Mega-Poker.Net - Poker Tips: Starting Hand Requirements

Poker Tips: Starting Hand Requirements

Based on Playing Styles

Starting hand requirements are one of the most important aspects of every poker player's game and probably one of the most important aspects to learn when you are a beginner. Starting hands are your hole cards and all poker players who take the game seriously develop requirements for which hands to play and which hands to fold based on their playing style and other factors such as their position relative to the blinds.

I'm sure many poker players have played low-stakes or home games where people play any two cards and probably at times victimize good poker players with absolutely horrible suckouts and while they may be luck boxes at that moment or night, they will certainly by in the red very quickly if they play poker on a regular basis. If you are one of those poker players who plays with wreckless abandon, I urge you to take a look, study and embrace starting hand requirements as playing with that style usually requires a very sophiscated and accurate skill of reading your opponents.

The purpose of starting hand requirements is to allow yourself the best chance to win. Beginners are often clueless as to which hands are good, for example: they are dealt J-4o (Jack-Four off-suit) under-the-gun (first to act) and will play the hand, the board comes 10-J-5-2-9 and they play to the end without a firm concept of kickers (hole card that doesn't pair up with the board that is used to replace board cards to create a better 5-card hand.) only to be beat by J-Ks after a showdown. Why was the J-4 beat? Because the two poker player's boards were as follows: J-Ks board - 10-J-5-K-9 and the J-4 board - 10-J-5-4-9 thus rendering K-Js a better 5-card hand.

The beginner will continue playing their junk face cards until they realize that starting hand requirements help solve being out-kicked too often not knowing when to fold, usually calling down with any bit of the board. I urge you if you are a beginner to learn to become disciplined in your game and to be able to lay down hands when you're probably beat.

When developing or modifying your starting hand requirements, you should first determine which playing style matches the way you prefer to play. I recommend playing a style that matches the type of person you are because in my experience poker players that do so are more successful with their game.

The chart below describes the four playing styles we will be learning about: super-tight, tight, loose, super-loose. There are also, for lack of a better term "sub-styles" that are used to describe playing styles. Terms such as: aggressive or conservative are the common descriptions tacked on to playing styles like "this guy is a tight-aggressive poker player."

Playing Style
poker players who play in with style play only premium hands, somewhere around the top 10 hands. This poker player will not usually have kicker problems or problems being behind when his/her hand hits the board.
poker players who play with this style do not play a lot of hands and play only premium and very good hands, perhaps top 15-20 hands.
poker players who play with this style will play a lot of hands and when they hit monster hands like a straight or flush it will be well concealed. They will often play suited face cards, sometimes any suited cards. Will run into kicker problems more often than tight poker players. Loose poker players, however are not always wreckless. They try to see cheap flops with mediocre hands and get out when if they're raised out pre-flop.
poker players who play with this style come very close to not even having starting hand requirements. They seemingly play just about every hand, which is dangerous when they actually play good cards. This style is ironically a difficult style to play, because it requires solid reading ability to know when to get rid of a hand when your junk hits. The only hands these poker players fold are only the very worst hands, if a hand has drawing possibilities, like to a straight or flush, they will probably play it. Like loose poker players, they love the opportunity to see cheap flops with mediocre-to-junk hands.

I usually recommended that beginners start with a tight or super-tight approach to the game because it does not require the poker player to have developed a strong table sense. The poker mindset becomes more complex as you poker player more and starting hand requirements will become second nature very quickly as you move to other aspects of the game. Now that some basic playing styles have been established, we will move on to how to relate your playing style to which hands you choose to play. Below are the top 15 hands in poker, this is based on personal research by the Mega-Poker.Net staff and you will probably find varying charts elsewhere.

Winning Percentage vs. Random Hand

This chart is a rather liberal chart that is likely debatable, however these are all very strong hands and could be rearranged in a variety of ways but believes that these are the Top 15 hands. A question one might have immediately is why is J-10s on a board over hands like A-10s, K-Qs, K-Js etc. Well jack-ten suited is a hand with a huge amount of drawing possibilities and is considered to be the best drawing hand in poker. This hand allows you to draw to a 7 to jack straight (7-8-9-10-J) and the nut straight (10-J-Q-K-A) as well as a jack-high flush and both the jack-high and royal straight flushes.

If this chart is helpful there are a ton of resources that deal with starting hand requirements, and just about every good poker book will at the very least touch on this subject. I recommend the following two books for learning more about this subject: Harrington on Hold'Em Volume 1 and Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide. Both are available on which you can reach conveniently through these links.

Now that we have established some of the strongest starting hands, lets figure out how to apply these with the four playing styles and if any other types of hands could be added to the list of hands you play.

Super-Tight: The top ten hands are probably the only hands these poker players play and maybe on occasion a super-tight poker player will enter a pot with hands 11-15. It is possible that they may even play less than the top 10 depending on their level of discipline. With tournament blind schedules that quickly consume your chip stack, it is not recommended to play that tight as you are constantly forced to accumulate chips to avoid being on a short stack. If you want to be a true super-tight poker player, you should probably not open a pot with any hand worse than J-10s.

