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Building a No-Limit Hold’em Starting Hand Chart – Early Position Standards

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They said it couldn’t be done. They meaning me. A starting hand chart for no-limit? Can’t be done. There are too many variables. For as long as I’ve been writing about poker, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with starting hand charts. Mostly skewed towards hate. They are, by their nature, quite imprecise. Yet they have an air of faux precision about them that impels some people to quote them as gospel. No matter how many disclaimers I put in about how this is just a guide or suggestion, and good players will alter the plays from this chart based on situational variables, yada yada, I see over and over again people saying, “Raising is bad because Ed Miller’s chart from four years ago said to limp.” Ugh.

But I do also love them. I think for many players they do more good than harm. They give people confidence and point them in the right direction. Used correctly, a starting hand chart can be a big boost.

I’ve always thought a true starting hand chart for no-limit was out of reach. Preflop play in no-limit cash games is very malleable; a wide array of different styles and strategies can work well, and your opponents’ stack sizes and styles matter a lot also. But then I got this question from Wayne:

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on NL and believe I am starting to absorb some of the concepts. I just bought Professional NL Holdem and will start reading that shortly.

Unfortunately, I feel like I am learning the game backwards. Even though I have a reasonable understanding of many of the post flop concepts, I have absolutely no idea which hands to play from various positions, how much to raise, what hands to call a raise with, what hands to re-raise with etc…. preflop.

When I learned limit from SSH, I used the starting hand charts as a basis for my play and slowly made adjustments over time to isolate weak players, steal more often, plays some extra hands when condition warranted etc… I feel like a need some kind of cookie cutter pre flop standards to help me get going, but when I’ve looked at the Harrington book and Theory and Practice, the standards are different enough to keep me lost.

Can you give me some advice on how I could build a starting hand chart just to get through the first few months of play so I don’t make any terrible mistakes?

And I figured, what the heck. Let’s try to build a decent starting hand chart, step-by-step, on NPA. I’ll write about the reasoning that goes into the chart. Then at the end we’ll compile the whole thing. That way, if someone (mis)reads the chart without the reasoning behind it, which is the most important part, it’s not hanging over my head. :)

This post is part of the Poker Made Simple series. As with the other articles in the series, the emphasis here will be on solid concepts and ease of understanding. I’m not going to talk about every exception, condition, or possibility. My goal is to build a basic, serviceable starting hand chart that shouldn’t get people into too much trouble in the worst of circumstances. You won’t find the Holy Grail here.

Let’s get on with the chart-building.

For the chart I’ll assume we’re playing 10-handed and that the stacks are mostly roughly 100BB. If you play 6-handed, you can still use the chart, just start with the later positions. The stack size assumption is important, because different sizes can change hand values drastically.

Early position is the first four spots, that is, from four to seven off the button. In general, you simply don’t want to play in early position. It will leave you out of position and vulnerable for the remainder of the hand.

In particular, you don’t want to call raises from early position. Not only does a raise increase the stakes (while you’re in a precarious position), but it also gives the initiative to another player and escalates the postflop betting. Being out of position starts you at an information deficit. Then with escalated betting, you may have only one or at most two postflop bets to figure out “where you’re at” before you have to commit to your hand. Combined, these factors will leave you often guessing in tough decisions, which is decidedly not how you make money at no-limit.

The answer is simply not to play. Some hands are so good that you can win with them despite the problems. But most aren’t. That includes some good-looking hands like A :club: 8 :club: or A :spade: T :heart: or T :diamond: 9 :diamond: . Out of position these hands will bring you headaches, not profits. Avoid them.

So what is worth playing? Pocket pairs (up to and including deuces) are virtually always worth playing if no one has raised yet. And usually they’ll be worth it for a single normal-sized raise. Ace-king is also worth playing. I tend also to play AQs-ATs, KQs, and AQo. Often I fold even AJo and KQo, and since I’d like this chart to be nice and conservative out of position, I’ll recommend you fold them here too.

