The Strongest Poker Hands – Before and After the Flop
Before the flop is dealt, the strongest hands are easy to spot. Aces, Kings and Queens top the list – with Ace-King not far behind.
The relative strength of poker hands in Texas Hold’em changes as the community cards are dealt. While all sorts of starting hands can hit the flop, there are certain categories which are more likely to turn into hidden monsters.
This page covers the top 10 poker hands, before the flop – and then all the way to the river. This includes:
Pocket Aces rule the rankings before the flop. If you are dealt this hand, you’ll win 80% of the time against any single hand your opponent could hold by the river.
Key to success in poker is not to get married to the top 10 starting hands after the flop. There are several factors to consider. While you can often assume that your premium starting hand is still best (and bet it accordingly), a clear assessment of the risks is always useful.
When you see a flop, think about the following:
These questions highlight an error that many new players make with premium hands. If you limp or call, instead of raising with those aces – you can end up in a tricky spot. You could see a wet flop (lots of potential draws available) with multiple opponents who might have random holdings. If you have to act first in the betting, the situation looks even trickier. Here your hand is too strong to give up on, though if you get a lot of action on subsequent betting rounds, you could be in trouble!
Playing good hands strongly, and raising a few outside the top 5 for balance, is a great way to avoid too many tough spots on the flop.
When the turn or river card completes a flush (for example) and your opponent comes out firing with a big bet, you need to ask yourself how often you are beaten.
The wrong question to ask here is ‘how often do players make flushes by the river?’. You have some additional information. If your opponent called a bet on the flop, or even raised, then they are likely to have some kind of hand. If they continued all the way, only to re-raise you at the end when their card hit – you might just be in trouble.
Getting ‘married’ to over-pairs can be expensive in these situations. What is demonstrates is that even the top 10 starting hands can be losers in certain run-outs. You’ll need to use your judgement to decide whether your opponent might be bluffing in the scenario above. This can be based on the player, their bet sizing in the hand and your history with that opponent. In my experience, players at the smallest stakes are not bluffing frequently enough in this type of spot to make this a profitable call.
With the dynamics or poker hand strength changing as the community cards come out, playing in position is a great way to optimise your profits. This simply refers to acting last in the betting on the flop, turn and river betting rounds. The player with the ‘Dealer’ button position acts last – though keep in mind that acting last relative to the raiser pre-flop is a different factor.
When you are last to act, you can get away from hands when there is a raise and a re-raise ahead of you. It is always an option to bet out and steal a pot you might otherwise have given up on when everyone checks to you as well.
Position strategy goes a lot deeper than this. When you are starting out, keep in mind that acting last + having a top 10 poker hand is the best spot to be in!
As you gain experience playing on different board-textures, and against different types of opponents – spotting those times when your pocket aces are second best becomes a lot easier.
While some opponents keep betting at any pot where they have a piece of the board (or a draw in some cases), other opponents are more cautious. If someone who usually limps and calls suddenly wakes up with big bets, this is a great sign that you could be beaten. I have seen opponents play passively for hours, and suddenly check-raise when they made the top flush. If you pay those types off, it is down to you not paying attention – rather than bad luck.