A BEGINNER’S COURSE IN TEXAS HOLD’EM – PART 2
This is the second in a series aimed squarely at beginning hold’em
players. The goal is to introduce new players to this exciting game
and give them enough background to make them feel comfortable playing
Hold’em In Depth
While there are literally millions of combinations of poker hands, in
hold’em there are really only 169 different two-card starting
combinations. That number, of course, assumes that a hand like Kd-Qd
is the equivalent of Kc-Qc. If three diamonds were to appear on the
flop, the Kd-Qd would be significantly more valuable than Kd-Qd. But
the future can neither be predicted nor controlled, and these two hands
have identical value before the flop.
Each of these 169 unique starting combinations fits into one of only
five categories: Pairs, connecting cards, gapped cards, suited connectors,
or suited gapped cards. That’s it. Five categories. That’s
all you have to worry about.
If you are not dealt a pair, your cards will either be suited or unsuited.
They also can be connected or gapped. Examples of connectors are K-Q,
8-7, and 4-3. Unconnected cards might be one-, two-, three-gapped, or
more, and would include hands like K-J, 9-6, 5-2, or 9-3.
Small gaps make more straights
As a general rule, the smaller the gap, the easier it is to make a straight.
Suppose you hold 10-6. Your only straight possibility is 9-8-7. But
if you hold 10-9, you can make a straight with K-Q-J, Q-J-8, J-8-7,
To every rule, however, there are exceptions. A hand like A-K can only
make one straight. It needs to marry a Q-J-T. An A-2 is in the same
boat, and need to cozy up to a 5-4-3. Although connected, each of these
holdings can only make one straight because they reside at the end of
There are other exceptions, too. K-Q can only make a straight two ways,
by connecting with A-J-T or J-T-9, and 3-2 is in a similar fix. The
only other limited connectors are — yes, you guessed it —
Q-J and 4-3. These two holdings can each make three straights. The Q-J
needs A-K-T, K-T-9, or T-9-8. It can’t make that fourth straight
because there is no room above an ace. The 4-3 is similarly constrained
because there is no room below the ace. But any other connectors can
make straights four ways, and that’s a big advantage over one-,
two-, or three-gapped cards.
Unless you are fortunate enough to wrap four cards around one of your
four-gappers, there’s no way these cards can make a straight.
But don’t worry about that. If you take my advice, you will seldom,
if ever, play hands that are four-gapped or worse unless they are suited
— and then only under very favorable circumstances.
Gapped cards, in general, are not as valuable as connectors because
of their difficulty in completing straights. But if you were to make
a flush there’s no need to be concerned about the gap. After all,
a flush made with Ad-6d is just as good as an Ad-Kd flush. But A-K is
more valuable for other reasons. Suppose that flush never comes. You
can make a straight with A-K; you can’t with A-6.
You might also win if you catch either an ace or a king. If an ace
flops, you’ll have made a pair of aces with a six side-card, or
kicker, and could easily lose to an opponent holding an ace with bigger
companion. But any pair you’d make with A-K would be the top pair
with the best possible kicker.
Acting last is a big advantage
Since acting later in a hand a big advantage, you can afford to see
the flop with weaker hands when you’re in late position. If you’re
last to act, you’ve had the advantage of knowing how many opponents
are still in the pot and seeing how each of them acted on the current
round of betting. That’s a big edge, since some starting hands
play better against a large number of opponents, while others play better
against a smaller field.
In late position you’ll also know which of your adversaries are
representing strength. The later you act, the more information at your
disposal, and poker is a game of information — incomplete information,
to be sure, but it’s a game of information nevertheless.
Some starting hands are so strong they can be played in any position.
You don’t get these hands very often, but when you do, you have
are a favorite from the get-go to win that pot.
Both of my books contain a Start Chart that visually depicts starting
hand relationships. These relationships are also described in tabular
form below. In a typical lower-limit game, you can usually play any
pair of sevens or higher in early position, as well as twelve suited,
and six unsuited card combinations.
Playable hands in early position
Pairs: Sevens through aces
Suited: Aces with a king, queen, jack, or
King with a queen, jack, or ten
Queen with a jack or ten
Jack with a ten or nine
Ten with a nine.
Unsuited: Aces with a king, queen, jack,
King with a queen or jack
When you are the fifth, sixth, or seventh player to act you are in
middle position, and can safely play smaller pairs like sixes and fives.
You can also add ten additional suited hands and four more unsuited
combinations to your playable repertoire if the pot has not been raised.
hands in middle position
Pairs: Fives and Sixes
Suited: Aces with a nine, eight, seven, or
King with a nine
Queen with a nine or eight
Jack with an eight
Ten with an eight
Nine with an eight
Unsuited: King with a ten
Queen with a jack or ten
Jack with a ten
In late position you have the advantage of acting last or next-to-last.
As a result, you can add a variety of hands to your arsenal. Most are
bargain basement specials that should be played only if the pot has
not been raised. Moreover, you’ll need enough discipline to release
them if the flop brings anything less than an abundant harvest of friendly
Playable hands in late position
Pairs: Fours, treys, and deuces
Suited: Aces with a five, four, three, or
King with an eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two
Jack with a seven
Ten with a seven
Nine with a seven or six
Eight with a seven or six
Seven with a six or five
Six with a five
Five with a four
Unsuited: King with a nine
Queen with a nine
Jack with a nine or eight
Ten with a nine or eight
Nine with an eight or seven
Eight with a seven
If you are new to the game, have been playing indiscriminately, or
have an any-two-cards-can-win philosophy, you may believe these recommendations
are too tight. They’re not. In fact, they are somewhat loose.
A hand like Kh-2h, while playable, is a pretty sorry excuse for a hold’em
hand. If you flop a king and there’s any appreciable action, it’s
fairly apparent that someone else has a king with a bigger kicker than
yours. If you flop a deuce, you’ve guaranteed yourself the lowest
pair on board. Even if you are incredibly lucky and flop a flush, there’s
no assurance that it is the best flush. Probably the very best flop
you could hope for is something like Ah-2c-2d, which gives you three
deuces with a strong kicker. You also have a backdoor draw to a flush,
and ¾ more importantly ¾ an ace on the board guarantees
a call or two from any opponents holding an ace in their hand.
Still, Kh-2h and a lot of the other playable hands in late position
are vulnerable from any number of directions, and it takes some degree
of skill to navigate your way through the murky waters of a hold’em
pot in a rickety canoe like this one.
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