Before we go any further, I want to debunk a common no-limit myth. There are two words that have almost magical meaning to many no-limit players, encouraging them to play any and all hands as long as the stacks are deep enough. They are “implied odds.” The thought process goes like this:

“Sure, T :club: 8 :diamond: isn’t a very good hand. But every once in a while it’ll make a monster. And if I catch someone with top pair when I flop, say, two pair, trips, or a straight, I’ll win a whopper that will make up for all the little preflop bets I lose when I miss.”

It’s an alluring thought. And it can be used to justify playing nearly any hand there is. Unfortunately, the logic is basically bogus. Why?

Well, the goal of winning poker is to get an edge over your opponents. Whenever you think about playing a hand, don’t think about how you could win with the hand, think about how it will give you an advantage. Everyone gets dealt two cards. How do your two cards give you enough of a leg up on the competition that you’ll beat the rake on average?

Say you played with 10,000BB stacks (now that’s deep). Theoretically, even 72 could flop a big hand often enough to turn a profit if you managed to stack your opponents most of the time. But if you’re winning with 72, then what are your opponents doing with JT or QQ or K6? Are they all winning too? Does everyone win once the stacks are deep enough?

Of course not. Poker is zero sum (less than that if there’s a rake). If you are a long-term winner on average with your hand, then someone else must necessarily be a long-term loser with theirs. If you have 72, then what hands are you victimizing?

Well, it is indeed possible to make money with 72 with a deep stack, but you need something beyond your cards to build that edge for you. One thing you can do is concentrate on building bigger pots with your winning hands and losing smaller pots with your losing ones. That is one way to generate an edge. Another way is to steal. Since 72 will make a hand less often than your opponents’ hands, you need to steal a lot more to compensate.

So sure, any two cards can make a hand and win a big pot. But each of your opponents gets two cards too, and that’s exactly what they’re thinking, “If I make a big hand, I can win a big pot.” That’s not where your major edge is going to be. You’re going to steal smarter. You’re going to steal more often. And you’re going to win more with your medium-strength (e.g., two pair) hands than they do.

So what’s the point? The point is that out of position with bad cards, you don’t have an edge. Your opponents have cards too, and they have position on you. It’s easy to get seduced by “implied odds” and play small cards out of position, but the reality is that those implied odds are mostly illusory. If you’re in early position, just fold. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief.

So I’ll recommend playing pocket pairs, AK, AQ, and some of the big suited hands in early position. Occasionally you can mix it up with a hand like T9s, but basically stick to those hands. In the next installment of the Building a No-Limit Hold’em Starting Hand Chart series, I talk about when and why to raise or limp, how to choose a raise size, and then hammer out the chart suggestions for early position.

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50 Responses to “Building a No-Limit Hold’em Starting Hand Chart – Early Position Standards”

@ Thu Aug 23, 2007 03:03:12 PM


“My goal is to build a basic, serviceable starting hand chart that should get people into too much trouble in the worst of circumstances”

I think you mean “shouldn’t”. Unless I was wrong about you… :)

@ Thu Aug 23, 2007 03:19:29 PM

Freudian slip there Ed?

“get people into too much trouble in the worst of circumstances”

I mean getting into trouble in the worst of circumstances is bad enough… but “too” much trouble??? isn’t that kind of pushing it?

I was joking about Helmuth, I might have to change my mind now… ;)

@ Thu Aug 23, 2007 03:39:48 PM

Ed –

You’re chart is right on the money so far!! Doh!

I need to make money.

Please don’t complete the chart!! ;)

Well… most donks don’t know about this site so I guess it’s OK ;) (we appreciate you a lot Ed, but we want to keep you as our “secret” weapon)

Early position, tables of 10 I have been limping in with AK. My thought process is why raise with AK in such early position??? It generates so little fold equity… (just the blinds when everyone folds) and if anything it leaves you wide open to being raised off of it with inferior hands, or being manipulated occasionally by the big dogs (AA and KK and in many cases lower PP who hit their sets)

Ed – do you see limping with AK in early position as the best thing to do?

@ Thu Aug 23, 2007 03:48:38 PM

I am digging on limping with AK often in EP. But for the matter I am digging on doing the same with AA and KK. I like to play some of those SC’s but I am trying to find spots where maybe that isn’t the best play after all.

@ Thu Aug 23, 2007 04:09:17 PM

threads13 – I limp AA and KK in early position also.

