Texas Holdem Poker Tournament Strategy - Poker Tournament Starting Hands

Quick and Easy Reference Guide To Online MTT Starting Hands

A disciplined approach to selecting the right online poker tournament starting hands will keep many beginning and intermediate players away from those difficult spots which can cost a lot of chips. Changes in blinds, stack sizes and the number of opponents mean some flexibility is required. Understanding why certain hands are playable will give you the basis you need to profitably adjust to the situational factors and tendencies of individual opponents.

We start by grouping the poker tournament starting hands into ‘speculative’, ‘mid-strength’, ‘Strong’ and ‘Stealing’, explaining what we mean in each case. Next we go through the stages of a poker tournament, outlining how the playability of each group changes based on the dynamics of the game.

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Poker Tournament Starting Hands – Speculative Hands

Pairs:: 22 – 77
Suited Connectors: 45 suited to Queen-Jack Suited
Suited Aces: Ace-Two through to Ace-Nine

These hands have one thing in common, the potential to turn into a well hidden monster holding on the flop. As you gain experience at the tables, suited connectors which a gap (for example 6-8 suited) or connected cards which are not suited can also be played. Your objective with speculative hands is to see a cheap flop and try and hit your straight / set – then taking the stack of an opponent holding a high pair!

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Poker Tournament Starting Hands – The Mid-Strength Hands

Pairs: 88 to Jack-Jack
High Card Hands: Ace-Ten through Ace-Queen, King Queen, King-Jack Suited

Common to our mid-strength starting hands is that they are often the best hand at the table before the flop – yet are less likely to be the best after the community cards are dealt, especially if one or more opponents wants to build a big pot. These hands should usually be played aggressively when you have the lead in the betting, but you must be prepared to fold them if things do not go according to plan!

Poker Tournament Starting Hands – The Strong Hands

We reserve this label for pairs of Queens, Kings or Aces and for Ace-King. Beginners should usually assume that they have the best hand before the flop and play positively and aggressively. As you gain experience there may be times when you lay down the Queens pre-flop. Remember that high pairs play best in position (last to act) and against a single opponent – try not to find yourself in a multi-way pot in which several opponents came in with speculative or mid-strength hands.

Poker Tournament Starting Hands – The Stealing Hands

This section covers unsuited aces with kickers below 9 and the multitude of unpaired high cards such as King-Nine or Queen-Ten. If you are folded to in later position then these make great candidates for stealing the blinds with. While you will generally fold them if re-raised, those times you are called you still have some high-card strength with which to win the hand. The other time that the ‘stealing hands’ become playable is if you find yourself with an extremely short stack, here that Ace-8 might be the best hand you see before you blind away! 


Poker Tournament Starting Hands – Changing Values At Different Stages Of A Poker Tournament

Tournament Starting Hands Guide – The Early Stages

Your objective in the early stages of a tournament is to take the chips from the weak players before your stronger opponents do. Here speculative hands are at their strongest. It is cheap to see a flop (the blinds are low) and many opponents will not be able to fold their high-pairs when you do hit that hidden monster. The mid-strength and strong hands actually do down in value early on. Unless you can get the majority of your stack in before the flop you will often find yourself behind a set or flush (for example) when the betting gets heavy post-flop.

Tournament Starting Hands Guide – The Middle Stages

As the blinds and antes increase the stack sizes of you and your opponents are the major determinant of your starting hand selection. With less than 20 big blinds the suited connectors can no longer be played profitably. Small pairs generally can not profitably call re-raises and suited ace-small should hit the much. With 10 to 15 big blinds people are looking to make a stand with any pair and many aces, here the value of Ace-Jack + and mid pairs increases. Remember that many of your opponents will be feeling desperate at this stage, the hands they raise with may well be ‘lighter’ than before.

Tournament Starting Hands Guide – The Later Stages

As the final table of a poker tournament approaches those speculative hands which were unplayable in the mid-stages often become playable once again. Since so many players will be tightening up looking to make the last 9 you can steal with many hands, and those suited connectors have a better chance of winning a pot those times you are called than many high-card hands, since you are unlikely to be dominated. At this stage your opponent’s behavior is more important than your actual hand in many circumstances. For example if there are micro-stacks at the table then you can easily steal blinds from middle sized stacks, who will not want to bust out before the micro-stack player does.

Tournament Starting Hands Guide – Summing Up

Key to starting hand selection in poker tournaments is awareness of the situation around you including the tendencies of opponents, stack and blind sizes and the proximity of the paying spaces. We think categorizing hands into these 4 simple groups will help beginning players to focus on those situations – and adjust their playing strategy to maximize profits from weaker opponents.

Further Reading For Poker Tournament Fans:

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