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Texas Holdem Poker


by: Lou Krieger
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 casino poker.

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.

Starting Hands
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, and 8-7-6.

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 the spectrum.

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
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.

Starting Hands
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 ten
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, or ten
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.

Playable hands in middle position

Pairs: Fives and Sixes

Suited: Aces with a nine, eight, seven, or six
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 cards.

Playable hands in late position

Pairs: Fours, treys, and deuces

Suited: Aces with a five, four, three, or two
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.

Beginners 6 Part Texas Holdem Course by Lou Krieger

The goal is to introduce new players to this exciting game and give them enough background to make them feel comfortable playing Texas Holdem poker for real online.

Lesson 1 / Lesson 2 / Lesson 3 / Lesson 4 / Lesson 5 / Lesson 6

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