Confession 011


Best/Worst NL Holdem Hands for Beginners

I confess. I fall for heartache hands way too often.

Having a really good hand get beaten by a slightly better one is an all too familiar occurrence to anyone who plays poker regularly. It’s a totally expected part of the game, but it sure hurts to lose by a whisker. SwC Poker chat is full of players tilting over these kind of close (and often expensive) losses. Obviously the smart thing to do is to throw these heartache hands away, but how do you know when to play these otherwise strong hands and when to toss them? It’s clearly a difficult aspect of gameplay and one that I personally struggle with.

Here are some Heartache Hands sorted into three groups to indicate their relative danger level:

  • Top Tier Terror – Big Trouble in Little Jacksonville – QJ, KJ and AJ
  • Middle Mezzanine Madness – Less Than Perfect 10s – K10 and A10
  • Lower Landing Lethargy – Queens of Denial – KQ and AQ

Now since these are all generally strong hands, why on earth would you want to toss them? Because all too often, these hands will only be the second strongest hand on the board with little chance of improving them beyond second place. KQ for instance is a really strong hand, but will probably finish second place if your opponent is holding AK, AQ, KK, or QQ.

heartache hand

So how do you protect yourself? If you are playing against a tight opponent and they make what you think is a legitimate pre-flop raise, you should be dumping these hands very quickly as the odds are you are probably beaten.

Of course, if you are playing against someone with really loose hand selection, a poker n00b, someone you believe is running a bluff, if you are in late stage tournament play, or if you are suited in a multi-player pot, you would almost certainly want to play these hands instead. You might even want to play a hand like this really aggressively. Just make sure you have your spidey senses turned all the way up so that you can decide if any pre-flop raises are legitimate or not. If you think the raise is real, fold and run. If you suspect shenanigans, then definitely play these strong (but otherwise dangerous) hands.

Now that we’ve identified the hands where trouble can lurk, what are some of the best hands for beginners to play? Simplifying the complexity of poker by limiting which hands you play can be really helpful for beginners. Playing nothing but Pocket Pairs is a great beginner strategy as these hands are often outright winners without needing to be improved by the community cards.

Here are the Pocket Pairs grouped into three basic categories to indicate how you play them:

  • Platinum Pairs – Prime Pickings – QQ through AA
  • Moderate Matches – Middle Muscle – 88 through JJ
  • Tiny Teams – Try for Triples – 22 through 77


  • Platinum Pairs (queens or better) are easy. You are favored to win, so try to extract as much value from your hand as possible.
  • Moderate Matches (eights through jacks) are harder. You might be strong enough without improving with community cards but how you play depends on what your opponents are doing.
  • Tiny Teams (sevens or smaller) are straightforward. You are really looking to get into the flop cheaply and improve your hand with the community cards. Three of a kind or better is your goal. If your hand doesn’t improve on the flop, just dump it.

When you are only playing these type of hands it’s much easier to know where you stand and how to bet. Some beginners find great success in solely betting pocket pairs. By limiting the type of hands you play, you can focus on a much narrower aspect of the game and really master it before branching out to more complicated hands.

By narrowing the types of hands you bet, you can simplify many of the more complex aspects of gameplay allowing you to build a solid foundation (even without much experience). Create your own well-defined comfort zone and master it before you expand and you’ll insure a much higher rate of success while you are learning.

Be sure and tune into the Fish Fry Radio Show and look for me at the following tournament as there’ll be a 5 chip bounty on my head. See you there!


  • the King of Hearts

KoH_Sm300This weekly column serves as a guide for those who are interested in online bitcoin poker but haven’t yet taken the plunge and for those who are just dipping their toes in the water.

I talk about online bitcoin poker from a beginner’s perspective with the goal of demystifying the various poker game forms as well as all aspects of online play, table and lobby etiquette, and anything else related to this space. I’m enjoying spending time with you.

Poker Vocabulary and Abbreviations
Kicker – a side card used to break ties between otherwise equivalent rank hands
Hole Cards – private/personal cards dealt face down
Community Cards – public cards dealt face up and shared by all players
Pocket Pair – having two of the same hole cards

Please send all questions, comments and suggestions to

My opinions and observations are my own do not reflect the opinions of SwC management. I will respond to all messages and I welcome your feedback.