In keeping with the theme in holdem that ’duplicity is king’ it’s important to be able to play a wide range of hands to avoid our opponents being able to accurately guess our hole cards based solely on our play.  Whether to play a holdem starting hand like AA, or KK barely need consideration.   However limiting ourselves to the ‘top 10% holdem hands’ can often restrict our chances of getting paid off for our big hands.  To mix things up a bit, we need to open up our range of hands whilst still being able to make correct decisions once the hand is under way.  The question of what makes the best poker starting hands can seem obvious when looking at extremes, such as pocket aces, or 72off.  However, when the correct play is less clear, whether to play our starting hand requires consideration of one other important factor…our poker table position. 

What does that mean?  It means that the best poker starting hands in late position aren’t necessary the best hands to play out of position.  Playing weaker starting hands out of position can, for the unwary player, be one of the best ways to get felted.  I’m consistently amazed by the way a hand can develop into a spririt crushing trap a player is unable to extricate themselves from…and it all might have started from something like the seemingly innocent decision to play K9 from early position…because it was suited. 

David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth adopted an approach of grouping the starting hands based on strength to assist players, particularly new players, in making decisions on which hands to play based on their table position. It is essentially a means by which they ranked hole cards in holdem poker.  Whilst in their publications Slansky and Malmuth go into some detail, for simplicity just remember that groups 1-2 are particularly strong hands (high pairs, high suited cards), groups 3-5 are medium hands (medium pairs) and groups 6-8 are weaker hands best played with position.

The sklansky groups:
Group 1 AA, KK, QQ, JJ, Aks Premium hands
Group 2 TT, Aqs, Ajs, KQs, AK 
Group 3 99, JTs, QJs, KJs, ATs, AQ 
Group 4 T9s, KQ, 88, QTs, 98s, J9s, AJ, KTs 
Group 5 77, 87s, Q9s, T8s, KJ, QJ, JT, 76s, 97s, Axs, 65s 
Group 6 66, AT, 55, 86s, KT, QT, 54s, K9s, J8s, 75s 
Group 7 44, J9, 64s, T9, 53s, 33, 98, 43s, 22, Kxs, T7s, Q8s 
Group 8 87, A9, Q9, 76, 42s, 32s, 96s, 85s, J8, J7s, 65, 54, 74s, K9, T8 

The cards above denote your starting cards.
ATs = Ace and ten in the same suite.
AT = Ace and ten, not the same suite.
Kxs = King combined with a random card, suited.

How should I use this information?
The groups classify starting hands and are used in Texas Hold’em with at least eight players. Some hands change in value depending on the number of opponents and players seeing the flop. Obviously small pairs go up in value as you get better odds for hitting trips.

Here is a short recommendation on how to play each group:

In early position, play group 1 – 3.
In mid position, play group 1 – 5.
In late position, play group 1 – 7.
Always raise with group 1 preflop no matter what has happened.

View this article source.

It’s worthwhile taking the time to commit the above groups to memory.  Whilst there is always some variance to the above general guidelines depending on situations factors such as player strength, table image, pot size etc, the above grouping guidelines on the best poker starting hands provide some helpful practical suggestions for players looking to determine whether they should enter a pot.

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