Strategy for 4 Types of Poker Starting Hands
Once you understand the concept of not playing too many hands in online poker games, the next step is to figure out the right situation for playing different hand categories. In this strategy guide I have looked at 4 different categories of poker starting hands – and recommended the optimal way to play each one. You will also find out about common ‘trap’ situations with these hands.
4 Types of Starting Hands
While you can divide up starting hands into many different categories, I have chosen the following 4 types for this page:
- Premium Hands: Aces, Kings, Queens and Ace-King
- Non-Premium Pairs: Jacks and under
- High Card Unpaired Hands: Picture cards and aces
- Speculative Hands: Suited Connectors and suited ‘baby aces’.
Premium Starting Hands
You will only be dealt a pair of aces once every 221 hands, so when you get them – you’ll want to make the most of their value. It can be tempting to go gently with premium hands, so as not to scare away all your opponents. This is a bad assumption. Aces, Kings, Queens and Ace-King all play best in a raised pot – preferably against a single opponent.
If you limp with aces some bad situations can occur. First, you can end up playing a multi-way pot against 3+ opponents with all kinds of speculative holdings. You’ll never know whether your opponents have hit the flop hard, or whether they are drawing to straights or flushes. Second, if you raise some hands, and yet limp with aces and kings, your opponents will pick up on this. Once people know you do this, they will not only see cheap flops against you, they will know that when you do raise, you generally do not have aces or kings!
Raise and reraise strongly with premium hands – and make sure you raise other starting hands too, as this will disguise the true strength of your holding.
Pairs can win pots unimproved, though rarely want to see a multi-way flop where overcards can improve to beat you. The smallest pairs should generally be folded from early position at an active table, they can be useful hands in later position. You can call raises with them, and hope to hit a set (3 of a kind) on the flop. This will often be well disguised, meaning you can win a big pot from someone who came in with a high pair or hit the flop in another way.
Calling to try and hit 3 of a kind is known as ‘set mining’. The key factor in making this a profitable play is to make sure that the chip stacks are deep enough. You will improve to a set approximately one in eight times. Since you will not always win, and even when you do you might not get all-in, you need a buffer of at least 12x the initial bet in your stack to make this profitable.
Of course, jacks and tens can often win unimproved – against certain opponents you can play these hands strongly.
High Card Unpaired Hands
Two picture cards or an ace with a big side-card can look very strong, particularly if you have not seen a good hand for a while. These are great candidates for raising from middle or later position at the table, though do have vulnerability. The risk to novice players is that you hit the flop with a draw (for example a gutshot straight draw) or a single pair. Here you may well be ahead, though if the betting action gets heavy, alarm bells might be going off. Opponents may have hit the ace too, and if their side-card (kicker) is stronger you are potentially behind.
Suited high cards have some extra ways to win, and these hands can be powerful when they hit 2 pairs or better. As long as you are able to let one pair hands go when the situation warrants it – for example a tighter opponent goes all-in – then you’ll find many opportunities with these hands.
Speculative Starting Hands
Suited connectors are my favorite starting hands in some spots. This describes hands like 7-8 of spades, which are close together in rank and suited. They can make hidden straights and small flushes, and have decent equity against even premium holdings on many flops.
Other speculative hands include aces with suited side cards. Baby aces like Ace-three of diamonds can make nut flushes, and also small straights on some flops.
These cards will often flop well enough to allow you to semi-bluff the flop, taking small pots away from opponents that missed. They have the advantage of playing well multi-way. Keep in mind that you need to make sure stack sizes are deep. You will miss a lot of the time with these hands, and so need to make sure that there are enough chips behind to win a big pot those times you nail the flop. Pros like to see at least 20x the stack sizes compared to the initial bet to play these hands.
Unsuited connected cards and ‘gappers’ like 6-8 suited can also be playable. I recommend you play the better speculative hands first, and bring in others as you gain experience.
Key to profiting with hands like suited connectors is not to get too attached to your hand those times you hit a single pair on the flop, particularly if there are overcards.