Pre-Flop Hand Groups

Poker veteran Benny the Book was showing his son Joey the Juvenile1, who recently turned twenty-one2, the ropes.

[BB] “The safest way to play Texas Hold ‘Em at first is to fold all but your best starting hands.”

[JJ] “A pair of aces, kings, queens,… what else?”

[BB] “I’ve had this laminated card for Blackjack”, Benny said as he showed off a thin, credit card-sized piece of plastic, “in my wallet since before you were born — got it in a Vegas casino gift shop, no less. It shows you the basic strategy for when to hit, pass, double down, and split.”

[BB] “When I was learning Hold ‘Em, I decided to make something similar. It’s only paper, so it’s all worn out, but I don’t need it anymore, so consider this a belated birthday present.”

Joey took the chart from his dad, carefully unfolded it along its cracked crease, and saw this:

Modified Hold ‘Em Hand Groupings for Full Table Play (9 or 10 players)

Group Pairs Suited Unsuited Percent3 Cumulative
Group 1 AA-JJ AKs 2.11% 2.11%
Group 2 TT KQs AQs AJs AK 2.26% 4.37%
Group 3 99 QJs KJs KTs ATs AQ 2.56% 6.94%
Group 4 88 JTs QTs A9s A8s KQ AJ AT 4.37% 11.31%
Group 5 77 T9s J9s Q9s K9s A7s…A2s QJ-JT KJ-QT KT 7.99% 19.31%
Group 6 66-22 98s-43s T8s-64s J8s Q8s K8s…K2s T9-98 J9 10.71% 30.02%
Group 7 32s 53s-42s T7s-74s J7s 87-54 T8 Q9-J8 K9 A9 10.26% 40.27%
Group 8 63s-52s Q7s…Q2s J6s…J2s T6s…T2s 43-32 97-75 T7-96 Q8-J7 K8…K6 A8…A2 22.32% 62.59%
Group 9 95s-62s 94s-72s 93s-82s 92s 64-42 85-63 T6-95 J6…J5 Q7…Q2 K5…K2 22.93% 85.52%
Group 10 52 84-62 94-72 93-82 92 T5…T2 J4…J2 14.48% 100.00%

[BB] “A dash (‘-‘) means the gap remains constant, so AA-JJ means a pair of Aces, Kings, Queens, or Jacks. An ellipsis (‘…’) means that the high card remains constant, so A7s…A2s4 means A7s, A6s, A5s, A4s, A3s, or A2s.”

[BB] “The basic premise is to play only the better hand groups, adding the lower hand groups when you have better position at the table (i.e., when you’re the dealer or nearby on the right), when there are fewer players, and when the blinds are bigger relative to your stack.”

[BB] “You should start tighter (fewer groups) and play more groups as your post-flop skills improve. Obviously, you can’t just play Group 1 hands because you’d fall asleep folding 49 out of every 50 hands, and your opponents would just fold when you didn’t. But sticking with Group 1 hands in early position (small blind, big blind, and under the gun — one left of the big blind), adding Group 2 hands in middle position, and broadening to the top four groups in late position will let you play about 6% of the time. This will give you the best hand going to the flop most of the time at all but the tightest of tables and make your postflop decisions easier. You’ll flop top pair more often than underpairs. When you flop top pair, you’ll usually have a good kicker to go with it. If you flop a flush draw, it will be to the nut (best) flush or second nut flush most of the time. If you flop a straight draw, at least half of your draw will usually be to the nut straight.”

[BB] “Are you ready for your first tournament?”

[JJ] “Ready to bust you, Dad, that’s for sure!”

Footnotes:

  1. It’s all relative, as Joey is the youngest member of the group. He and Yuri the Young Gun are the only two in their twenties.
  2. The legal gambling age where the Hold ‘Em at Home crew lives is 21, the same as the age in most U.S. states, although more than a few are as low as 18.
  3. In calculating the percent, realize that there are six ways to be dealt each pair (counting all the suit combinations), four ways for each suited hand, and twelve ways (four times three) for each unsuited hand. Of the 1,326 possible starting hands, 78 (5.88%) are pairs, 312 (23.53%) are suited, and 936 (70.59%) are unsuited.
  4. A7s is pronounced “Ace Seven suited” and means an Ace and a Seven of the same suit: A♠7♠, A♥7♥, A♦7♦, or A♣7♣.
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