Limp AA early, let the donks have fun, calling, raising, re-raising…aren’t the donks cute… then when the action is back on me the hammer drops… ALL-IN… the fun is over.

So what if everyone folds… I’ll take the free money… and occasionally a donk calls and I clean him out… dude turns over AK calling my limp to all-in… he says “I have AK” so proud, so strong… I’m like that’s very nice… for me… “AA” suffer you clown…

big mutha
@ Thu Aug 23, 2007 04:49:12 PM

“why raise with AK in such early position???”

Because broadway hands such as AK diminish in value in multiway pots (especially if you’re playing full ring). You’re basically drawing to TPTK with AK, and by not raising you’re letting people with suited connectors etc. overlimp and see a cheap flop. Many times you also won’t know where you stand on the flop even if you catch a piece of it. So it’s kind of a thin-the-field-semi-bluff-pre-flop-raise :)

@ Thu Aug 23, 2007 05:36:31 PM


In the preflop strategy in NLTAP it is stated that you can usually limp with 54s+ and suited aces in early position. Did you reconsider this perspective or is it because you are keeping the chart here on the more conservative side?

I don’t have the book with me, so maybe there were some stated conditions I am missing.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 08:13:36 AM


I don’t have it in front of me either, but I thought those usually limp hands were from middle position, not early. I seem to recall that the NLTAP ranges were still pretty tight in EP, even for limping.

I also like how we’re using more like the Tommy Angelo definitions of early. Pretty much everything before the hijack. I started working this into my game after listening to an interview of his and I really like it. I still limp a bit in traditional middle position more so than EP, but I’ve tweaked my raising standards to give a much wider EP. You just can’t push through too many people. I find I’m leaking less with a number of marginal hands in the middle.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 09:44:38 AM


great idea! The most important sentence to me is: “I’ll write about the reasoning that goes into the chart.”

Most starting hand charts tell you what to do with a hand in a certain posititon (raise to X, fold, etc.), but not WHY. In LHE I made a big leap in my preflop game when I thought about what I want to accomplish with my starting hand like: Do I want to flop top pair, a draw, a set, …? How many people would I want in the hand if I get the flop I aim for? How big is my fold equity vs. the current opponents at the table?

Thinking about those criteria made me realize that A3o might look good because of the ace, but actually is junk, because neither flopping an ace (bad kicker) nor a 3 (small pair) would make me happy.

I think it’s extremely helpful to think about where your starting hand might take you. Then it’s much easier to decide whether to fold, call or raise (and now that we have target SPR we even have a concept for deciding by HOW MUCH we should raise, not just the typical AKs = 5BB).

Or as some wise guys said: “Plan your hand!” :)

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 11:16:25 AM

I agree that I think AK is a semi-bluff hand pre-flop. You make money with AK pre-flop in 2 ways… #1 If everyone folds to your raise (fold-equity), and #2 If you hit your hand on the flop (of course you can bluff the flop if you miss, but that’s uncertain)

Since AK is a semi-bluff hand preflop why not capitalize on that fact. Limp in early position with it, and then re-raise hard with it to any raises.

This gains you additional fold equity and gets you the initiative.

COLD raising with AK UTG to me is a donk move. “It narrows the field”. AK is hardly a made hand, and out of position it’s even worse. COLD raising UTG with AK generate minimal fold equity, and if anything if you get callers it inflates the pot with a hand you don’t want an inflated pot with.

If you limp in early position with AK and no one raises then you still get to see the flop for cheap, and at least this way the pot is not inflated, and if you miss, you miss… big deal. You have 1BB invested.

I have always viewed tournament players as inferior poker players, and I still do. Tournament players are cowboys, more concerned about the glory, then winning money. I play poker to make money, not for glory.

Cold Raising UTG with AK into a table of 10 to me is a grand recipe for disaster.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 11:27:06 AM

One last thing…

Any PP in position owns AK out of position any day of the week.

You miss your flop with AK, that over-pair is going to raise your bet on the flop.

Hit your flop, and that occasional small PP is going to take you with a set.

AK out of position = high risk, little reward.

