The small blind is a unique situation in that you already have half a bet in the pot. This means that you can see the flop for a discounted price. For this reason, you will see the flop in an unraised pot with any of the above hands and QT, JT, K8s, K7s, K6s, K5s, K4s, K3s, and K2s from the small blind. As in a few of the recommended hands above with the suited cards, you are hoping to flop a flush or flush draw; and with the QT and JT a straight, straight draw, two pairs, or trips.
This is a good time to discuss the blinds. Once you have posted a blind, the money is no longer yours. Many players feel that because they have money in the pot, they must protect their blind.
This thinking will often lead to playing far weaker hands than your opponents, and basically you will be throwing good money after bad. An example of this is if you are in the big blind and hold 2/7 unsuited. This is the worst possible starting hand. If the post is raised before you can act, you must fold. In a raised pot, you have such a minuscule chance of winning the hand with 2/7 that putting any more money in the pot will most often be costly. Another way to look at this is even if you had the opportunity to see the flop for free, you will rarely win a pot holding a hand as weak as 2/7.
You can also be psychologically trapped if the flop gives you a pair on one of your cards. Now because you have a pair, you want to stay in the game, so you continue to throw money into the pot. In all probability, however, another player has your pair with a higher kicker because most players would not call the big blind with two low cards. If you hit two pairs, trips, or even a full house, the probability of winning increases to the point where it would be worthwhile to continue, but the possibility of losing always looms.
It's easy for most players to release the worst possible hole cards when the prospect of winning is low, but what if your hole cards are J9 at the small blind, you call, and a J or an 8 and a 7 are flopped? You have a pair and you have a chance at an inside straight. These types of hands can make you a loser in the long run if you stay with them against strong players. Remember, after the flop, you will be the first to bet -- the worst possible position, so you have that against you as well. Using this same reasoning, don't call the half bet in the small blind without a decent starting hand.
When you are in the big blind, you will often have the opportunity to check and see the flop for free. This is usually a good play, especially if you hold a hand not mentioned above. There are, however, a few hands that you should raise with in the big blind. AA, KK, AKs, and AK should all be brought in with a raise to build the pot. An exception is if only one or two players have entered the pot, you may check with AA and KK in order to disguise your hand and give your opponents an opportunity to hit something on the flop. This can be dangerous because sometimes an opponent who limps in with a small pair may hit a set on the flop.
In this section we discussed the most important concept in becoming and staying a winning Hold'em player -- starting hand selection. The hands listed are not the only hands you will ever play in Hold'em.
As you gain experience and learn how certain opponents play and learn to read different situations, you will be able to play many different hands many different ways. The important thing is to give yourself a fair chance to win or at least break even while gaining experience. If you are dedicated to following the guidelines, you will be well on your way to becoming a successful Hold'em player.
Now that we've covered basic strategy, it's time to move to more advanced concepts. In the next few sections, we will learn more detailed strategies that will help you become a better Hold'em player.
For more information about Texas Hold 'Em Poker and other variations, try the following links:
- To see all of our articles on poker rules and advice, go to our main article on How To Play Poker.
- Some Poker Basics are essential before you sit down at the card table.
- For a more complicated version of hold 'em, learn How to Play Omaha Poker.
- Get to know the previous "most popular game in poker", in How to Play 7-Card Stud Poker.