Texas Hold ’em Cards to Play

The Basics: Starting Hands

Unless you’re dealt a pair, your two starting cards may be suited (of the same suit) or unsuited, and connected (consecutive) or gapped (unconnected).

If you’ve got two connected cards, it’s usually possible to get a straight in any of four ways. For example, say you start with cards like 10 and 9. You can get a straight with K-Q-J, Q-J-8, J-8-7, and 8-7-6.

Exceptions to this are the following combinations:

  • A-K and A-2 – because the ace is at the end of the spectrum, only one chance for a straight exists with either of these pairs
  • K-Q and 3-2 – only two chances for a straight
  • Q-J or 4-3 – three ways to get a straight

Generally, small gaps make a straight more likely. It’s not advisable to play cards with a gap of more than three, although you could still hope for a flush in this scenario.

Although it offers only one shot at a straight, the best starting combination to hope for aside from two aces or two kings is an ace and a king (the "Big Slicker"). With these cards, any pair you make would be the top pair with the best possible kicker.

Cards to Play, by Position

For players in the early position (four left of the dealer), it’s important to be cautious – you haven’t got the advantage of late position players, who know who’s still in the pot and how players have acted in the current round, in terms of betting and raising.

Texas Hold ’em card combinations you should consider playing in early position include

  • pairs of 7s through aces
  • aces with a king, queen, jack or 10 of the same suit or unsuited
  • king with a queen, jack or 10 of the same suit
  • king with a queen or jack of a different suit
  • jack with a 10 or a 9 of the same suit
  • 10 with a 9 of the same suit

In middle position, it’s safer to play smaller pairs such as 5s or 6s, and to add the following initial card combinations:

  • aces with a 9, 8, 7 or 6 of the same suit
  • king with a 9 of the same suit, or a 10 in a different suit
  • queen with a 9 or 8 of the same suit, or a jack or 10 in a different suit
  • jack with an 8 of the same suit, or a 10 in a different suit
  • 10 with an 8 of the same suit
  • 9 with an 8 of the same suit

If you’re in late position, you can afford to play a much larger range of card combinations, including pretty weak ones – if the pot hasn’t been raised and as long as you fold if the flop doesn’t look suited to your hand.