And at a table of 10 your AK out of position is going against PP again… and again… and again…

Keep raising into me with your AK out of position, and my 22 in position is going to take all of your money.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 11:49:08 AM

I agree that I think AK is a semi-bluff hand pre-flop.

I don’t agree with this so much. AK is often going to be the best hand pre-flop and will very often be the best hand on the flop even unimproved. You’re raising AK for value and not as a bluff.

Any PP in position owns AK out of position any day of the week.

Any PP in position owns AK out of position any day of the week.

I think you’d have a hard time making this true n practice. There are just so many boards that you won’t be able to continue with even with position. Unless your villain is going to c-bet and check/fold with all his unimproved hands, you’re going to have to fold up shop even in position. Are you really going to commit to a pot with a QT77 board with 22 when the villain fires a second barrel?

I’m fine with calling raises with small pairs, but I really think you are overestimating their post-flop advantage even with position.

AK certainly isn’t the nuts, but it is far from 2 napkins. I think that you are giving up significant value if you roll over and give up the initiative with your strong high card hands.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 11:52:05 AM


There is some merit to what you are saying but it really is stack-size/opponent dependent. If you are raising it and getting called and you only have a PSB on the flop then you can push this flop a lot and it be a +EV play.

If you raise it and get called be a good player who will often float you and make your life hard, then raising is less appealing.

Don’t forget to think about the FE you get with raising and then betting the flop. You will make a lot of ‘better’ hands fold and will sometimes get called bet ‘worse’ hands.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 12:28:22 PM

Todd… Threads13…

I firmly believe AK is the most over-rated hand in poker. the most over-valued and the most over-played…

If I had 22 in position to a raise pre-flop (which in this case is AK in early position). If I did not hit my flop with the 22 in position then I would fold to any continuation bet by the AK out of position. (because my 22 would be going up against 3 overs on the flop) So I think you mis-read what I said todd.

But if my 22 hit on the flop in position and so did the AK out of position, then the AK is in for a ride… he will bet the flop… and will suffer as I manipulate him.

But If I had JJ in position vs. a raise preflop by AK out of position, the AK often will C-bet like you said with the initiative, but with my JJ if I had an over-pair on the flop I would raise his C-bet regardless, then the AK in early position is screwed.

I agree raising in EP with AK for value against donks is good. But raising EP with AK against good players is a loser in the long run. AK out of position is going to be betting that flop many times if he hits his flop or not, but this is leaving him wide open to non-donks with over-pairs, and lower pairs which have hit sets.

Even against donks (who love to raise with crap) I would still limp… then re-raise big with the AK to generate greatest fold equity even before seeing a flop. If anyone calls its usually heads up and you can dominate.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 12:37:39 PM


Again I agree with a majority of your points. My point is that you have to take into account the player’s tendencies. If you know they will call you with AT or something then a raise becomes good. You also have to take into account their stack sized. If that stacks are not deep enough, or not short enough, then playing 22 as you mentioned is no good.

Now JJ is a significantly better hand that 22 so making the comparison is kinda the old apple to oranges thing. Not quite, of course but there is a significant difference between the two even though they are both PP’s.

I do agree that AK is often a misunderstood and misplayed hand, but it can be a very potent hand when used correctly. However, as PNL teaches us, it can be a difficult hand with a SPR of 13 OOP against a good player.

Used correctly sometimes means limping, yes. I wouldn’t make any absolute statements though.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 12:41:28 PM

I firmly believe AK is the most over-rated hand in poker. the most over-valued and the most over-played…

This is so true. Half of it’s value is that you can get away from it unimproved. I think a lot of people miss that part.

Even against donks (who love to raise with crap) I would still limp… then re-raise big with the AK to generate greatest fold equity even before seeing a flop. If anyone calls its usually heads up and you can dominate.

I do like to pull this play out of the bag from time to time. Last time I pulled it out, I was a bit short stacked, ended up getting shoved on and sorta hadda call and hope for QQ or JJ. Sadly it was AA. Doh. Even more sadly I was playing 2-4 which I don’t play all that often. Double Doh!

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 12:44:57 PM


It’s all about stack size is totally correct.

I would never call with 22 in position to a raise pre-flop unless I had some serious implied odds to destroy the guy (we are both playing deep).

