Rankings Of Poker Starting Hands

In Hold'em the No. 1 starting hand (A♥ A♠) holds 83% preflop equity over the second-best starting hand (K♥ K♠). In Omaha the best starting hand (A♥ A♠ K♥ K♠) is only 33% to win (41% to tie) against the second-best starting hand (A♦ A♣ T♦ J♣). There is only a 6% edge for the best Omaha hand to win against the second-best Omaha hand, versus the 66% edge in Hold'em. The lower down the list the Omaha starting hand is versus the best, the more of an edge AA-KK will have. There is some disagreement amongst poker players as to which starting hands are the best, but few would dispute the value of the first of our three main groups, Aces and Kings. Group 1: AA, KK. These two starting hands are the major players in hold’em. It’s not often you’ll get dealt Aces or Kings.

  1. Texas Holdem Starting Hand Percentages
  2. Texas Holdem Hand Rankings Chart

Starting Hand Selection:Chen Formula : Sklansky Starting Hand Groups

The Sklansky & Malmuth starting hands table.

GroupHands
1AA, AKs, KK, QQ, JJ
2AK, AQs, AJs, KQs, TT
3AQ, ATs, KJs, QJs, JTs, 99
4AJ, KQ, KTs, QTs, J9s, T9s, 98s, 88
5A9s - A2s, KJ, QJ, JT, Q9s, T8s, 97s, 87s, 77, 76s, 66
6AT, KT, QT, J8s, 86s, 75s, 65s, 55, 54s
7K9s - K2s, J9, T9, 98, 64s, 53s, 44, 43s, 33, 22
8A9, K9, Q9, J8, J7s, T8, 96s, 87, 85s, 76, 74s, 65, 54, 42s, 32s
9All other hands not required above.

This table comes from the book Hold 'em Poker for Advanced Players by David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth.

This is a strategy book for limit Hold'em, but the starting hand groups do have some practical use in no limit Hold'em.

What is the Sklansky and Malmuth starting hands table?

The table is a general ranking of hands in Texas Hold'em.

The Sklansky and Malmuth starting hands table groups together certain hands in Texas Hold'em based on their strength. Starting with the strongest set of hands that you can be dealt in group 1, the hands get progressively weaker working down the table until the virtually unplayable hands in group 9.

The rough idea is that a hand in one group has roughly the same value and can be played the same way preflop as any other hand in that group.

How to use the starting hands table.

In their book, Sklansky and Malmuth provide some in-depth guidelines for starting hand strategy in limit Texas Hold'em using this table. Unfortunately, I'm not going to work out any guidelines for you for the NL Hold'em game using this table because:

Rankings Of Poker Starting Hands
  1. It would be quite a tricky job.
  2. It would be difficult to remember and implement.
  3. Like any starting hand strategy, it would have its flaws.
  4. You should avoid using strict guidelines and set rules as much as possible during play.

So really there is not a lot to take away from this table from a purely strategic perspective. Nonetheless it's interesting to see how specific starting hands compare to one another based on their preflop value.

If you're really after a starting hand strategy guideline, try the Chen Formula.

Sklansky and Malmuth hand rankings evaluation.

Although it's a very popular hand group rankings table, it's not going to do you too much good to learn the whole thing off by heart. In my opinion, the real value of this table is being able to see how different starting hands can be grouped together and ranked based on their value before the flop.

For other useful charts and tables, see the odds charts page from the Texas Hold'em tools section.

Go back to the awesome Texas Hold'em Strategy.

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A pair of aces is the best pre-flop hand in Texas Hold'em Poker

In the poker game of Texas hold 'em, a starting hand consists of two hole cards, which belong solely to the player and remain hidden from the other players. Five community cards are also dealt into play. Betting begins before any of the community cards are exposed, and continues throughout the hand. The player's 'playing hand', which will be compared against that of each competing player, is the best 5-card poker hand available from his two hole cards and the five community cards. Unless otherwise specified, here the term hand applies to the player's two hole cards, or starting hand.

  • 2Limit hand rankings

Essentials[edit]

There are 1326 distinct possible combinations of two hole cards from a standard 52-card deck in hold 'em, but since suits have no relative value in this poker variant, many of these hands are identical in value before the flop. For example, AJ and AJ are identical in value, because each is a hand consisting of an ace and a jack of the same suit.

Texas Holdem Starting Hand Percentages

Therefore, there are 169 non-equivalent starting hands in hold 'em, which is the sum total of : 13 pocket pairs, 13 × 12 / 2 = 78 suited hands and 78 unsuited hands (13 + 78 + 78 = 169).

These 169 hands are not equally likely. Hold 'em hands are sometimes classified as having one of three 'shapes':


  • Pairs, (or 'pocket pairs'), which consist of two cards of the same rank (e.g. 99). One hand in 17 will be a pair, each occurring with individual probability 1/221 (P(pair) = 3/51 = 1/17).

An alternative means of making this calculation

First Step As confirmed above.

There are 2652 possible combination of opening hand.

