If you can quickly assess the value of your hole cards, the two cards dealt to you at the start of a hand in poker, you’ll figure out straight away if your poker starting hand means that you enter the pot or keep your powder dry and wait for a better opportunity to come along. Knowing when to risk it and when to hold off is hugely important in prolonging your time at the table and helping you towards winning more poker hands than you lose.
If you make it to the showdown, you will have seven cards from which you utilise your best five, but the two hole cards are the most important, as they are your point of difference from your opponents.
Here is a guide to poker starting hands and what you should do with them.
If your hole cards are of the same rank, they are deemed a pocket pair. Of course, the higher the rank of the pair, the better off you’ll be, but even a pair of twos means you are already moving up the poker hand rankings. In addition, if the flop, turn or river throws up another two, you will have three of a kind, putting you in a great position without alerting your competitors to the strength of your hand, who might not suspect a two would be helpful for anyone.
That said, it is still risky banking everything on a low-ranking pair, because if nothing else useful comes up for you in the community cards, there is every chance another player will match higher-value cards than yours and blow your hand out of the water.
The general advice is to go for it with high pairs (seven and over) and proceed with caution for anything lower. If nothing worthwhile appears in the flop in addition to low pairs, it is probably time to muck the hand or attempt a very brave bluff.
If your hole cards are unpaired, as is most often the way, you might want to join the betting if one or both are of a decent value. This gives you a chance of winning with a high card if no one else manages to make anything from the flop, turn or river and can also make a strong pair if a card of the same rank turns up in the community cards. Having two high-ranking cards increases your chances of finding something worth betting on down the line.
Cards of similar rank could lead to the opportunity to make a straight, so are worth playing. Even better are high-ranking cards of the same suit; you would almost definitely play with a hand of A♥ K♥ even though, without a bit of luck with the community cards, the only time it will win is if it comes down to high cards. Of course, the hope is that you would be able to make at least a high pair or, at best, a straight flush or even a royal flush.
Unpaired hole cards of low value and different suits are the least likely to bring any joy. It is felt that 7♥ 2♣ is the worst possible hand because they are unlikely to win if it comes down to high cards, they can’t form a flush and are too far away from each other to create a straight.
Whether you bet on your hole cards can be decided not only by their value or suit, but also by where you are sitting at the table. If you are unsure about playing a hand, being early on in the betting, in the middle or in a late table position can determine whether it is worth the risk or whether you should fold. Read the Table Position page to find out more about how where you sit can help or hinder your poker game.
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