Poker Hand Strength

Evaluating Poker Starting Hands

Being able to evaluate starting hands is an important first step to playing winning poker. In Texas Hold'em there are 169 different two-card combinations with which you can start. All of those starting hands belong to one of two groups -- paired hands and non-paired hands.

Among paired hands come the "monsters" (aces, kings, and queens), medium pairs (J-J through 8-8), and smaller pairs (7-7 through 2-2). While the biggest pairs should always be played, discretion is needed when entering pots with medium or smaller pairs.

When it comes to the larger category of non-paired hands, there are three factors worth considering: high card value, suitedness, and connectedness. Having high cards in your hand increases your chance of making big pairs when the community cards come. Having two cards of the same suit also gives you a better chance of making a flush. And having cards that are connected or next to each other in rank such as K-Q or 9-8 gives you more ways to make a straight than cards with a gap between them (like 9-7) or not connected at all (like J-4).

It's possible to be dealt an unpaired hand that's strong in all three ways. For example, Ac-Kc has good high card value, is suited, and is connected. Generally you want unpaired hands to be favorable with regard to at least one of these factors, if not two or three. A hand like 8c-3d that's without high card value, suitedness, or connectedness is probably not worth playing.
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