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How to Evaluate Your Starting Hand in Poker

Learn how to evaluate your starting hand from poker champion Nick "Nicky Numbers" Brancato in this Howcast video.


Hey, I'm Nicky Numbers, I'm a professional poker player, and today I'm going to help you evaluate your starting hand. So you sit down at the table, you get dealt two cards, you peer at them, now what? Now you have a decision to make. So let's look at a few examples. We're going to start off with a hand like King/nine.

This is a hand that is commonly played by a lot of amateur players because they see two fairly big cards, especially with a King present. This hand is actually a terrible hand. Unless you're moving all in with it pre-flop for a small number of big blinds like less than ten, it really doesn't have a lot of playability. It rarely hits the flop. When it does hit the flop, it flops a one-pair hand and the one-pair hand that it flops always have a fairly bad kicker, or it's a low pair as in the case of King/nine when it hits a nine. And when it hits a King, nine is a terrible kicker. So it's just problematic. It doesn't flop straight draws, it doesn't flop flush draws, it doesn't flop draws with eight outs or more. That drastically reduces its playability.

Let's look at another hand. Deuce/eight off-suit. This hand is certainly in the same category. Deuce/eight off-suit is in the same category of King/nine, because the category is "starting hands that do not contain an Ace, but have one gap or more". So like deuce/four off-suit, King/nine off-suit, ten/deuce off-suit, eight/deuce. These are all hands that do not work together in multiple ways. It's almost like playing one card poker. Why only have one hole card working for you when you can have both? Take a hand like Ace/Queen. This is a very strong hand because it regularly flops top pair. The larger each of your cards the greater the chance of flopping top pair. Ace/King for example flops top pair about 30 percent of the time. Pocket Queens is certainly a great hand. Pocket Queens is in the big-pair category, which I would classify as pocket tens or greater, so tens, Jacks, Queens, Kings, or Aces.

These hands all have a lot of inherent value just because they're dealt so rarely and they're such a large pair. Seven/six suited is a great example of a suited connector. Suited connectors, suited one-gappers like seven/five, and suited two-gappers like seven/four all have a lot of post-flop playability because they flop straight draws. They flop flush draws, as well as sometimes flopping strong made hands. In fact, a true suited connector like six/seven where it's directly connected and there's three cards to a straight that you can hit to a straight on top and three cards to a straight that you can hit on the bottom, we call that "maximum range". So four/five suited to Jack/ten suited are suited connectors with maximum range.

Those hands hit the flop to make two pair or better or draws of eight outs or more over a quarter of the time. And no matter what, remember that cards that are off-suit and contain multiple gaps without an Ace are trash hands. You want to avoid playing them unless you're just making a pure move, meaning you're bluffing at the pot pre-flop or you're planning on bluffing it post-flop, because that's the only way these hands have value.

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