Choosing the right starting hands is very important

It’s never easy – at any level of experience – to cut our way through the jungle that is online poker. Thanks to the betting structure, literally dozens of times every hour we’re immediately faced with an often difficult decision – namely weighing up whether our starting hand is good enough to get involved with, or should be thrown straight in to the virtual trash.

Even making up our mind based on just the cards themselves can be a bit of a conundrum – what about A6 suited, for example? Is it strong enough? Could the ‘weak’ kicker be significant? The answer, crucially, tends to depend on position, as the guide below demonstrates.

Don’t play too many hands

Although there are 1,326 possible two-card combinations, many of these feature the same values but with different suits, such as 7c 6d, 7d 6c etc. Consequently, we can narrow Texas Hold’em down to 169 specific starting hands, comprising the 13 pocket pairs, 78 suited and 78 unsuited hands. We must then make a concerted effort to strip this down further by removing poor holdings, which sounds obvious, but too many players open with too many hands. Of course poker is a fun game, and it’s good to get involved, but if we get into the habit of playing too many hands this pre-flop error is likely to compound the problem through subsequent streets. Poker especially is a game in which poor play is severely punished, so we need to fine-tune our game as much as possible in order to minimise finding ourselves in difficult situations, and pre-flop play is a prime example.

Below is a Starting Hand guide that should help new and inexperienced players as they develop their game. The all-important subject of Position once again plays a fundamental, vital role, and it’s imperative that we take time to appreciate which holdings we should and shouldn’t play depending on what specific position we’re in.

Remember that this is a guide only, featuring suggested hands in each of the six positions of a 6-Max table to Raise, Limp and 3-bet with. N.B. ‘3-bet’ in this context is a re-raise; ‘s’ refers to suited hands.

Small Blind

Raise: AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, 99, AKs, AK, AQs, AQ, AJs, AJ, KQs

Limp: 88, 77, 66

3-bet: AA, KK, QQ

Big Blind

Raise: AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, 99, AKs, AK, AQs, AQ, AJs, AJ, KQs

3-bet: AA, KK, QQ

Under the Gun (UTG)

Raise: AA-44, AKs, AK, AQs, AQ, AJs, AJ, KQs

3-bet: AA, KK, QQ

Middle Position

Raise: 22+, AKs-A9s, AK, AQ, AJ, KQs, KQ

Limp: 77-22, AKs, AK, AQs, AQ, KQs

3-bet: AA, KK, QQ

Cut-off

Raise: 22+, AKs-A6s, AK-AT, KQs-T8s, KQ, KJ, KT, QJ, QT, JT

Limp: TT-22

3-bet: AA, KK, QQ, JJ

Button

Raise: 22+, AKs-A2s, AK-A9, KQs-86s, KQ-T9

Limp: TT-22

3-bet: AA, KK, QQ, JJ

Note no limping UTG! However, circumstances such as general table dynamics, habits and plays from specific players and so on will justify considerable flexibility that makes widening our range a good option, for instance. Some players might fold too readily in the Big Blind, so we can adjust accordingly in appropriate spots. Meanwhile, for those newer to the game, simply leave out some of the lower ranked hands and gradually introduce them as the game feels more comfortable.

Poker is an ever evolving game that rewards – among other things – hard work, preparation, introspection and the ability to continually adjust accordingly. Pre-flop play – particularly in 6-max – is the key foundation which we must make sure is sound if the rest of our game is going to hold up.

Have fun!

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About the Author

AngusD

AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

Latest changes

The last changes of the page “NLH 6-Max Starting Hand Guide” was made by AngusD on March 15, 2021