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Texas Holdem Poker Hand Rankings

The starting hand values outlined in the following chart that I'm about to show you should be used at your own discretion, as it's a useful tool, but at the same time dangerous, so play it safe.

To use the rankings, consider that the hands within each group are noticeably better than the hands in the group immediately below it. And in turn, significantly better than the hands two or more groups below. Within each group, the hands are roughly equal in value, although the hands are listed from the strongest to the weakest.

Do not start memorizing the chart below until you've read what I have to say about it afterward.

Texas Holdem Starting Hand Chart:

  • Group One: A-A
  • Group Two: K-K
  • Group Three: Q-Q, A-K(s), A-K
  • Group Four: J-J, A-Q(s), 10-10
  • Group Five: A-Q, 9-9, 8-8, A-J(s), K-Q(s)
  • Group Six: A-J, A-10(s), 7-7, K-J(s)
  • Group Seven: A-10, K-J, A-9(s), K-10(s), Q-J(s), 6-6, Q-10(s), J-10(s), 5-5
  • Group Eight: A-X(s), J-10, J-9(s), 10-9(s), 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, K-X(s)

(s) means that the hand is suited, for example, A-K(s) means ace-king suited. The suit doesn't matter as long as both cards are the same suit.

X = any card nine or lower

All other starting hands should be considered speculative and not worth playing early in your poker career. This does not mean that the other hands are worthless; there will indeed be times when it is worth playing medium suited connectors such as 8-7(suited) or 7-6(suited), or just unsuited connectors. Given the right situation, even gapped medium connectors such as 9-7(suited) or 10-8 can be playable, but realistically, only an advanced player should be "fooling around" with hands like these.

This chart appears to be a valuable tool. Why, then, do I label this chart as "dangerous"? There are several reasons. First, although the values are approximately equal, each of the hands have unique properties and hands in the same group can play quite differently.

For example, 7-7 and A-10(s) are both Group Six hands, but most of the value from the two sevens comes in those rare (one in eight) situations when a third seven hits the flop. Getting three of a kind this way is called flopping a set. Two sevens, unimproved, aren't going to win many pots and you flow a set only 12 percent of the time.

In contrast, when you hold A-10, you will flop an ace or ten three times as often as you will flop a seven holding 7-7; this means you will make a playable hand more frequently, but it won't be as powerful. You also have more and better straight and flush possibilities holding A-10(s). This is what I mean when I say the two hands "play differently." They will win about the same amount of money, over the long run, but they will win it very differently. It's also much easier for a beginner to play the 7-7; if you flop a set, you play on, and if you don't, you can probably fold. With A-10, you can easily flop something hard to play and hard to know if it is winning. For example, what do you do with A-10 if the flop comes Q-10-4? You have a fairly good hand, middle pair, but figuring out whether you should play is difficult.

As a result, even though these two hands are "worth" about the same thing in terms of how much money you should make over the long run if you play them correctly, knowing this relative value doesn't teach you anything about how to play these hands. If you rush into a hold'em game convinced you know how to play simply because you understand the starting values, you know just enough to get yourself into trouble.

Another reason you should take the starting hand rank chart's advice with a grain of salt is that far too many players use the chart as a crutch. They rigidly adhere to the values presented in the chart and play by rote instead of with thought and in context. If they start with a high value hand such as A-A or K-K, they are often unwilling to release that hand after a dangerous flop comes.

What kind of flop could endanger A-A? Any flop with a pair of high cards, such as K-K-6 or Q-Q-7, because people tend to play starting hands that contain high cards. Similarly, a flop like 9(spade)- 10(spade)-J(spade) spells big trouble for A(heart)-A(diamond); there are so many straight possibilities, flush possibilities, and two-pair possibilities that your aces are probably worthless if you either face many opponents or get re-raised once or twice by a lone opponent. Someone is bound to hold a hand that fits together with this well-coordinated board.

When you are a complete texas holdem rookie, you have to absorb a large amount of information before you play well. You're trying to learn about how your own staring hands fit together with different flops, how long to stay with a hand, what kinds of hands are likely to be in there against you, and much more. Free online games are a good place to get a feel for this.

It's difficult, to borrow a concept from mathematics, to solve an equation that contains so many simultaneous variables. It's for that reason that I present you with a starting hand chart. As long as you use it as a guide for getting started, and not as a master play to control your every move, it will have served its cause.

Unlike a basic blackjack strategy chart, which should stay as your guide throughout your blackjack career (at least until or unless you become a card counter), the holdem starting chart should be used only as an early training tool. The sooner you abandon it in favor of learning how to treat each hand separately, the better off you'll be.

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