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Starting Hands

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Whenever you read about ‘know when to fold ‘em; know when to hold ‘em,’ this is what they’re referring to: starting hands. You need to devise a list of strong hands that you’ll play and others that you’ll fold. It’s very important that you realize winning in poker has nothing to do with the number of hands you win it’s about winning as much money as you can. In order to do this, you need to lose as little as possible when you have a bad hand and win the biggest pot you can generate when you have a strong hand. Your first step in achieving this is by making correct decisions about your starting hands. Beginner players usually play way too many hands, so be aware of that.

Your starting hand is the cards that were dealt to you at the start of the game that only you can see. In Texas Hold ‘em, for example, these would be the two hole cards that were dealt face-down. Because different games have their own rules, their starting hands are not all the same. For that reason, they’re not listed here in detail go to each game’s strategy page for a list of good starting hands.

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When you first look at your cards, you need to decide if you’ll play them or not. Your decision is based not only on the value of the cards, but also by what your position is (how close to the dealer button you are) and what the pot odds are. (Go to our general strategies page for an explanation of pot odds.)

If your cards aren’t very good and do not show up on your list, fold. Plain and simple. Don’t waste any money staying in pots you shouldn’t be in. Making a good fold is as good as making a good bet, so don’t feel pressured to play hands in order to win. If you’re not being dealt good cards, just be patient; don’t compromise your starting hands strategy. Eventually you’ll get a strong hand and when you do, play it aggressively. You need to value your chips and not waste them, so only play hands that will win. In the long run, folding bad hands is the number one most effective strategy you can use to win more money.

This doesn’t mean you should always play tight (that means only playing strong hands). You need to go out there and win some pots, too! Also, if you only play strong hands, your opponents may pick up on this and fold right away if they see you betting (and especially if they see your raise). This is called ‘varying your play.’

When you are dealt cards that are on your starting hands list, you should bet aggressively, but not so much that you scare the rest of the players into folding. It’s better to have a few people left in the game so they contribute chips to the pot. Your royal flush isn’t worth much if everybody folds. Bet normally early in the hand and gradually build the bets so more people stay in the game and contribute chips to the pot.

To get a feel for how you can play different hands in different positions, try playing online at Poker Stars. They have free tables where you can practice without losing one cent of your hard-earned money. Their software installs easily and quickly and you’ll be playing in no time!


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