Going beyond Texas hold'em starting hand charts

Choosing your starting hands wisely can make the difference between winning and losing in poker. This is especially true when you can't depend on your poker skills to help you out after the flop in more difficult situations (yet). Many beginning poker players will come to realize this quite early on in their poker career and they subsequently start to look for a guaranteed formula towards proper starting hand selection: they need the best starting hands chart available to beat the game, or so they thinků

Texas hold'em starting hand charts

Starting hand charts offer an overview of common situations regarding your position at the poker table and/or the action in front of you and tell you which starting hands to play and how for every situation. They're easy to read and easy to use.

It isn't anything else but logical that the first time poker player resorts to charts as a quick fix for their leaks. Many beginning poker players have such big leaks in their game caused by improper starting hand selection that the use of a starting hands chart can improve their game significantly.

However, there are some shortcomings associated with starting hands charts. They lead to a very straightforward and predictable game; they don't take into account all of the aspects of the game that are important for starting hand selection; they can't offer a solution for all the different scenarios you will encounter at the poker table and above all, they don't make you think for yourself.

Proper Texas hold'em starting hand selection

Proper starting hand selection goes beyond the use of charts. It is the result of a true understanding of 'starting hand strength'. What factors other than position and the action in front of you influence the strength of your Texas hold'em starting hands and why? What are strengths and weaknesses of the different starting hands? Knowing the answers to these questions will most likely also result in an insight in the best way to play certain hands.

Take for example a starting hand like 67. Now, imagine that you're at a full ring game in late position and there's a raise with two callers in front of you. A starting hands chart would probably tell you that you should either fold or call.

And that's it.

If however you would truly understand the strength of a starting hand like 67 then you would know that 67 is a great hand because it is both connected and suited and therefore has a higher probability of hitting straights and flushes when compared to hands other than suited connectors. You would also realize that, despite it being a suited connector, the chance of really flopping something great with this starting hand is still very slim. You would therefore be looking to see cheap flops; to avoid the possibility of someone raising/re-raising you pre-flop and to be in a position to win a lot of money for when you do hit to make up for the times when you miss and have to fold (high implied odds).

In this case you would not only see that there are already three players in the hand with a full stack, but also that the initial raiser has a very strong range because he is tight and raised from early position. You also know that the players who are still left to act behind you are passive and are therefore unlikely to make a re-raise in which case you would certainly have to fold and lose the initial call. You just know that this is an excellent opportunity to play the hand. Because you realize you are facing a strong range of hands from your opponents you also know what to look for after the flop. You don't want to hit just a top pair or a gutshot straight draw. You are looking for combo draws which give you at least around 40% equity when all the money goes in on the flop. You are looking to hit two-pair or better and you also realize that hitting the flush and getting it all-in in pots with many players will sometimes only result in seeing your opponent show a higher flush. In addition you would also have a betting strategy in mind: you know that if you hit what you are looking to hit, you should bet big to get value and to protect your hand. You would have a plan for the rest of the hand from the moment you see your cards and decide to play them; a plan that takes many more aspects into consideration than just the action in front of you and your position; a plan that goes way beyond the use of a simple starting hands chart and will therefore get you further in the end.

Starting hand selection charts - conclusion

Proper starting hand selection is a very important aspect towards playing winning poker. Starting hand selection is more than just selecting hands based on your position and the action at the table. It is about making a plan for the rest of the hand considering all possible aspects involved. Although starting hands charts can offer a quick solution for beginning players to improve their starting hand selection, taking the time to really learn and understand this aspect of the game will certainly be more beneficial in the long run.

Many beginning poker players look at a starting hands chart as an easy and guaranteed formula towards proper starting hand selection. Do you?

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