Tight: The top 15 hands are most definitely played, hands 11-15 are likely raising hands that also have a moderately high percentage of times where a tight poker player would only limp with one of those hands. They may also play hands like K-Qs, K-Js, Q-Js in late position (being on the button or one to two behind the button at a full table.) Low pocket pairs from 6s and down may also be limped with in middle to late position in an attempt to try to flop a set cheaply and get paid off. If you are a tight poker player, and are not mixing up your play too much the worst hand you should open a pot with would be a hand around Q-10s.

Loose: With loose poker players typically being very aggressive, they will most likely raise with the top 15 hands. They will surely play hands like K-Q, K-J, Q-J, Q-10, K-10 regardless of it being suited or not suited. They will also probably play all pocket pairs and suited connectors (hands like 10-9s, 9-8s etc...) Some loose poker players also play any suited ace and some suited kings. The worst hand a loose poker player will open a pot with is a hand like 2-2. However, non-paired the worst opening hand would be a hand like 6-7s.

Super-Loose: Super-loose poker players are very aggressive and like to use their chips to push poker players around after they win some pots by getting in cheap. They play all the hands listed for the loose poker player and throw in just about any two suited cards, any two connected cards leaving out only the worst like 3-2 and/or 4-3 and hands that have remote straight possibilities. I do not recommend playing in this style as a beginner or to be honest in any experience level for an extended period of time. poker players like Gus Hansen and Phil Ivey are notorious for playing in a style similar to what is described here.

This is just a rough outline of how to apply starting hands to certain playing styles, and to give you an idea of what hands to play when developing your style of play. The top 15 hands after the top 5 are fairly rearrangable and are based on your personal experiences as a poker player. It is entirely possible that you may fall in between one of these styles and that is very common.

At this point, you need to determine if you are a conservative or aggressive poker player. Tight poker players can be conservative because they're not playing a lot of hands however, most books will tell you that playing a tight playing style and being aggressive is the most profitable way to play poker. I do not find loose-conservative poker players to be entirely common as loose poker players are often maniacs with their chips, especially super-loose poker players. Keep in mind that there is no wrong way to play poker, these are merely guidelines in attempt to better your game by adding a higher level of understanding and knowledge of playing styles and starting hand requirements.

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Changing Playing Style/Hand Requirements Based on Table Position

After your playing style and starting hand requirements have been developed, it's time to sophisticate this aspect of your game a bit more. Where you sit at the table in relation to the blinds dictates the type of game you should play.

Position Explanations (Based on a full table of 9)
Early Position: The first two positions to the left of the big blind.
Middle Position: The three positions following the two poker players in early position.
Late Position: The position right before the dealer and the dealer.
Small & Big Blind: The two poker players who must put money in the pot before they are dealt cards. These poker players will be the first two to act after the flop if they elect to play their hands.

Now lets get into the basics of modifying your style and hand requirements based on your position at the table.

Early Position: Play your tightest game in these table positions however, do not be afraid to be aggressive in early position with big hands. The reason behind this is you will be at a positional disadvantage for the remainder of the hand as you will be forced to act before poker players after you, thus giving them free information on the strength of your hand.

Middle Position: Play your natural style in this position. If you are a tight poker player, you may want to play hands like K-Qs, K-Js etc. in these positions. However, if a poker player in early position enters the pot (even a limp) then you should throw away any hand that you wouldn't play in early position. The reason for this is that by playing in early position you are automatically revealing strength to the rest of the table by saying "I'm playing this hand even knowing that 8 other poker players have the option to raise or limp." The exception to this rule is if you are positive the poker player in early position has no clue or concept about table position in which case you can resume normal middle position play.

Late Position: Play your loosest game in these positions. Being on the button is the strongest position in the game as it allows you to see everyone act and the advantage of acting last for the remainder of the hand giving you crucial information about the other poker players involved in the hand. Similar concepts apply if early position poker players enter the pot, however in this case I'd consider being slightly looser and resort to your middle position hand requirements.

Small & Big Blind: These positions are interesting because you are at an advantage pre-flop as you get to see what everyone at the table does before you make a decision on whether or not to play however, after the flop you will be the first to act for the remainder of the hand. If the pot is not raised, I recommend playing suited connectors, high unsuited connectors (9-8o and up), any two face cards, any ace and any K-7s and up. If the pot is raised then resort to your early position requirements as you will be out of position for the rest of the hand.

Aspects of starting hand requirements in relation to table position and other strategies dealing with table position are described very strongly and clearly in Harrington on Hold'Em Volume 1 which can be purchased from the box below.

That just about does it for starting hand requirements. Study this page and check out the resources I recommended above and you'll be well on your way to developing a very strong poker game. Good Luck! If you got this down pat, check out the betting strategies page to learn about plays like the continuation bet, probe bet, raising, re-raising and mixing up your betting patterns.

Now that you have a nice boost to your poker game try it out at one of the top poker rooms!
Top U.S. Online Poker Room (Full Tilt Poker) | Top Non-U.S. Online Poker Room (Titan Poker)

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