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The 6 Best Poker Starting Hands You Must Know About

Written by Jason Frakk. Last updated on

There are 169 unique poker starting hands in texas hold’em.

That means there are 169 unique strategies to know about.

But don’t worry!

In this article you will learn about the best poker starting hands and how to play the rest.

I have a friend, following one of Tom Dwan’s plays, who would fight ‘til the end his King-Nine suited.

Whatever happens, my friend would bluff his way with this hand even if he didn’t hit anything on the board.

He believes that this is his lucky poker starting hands.

Each time this hand of his wins, he’d say “I told you so”, but more often than not he’d remain quiet if his favorite poker starting hands is beat.

Luck is present in poker, but the game is about probability.

If you’re like my friend who largely believes in a lucky poker starting hands, then there seems to be a problem with your game.

But this one friend isn’t the only one.

I have loads of friends who have “carved in stone” favorite hands and would play crazy just to prove theirs are the lucky one.

Having played with my buddies many times I could tell if they’re holding their favorite cards, which is a good tell for me. Bad for them. Good for me.

But what are my favorite hands in poker?

Truth be told – “nothing.” Yes, nothing.


I do have specific plays and strategies for hands dealt to me.

I’ll list them down one by one and explain why.

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Here are my favorite poker starting hands

I learned about these hands after reading Phil Helmuth’s book “Play Poker Like the Pros“.

Fair warning though, I believe that Phil’s advice on how to play these hands are only apt for beginners and novice players.

I play these hands strategically from time to time especially when I play with loose players with a wide range of playing

american airlines pocket rockets poker starting hands

Or Bullets as it’s commonly called in the poker community.

It’s the best opening hand in Hold’em.

It’s statistically the most powerful hand in poker and even if your game is down to who has a strongest pair (meaning you or your opponent didn’t hit anything on the community cards),

Aces will play strong and straight up.

Show me a poker player who hates Aces and I’ll run up to him and punch his nose.

Aces can be played well especially during heads-up matches because it’s a slated favorite, mathematically speaking.

However, it’s drawback is when there are too many players in a hand and your opponents have powerful draws.

In situations like this, your bullets will often be at risk of getting outdrawn.

Here is a play by Daniel Negreanu when he is delt a pair of american airlines. You think we wun or lost?


The second best starting hand in poker.

You couldn’t go wrong with this hand, except, well, for obvious reasons, when there’s an Ace on the board.

Just like Aces, though, Cowboys stand their ground in heads-up matches and are statistically favored second to Bullets.

poker starting hands

Again, the downside to this favorite hand is when it’s either outdrawn or when there’s an Ace on the board.

Just a segue, my favorite experience with Cowboys and how this poker hand made me start winning more was when I’ve outdrawn an opponent with Pocket Rockets on the River.

I promise you, the look on my opponent’s face even Picasso couldn’t paint.

Watch how Phil Ivey play with his pocket kings.


Sadly, nicknames for pocket Queens are very derogatory, but that’s how majority of poker players labeled it.

Personally, I can’t help calling pocket Queens Bitches because I lost half of my stack during a tournament I played in many years back.

My Queens were no match against my opponent’s rockets in what I considered one of the most important tournaments of my life. I was looking for a draw, but I didn’t get any.

Will I completely despise pocket Queens and fold it immediately if dealt with it?

Of course not!

Queens are still powerful and no amount of bad beat or two-cards above can stop good poker players from playing them aggressively.

This guy was very happy to get pockets queens while playing Governor of Poker.

Big Slick or Walking Back to Houston POKER STARTING HANDS

Ace-Kings are recently labeled Anna Kournikova after the gorgeous tennis player.

During an episode of WPT, commentator Vince Van Patton called Big Slick Anna Kournikova because the hand “looks great, but never wins.”

The reference is understandable because Ace-Kings, although they look good, are drawing hands.

Even lower pockets could beat Big Slick if the latter didn’t hit a pair or draw on the board.

I prefer playing Big Slick usually under the gun (the position after the big blind) and bully my opponents to fold right in the onset.

The nice thing about Ace-King is when you hit top pair and you have a strong kicker or when you hit a good draw.

Big Slick is one of those poker hands that made me start winning more at poker.

Here is what happens when big slick meets big slick.

J-Birds or Hooks POKER STARTING HANDSDon’t be fooled by this face card.

It looks really good to have pocket Jacks, but they’re really tough to play.


That’s because three higher cards already had it beat assuming your opponent has one high card that hit the board.

Just the same, and since we categorized J-Birds as a monster hand, you should play it like a monster hand.

With pocket Jacks, I always play strong.

But when there’s a threat on the board, I find Hooks much easier to fold than Bullets or Cowboys.

Pro poker players consider pocket Jacks as the highest medium pair in Hold’em.

Get more insights on how to play pocket jacks in this video.


This medium pair is the most difficult to play when dealt with.

According to poker probabilities, Tens have a higher chance of getting into trouble with 70 percent of overcards being dealt on the flop.

But between Tens and Big Slicks, I prefer Tens because it’s easier to fold; when my Ace or King hits a card on a board ;and later outdrawn in the River.

Here is how Phil Hellmuth likes to play his pocket tens.

My final thoughts

The starting hands I brought up in this article is based on Phil Helmuth’s monster starting hands.

In fact, Phil suggested ten monster starting hands, but I’ve only included the six best.

The good thing about using these starting hands is that they’re straight up and very simple to execute.

You can crush any average game if you play them by the book.

Phil would even go another mile and would suggest that you play these hands from any position while scaring your opponents with raises and re-raises.

Personally, I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s up to you if you want to try it out.

For beginners, playing these hands will help them develop the mental discipline needed.

A good and strong fold is always better than going gung-ho about a particular play.

Once you get your game together, you’ll develop your own style and strategy and you would realize that these hands are as boring as they could get.

But just the same, with enough mental discipline coupled by a straight up strategy, these poker hands made me start winning more.

Wait… There is more!

This will be a bit technical and for the advanced players.

Still here?


I have put together a spreadsheet with the most played starting hands and their expected value.

But hold on a bit, what is expected value?

Well, based on hundred of thousand of plays some smart guys calculated the expected value of playing a specific hand.

For example if AA has an expected value of 2 and the big blind is $6, then the expected value of playing would be 2*$6= $12.

Here is a screenshot of the spreadsheet and you can download/view the whole thing here.

As you can see your table position has quite a big impact on the expected value of your hand.

poker starting hands exptected value

Now when you have learned so much about poker starting hands why not head over to our mega post about the best poker sites online?

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