in some situations, it can be a viable option.

In this spot, calling is fine because you’ll be playing the pot in position with a decent speculative hand.

Your opponent’s bet sizing is also relatively small for an out of position 3-bet, which gives you good pot odds on a call.

Even if the villain's 3-betting range is very strong, your hand still has plenty of equity.

Against the range of pocket Jacks or better and Ace-King, 65s has 30% equity.

And if your opponent’s 3-betting range is wider (which is likely to be the case), your equity jumps even higher.

Due to its great versatility and its Aces-cracking potential, 65s made it on the list of underrated poker hands you should play more often.

4 Hands All Poker Beginners Should Play - Summary

You don’t need to learn a lot of advanced poker strategy to start winning at poker relatively quickly.

All you need to do is learn the basics of the simple tight and aggressive (TAG) strategy which works like a charm in most low stakes games.

This includes being very selective with the hands you choose to play preflop, and making sure you get paid off once you make a strong hand.

To sum up, here are 4 poker hand categories all beginner poker players should play.

1. Pocket pairs

Pocket pairs have an equity advantage over unpaired hands, and premium pocket pairs (pocket Jacks or better) are going to be your biggest winners over the long run by far.

They are also far more likely to make monster hands like full houses or quads.

2. Broadway hands

Broadway hands have the potential to make the strongest possible straight, and suited broadways can also make very strong flushes.

But the biggest advantage of strong broadways is their ability to flop strong pairs with strong kicker, meaning your hand can often dominate your opponent’s, instead of the other way around.

3. Suited Aces

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

They also make for great 3-bet bluffing hands, due to their post flop playability and their blocker power.

4. Suited connectors

Suited connectors are great speculative hands with the ability to make both straights and flushes.

With that in mind, they still need to improve post flop to be played profitably, so they will usually favour deep effective stack sizes to get better 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 Hands All Poker Beginners Should Play