Second Step

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There are 6 different combos of each pair. 9h9c, 9h9s, 9h9d, 9c9s, 9c9d, 9d9s

To calculate the odds of being dealt a pair

2652 (possible opening hands) divided by 12 (the number of any particular pair being dealt. As above)

2652/12 = 221


  • Suited hands, which contain two cards of the same suit (e.g. A6). Four hands out of 17 will be suited, and each suited configuration occurs with probability 2/663 (P(suited) = 12/51 = 4/17).

Texas Holdem Hand Rankings Chart

  • Offsuit hands, which contain two cards of a different suit and rank (e.g. KJ). Twelve out of 17 hands will be nonpair, offsuit hands, each of which occurs with probability 2/221 (P(offsuit non-pair) = 3*(13-1)/51 = 12/17).

It is typical to abbreviate suited hands in hold 'em by affixing an 's' to the hand, as well as to abbreviate non-suited hands with an 'o' (for offsuit). That is,

QQ represents any pair of queens,
KQ represents any king and queen,
AKo represents any ace and king of different suits, and
JTs represents any jack and ten of the same suit.

There are 25 starting hands with a probability of winning at a 10-handed table of greater than 1/7.[1]

Limit hand rankings[edit]

Poker starting hands by position

Some notable theorists and players have created systems to rank the value of starting hands in limit Texas hold'em. These rankings do not apply to no limit play.

Sklansky hand groups[edit]

David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth[2] assigned in 1999 each hand to a group, and proposed all hands in the group could normally be played similarly. Stronger starting hands are identified by a lower number. Hands without a number are the weakest starting hands. As a general rule, books on Texas hold'em present hand strengths starting with the assumption of a nine or ten person table. The table below illustrates the concept:

Chen formula[edit]

The 'Chen Formula' is a way to compute the 'power ratings' of starting hands that was originally developed by Bill Chen.[3]

Highest Card
Based on the highest card, assign points as follows:
Ace = 10 points, K = 8 points, Q = 7 points, J = 6 points.
10 through 2, half of face value (10 = 5 points, 9 = 4.5 points, etc.)
Pairs
For pairs, multiply the points by 2 (AA=20, KK=16, etc.), with a minimum of 5 points for any pair. 55 is given an extra point (i.e., 6).
Suited
Add 2 points for suited cards.
Closeness
Subtract 1 point for 1 gappers (AQ, J9)
2 points for 2 gappers (J8, AJ).
4 points for 3 gappers (J7, 73).
5 points for larger gappers, including A2 A3 A4
Add an extra point if connected or 1-gap and your highest card is lower than Q (since you then can make all higher straights)

Phil Hellmuth's: 'Play Poker Like the Pros'[edit]

Phil Hellmuth's 'Play Poker Like the Pros' book published in 2003.

TierHandsCategory
1AA, KK, AKs, QQ, AKTop 12 Hands
2JJ, TT, 99
388, 77, AQs, AQ
466, 55, 44, 33, 22, AJs, ATs, A9s, A8sMajority Play Hands
5A7s, A6s, A5s, A4s, A3s, A2s, KQs, KQ
6QJs, JTs, T9s, 98s, 87s, 76s, 65sSuited Connectors

Statistics based on real online play[edit]

Statistics based on real play with their associated actual value in real bets.[4]

TierHandsExpected Value
1AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AKs2.32 - 0.78
2AQs, TT, AK, AJs, KQs, 990.59 - 0.38
3ATs, AQ, KJs, 88, KTs, QJs0.32 - 0.20
4A9s, AJ, QTs, KQ, 77, JTs0.19 - 0.15
5A8s, K9s, AT, A5s, A7s0.10 - 0.08
6KJ, 66, T9s, A4s, Q9s0.08 - 0.05
7J9s, QJ, A6s, 55, A3s, K8s, KT0.04 - 0.01
898s, T8s, K7s, A2s0.00
987s, QT, Q8s, 44, A9, J8s, 76s, JT(-) 0.02 - 0.03

Nicknames for starting hands[edit]

In poker communities, it is common for hole cards to be given nicknames. While most combinations have a nickname, stronger handed nicknames are generally more recognized, the most notable probably being the 'Big Slick' - Ace and King of the same suit, although an Ace-King of any suit combination is less occasionally referred to as an Anna Kournikova, derived from the initials AK and because it 'looks really good but rarely wins.'[5][6] Hands can be named according to their shapes (e.g., paired aces look like 'rockets', paired jacks look like 'fish hooks'); a historic event (e.g., A's and 8's - dead man's hand, representing the hand held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was fatally shot in the back by Jack McCall in 1876); many other reasons like animal names, alliteration and rhyming are also used in nicknames.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^No-Limit Texas Hold'em by Angel Largay
  2. ^David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth (1999). Hold 'em Poker for Advanced Players. Two Plus Two Publications. ISBN1-880685-22-1
  3. ^Hold'em Excellence: From Beginner to Winner by Lou Krieger, Chapter 5, pages 39 - 43, Second Edition
  4. ^http://www.pokerroom.com/poker/poker-school/ev-stats/total-stats-by-card/
  5. ^Aspden, Peter (2007-05-19). 'FT Weekend Magazine - Non-fiction: Stakes and chips Las Vegas and the internet have helped poker become the biggest game in town'. Financial Times. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
  6. ^Martain, Tim (2007-07-15). 'A little luck helps out'. Sunday Tasmanian. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
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