Poker Lesson 15

More on starting hands – and what can happen on the flop
Having come this far, it is useful to look at some of the mathematical realities behind the good starting hands you are hoping to pick up, and what their chances of improving on the flop are. You have already been given some examples in earlier lessons, and here are more hard facts!

The chances of picking up a pair as your starting hand, ANY pair, is only 1 in 17 – no higher! A high pair such as pocket Jacks or better you will only pick up 1 time in 55.

Two cards of different values, and which are both Jack or higher AND of the same suit, you will also pick up only 1 time in 55. Two such high cards, suited OR unsuited, you will be dealt 1 time in 14. If you are willing to accept two different-valued cards both Ten or higher, suited or unsuited, the chances are slightly less than 1 in 8. (Such a starting hand with two high but different cards, 10 or higher, is sometimes called "a twenty" with a term borrowed from blackjack.)

As you can see so-called premium hands, meaning really good starting hands, are rare in Texas hold'em. Over half of the times when picking up your starting cards you will simply look down at two number cards such as 9-4, or a "paint" (= K, Q or J) plus a number card, which you usually should fold without a second thought. If you decide to be so "tight" that you will not enter a pot unless you are holding a pair of Sevens or higher, or two high cards none of which is below a Jack, this will only happen 1 time in 9.

What are your chances of improving your hand on the flop? The flop is a critical moment in hold'em: in one stroke your hand goes up from two cards to five, defining not only your own hand but also the hands of the other players.

If you have two different-valued cards in hand, the chances are 1 in 4 that the flop will give you a pair; 1 in 49 that it will give you two pairs; and 1 in 74 that it will give you trips (three of a kind). The total chances of improving such a hand is about 1 in 3,5, if you include the extremely long odds against hitting a full house or four of a kind.

If you start with a pocket pair, the chances are about 1 in 8,5 that the flop will give you trips. If you start with two cards of the same suit, the chances are 1 in 119 that the flop will give you a full flush, and 1 in 9 that it will give you four cards to a flush ("a flush draw"). Two cards of the same suit is however not an uncommon thing: every fourth starting hand will look like that. Two HIGH cards of the same suit, both Ten or higher, are however more rare: only 1 time in 33.

You should thus be aware of the fact that really good starting hands are not very common, which demands that you should learn to play certain other categores of starting hands as well – but more about those in future lessons.