Which Poker Hands Should I Play, and Why?

In online poker, it's impossible to play every hand and make a profit. This is the scourge of recreational and professional poker players alike. Phrases like “I know it’s a loose call, but I think I can outplay this player post-flop” and “If I hit a good flop, I'll be in a perfect position to take down the huge pot” are unfortunately words an amateur online poker player would use. 

This can be confirmed by doing even the most basic equity studying; what hand you have, it turns out, is actually very important. Having said that, keep in mind that in poker, you're playing the player and not the cards. 

When you are deciding what hand to play, you should think of it simply as “How well does my hand play against the type of hand my opponent is playing?” If asked before making any actions, this short question will end up making you a lot of money.

There's no shame in folding

As a general rule, you should be folding between 80-90% of hands and when you are still learning, it’s a good idea to play your poker hands according to the graph below. Folding is a huge part of online poker and it's important to stay patient to avoid playing hands you have no business being in. For instance, if you were dealt J, 9 off suit and it's your first to act, you'll probably be in a vulnerable spot in a nine seated poker game and there's no doubt that a player will be holding an ace or a better starting hand. In those situations, you'll be depending entirely on the flop and hoping no raise and re-raises will occur before the flop. This will leave you exposed and in a weak position to start the hand. Once you understand the basics it’s time to learn more about equity in poker hands and how you can put your opponent on a range of hands.

Poker starting hands to play

What is equity in poker hands?

Every hand has a certain amount of “equity” against other poker hands (which is just a fancy way of saying what chance they have mathematically to beat another), so when we are deciding what hands we want to play we should be trying to maximise that equity i.e. giving ourselves the highest percentage chance to win that hand on average.

Let's delve a bit deeper as you may be asking yourself “well that’s all well and good but how do I know whether my hand has the best percentage chance to win?"

Understanding what type of hand your opponent has isn’t relegated to the realms of the maths geniuses, it is something that you already know. Whenever you have folded A7 off-suit to a raise because “This hand always gets you into trouble” or calling a late position raise with JT suited because “This guy is so loose and my hand flops very well”, you won't be in a strong position as you enter the hand. Similar to when you have called with a small pocket pair in the blinds because “There was value” or you called a raise from a tight player with 67 suited because “He’s tight so if I hit I will get paid”.

All you are doing is understanding what type of hand your opponent is playing and making a decision about what type of hand plays well against that information. To sum that idea up, if you are always trying to play a hand that is slightly better than your opponent’s, then you will end up having a slight mathematical advantage which translates to profitability in the long run.

With that being said, it's also important to keep in mind the timing you decide to make a play. It's hard to pick the perfect time to try something different, but when a player is on tilt, (angry becuase of a bad beat), the players emotions will be very visible and more often than not, the next hand will be played regardless of their cards, which is the perfect time to pounce on such an opportunity. 

A quick test of your poker skills

The below situations use some poker jargon. If you're not familiar with what "under the gun" and "cut off" mean, then you should read our article on positions in online poker.

Which is a better call before the flop? Situation A or situation B?

Situation A: You are playing an online cash game with €100 with blinds of €0.50/1 and a reasonably active player raises in the cut off (CO) and you have Queen and Jack of clubs on the button (BTN) with two passive players in the big blind.

Situation B: You are playing on online cash game with €100 with blinds of €0.50/1 and a very tight player raises under the gun (UTG) and you have King Queen off suit in middle position with unknown players in the blinds.

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Answer: Situation A.