Best Starting Hands in Texas Holdem, Part Two


Aug 2008

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Best Starting Hands, or No-foldem Holdem

In our discussion, we use the term No-foldem as a way to describe an imaginary game of Texas Holdem. No-foldem means exactly what you would expect. It refers to a game in which nobody folds their hand – every player continues to bet through to the showdown at which time all players turn over their cards. It should be apparent to you that the result of this exercise is a true reading of the strength of any particular set of hole cards, completely undiluted by other factors such as one player bluffing or going all-in which could cause another player to drop out even though that other player might have had the best hand if he had played through to the end.

We want to make sure that you realize how limited the scope of this information is compared to the whole strategy of Texas Holdem and how much more you need to think about than simple odds of starting hands. Having thus prepared you, here are the 20 best starting hands in Texas Holdem based on the percentage of times these hands will win. Note that the percentage is given as a range – the low percentage refers to the probability that these hole cards will win when you face nine opponents, and the high percentage represents the probability of a win against only one opponent. Here’s the previously displayed table showing the top five hands;

What you can see from this chart is something that you may have already known; that the best starting hand in Holdem Poker purely from a percentage basis is a pair of Aces. This is followed by a pair of Kings, then a pair of Queens. In games with a lower number of players the next best hole cards are a pair of Jacks or Tens, while in games with a greater number of opponents suited overcards are ranked higher than pairs in some instances. The data is based on a project done at Dartmouth College by Post-doctoral Research Fellow Apu Kapadia who ran over 4 billion simulated hands on the computer in order to get these percentages! Here is a table showing the next five hands ranked Six through Ten;

Once again you can see that when playing ‘heads-up’ the pairs of Nines, Eights and Sevens will win most often while in games with more opponents the higher suited cards like AK and AQ have the advantage. Now for the 11th through 15th ranked hands;

There are similarities as the number of players changes but even overcards with suited Tens are now a high percentage hand. The 16th through 20th ranked hands look like this;

Note that this exercise simply provides information which may help you to decide how to play any given set of hole cards in Texas Holdem before the flop. Once the flop is dealt a whole new set of odds come into play based on the percentages of drawing a better hand with the turn and the river cards. As always, your position at the table relative to the blinds will be a major factor when betting pre-flop, as will the amount of the blinds and the size of any bets that have been placed prior to your own. Read more in our series of Texas Holdem articles for other detailed discussions about betting before the flop.