JJ is much better than 22. But if everyone is playing deep, you can easily call a raise (within reason) with 22.

I always play deep, so calling raises with 22 in position is usually pretty easy against other deep players.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 12:50:14 PM

yeah todd … that re-push is scarey… especially if you are deep… short its a no brainer…

my favorite trick is the old limp in EP with AA, then push all-in…

donks call with AK/AQ its great!

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 12:57:17 PM

I had already decided the line before limping. My re-raise was big enough to commit me, so the call was easy getting close to 2-1 on my money and holding an A and a K. It is tough to represent AA when the other guy has AA, though. They just never believe you.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 01:00:02 PM

AK can put pressure on opponents. You raise with AA and KK, why not AK UTG? Now you have widened your range for UTG and will get paid more when you have AA,KK. I would add QQ too. Now you have 18 hands (QQ+) and 16 hands (AK) with which to keep your opponents off balance.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 01:03:43 PM

AK can put pressure on opponents. You raise with AA and KK, why not AK UTG? Now you have widened your range for UTG and will get paid more when you have AA,KK. I would add QQ too. Now you have 18 hands (QQ+) and 16 hands (AK) with which to keep your opponents off balance. Part of the semi-bluff success with AK works for fear of future bets if you have KK or AA. When you c-bet, your opponent will have to consider your range which is QQ+, AK. You should take it down often enough with that range and you will also make strong hands sufficiently often (even set’s). Don’t limp with AK early unless it is a balancing strategy.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 01:08:01 PM


I agree with you again about JJ, 22. I agree that you can often call raise with both preflop. My point is that they will play very differently after that point. JJ can often continue where 22 can’t, as you know. I was just saying that you can’t really completely compare them vs. AK since there is a big gap between the two. It didn’t have much to do with the argument just wanted to point it out for completeness.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 02:49:17 PM

Those of you who would cold raise UTG with AKo what would you raise to? 5BB, 10BB, 20BB?

(Assuming everyone has 100BB stacks, table of 10, and you are playing into a combination of donks and good players.)

At what point does your raise become reckless?

How would you respond to a re-raise? (assuming this is your first hand at the table)

If you called a re-raise would you continue and c-bet the flop even if you missed?

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 02:52:44 PM

If no one calls your raise UTG then you gain minimal fold equity. And if you get re-raised you lose the initiative.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 02:55:23 PM

In EP, I raise to 5 or 6 BB with 100BB. If I end up with 1 caller, I have a manageable SPR of 6ish if I flop top pair. Typical top pair line is PSB on the flop for 15BB leaving a pot of 45BB with 80BB behind. C/R all-in on the turn if it gets that far. It’s a nice line to keep people from floating on you. You stack AQ and AJ more than you get stacked, I think.

The really nice property is that it really does slow down the folks that float on you.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 03:01:25 PM

With 100BB against decent players I would tend to limp it and then reraise. If I have a couple loose players likely to call I agree with Todd. However, if I have a bunch of opponents that tend to fold too much on the flop I will tend to make a 3x or 4x raise and plan on stealing being my big plan. If that is my plan I will conversely tend to be checking the flop when I hit because of my SPR and I don’t get value from them folding the worse hand when I am way ahead.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 03:07:26 PM

Todd –

I like that AK vs. AQ stacking strat. Playing against sets would still scare me with that C/R all-in on the turn.

In general how would you respond to a re-raise on the flop?

Personally if you bet into me on the flop and I had AQ, and Had top pair, I would raise you to find out where you were at. Would you still continue the aggression even if you got re-raised on the flop?

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 03:08:55 PM

Limp re-raise is nice too. Mostly, if I’m raising in EP, I’m raising a bit more to size the pot better. And as threads said, 2 callers is better than 1 in terms of pot size.

Much also depends on the nature of the table. If no one is floating your c-bets or otherwise hassling you, you may not be looking to run that c/r play. There are times when a delayed c-bet works well. Keeps the pot smaller. Disguises your hand a bit.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 03:20:41 PM

To be perfectly honest with you, I feel 100 times more comfortable playing 22 UTG than AK.

If I had my choice, I would rather be delt 22 in place of every AK I get. 22 is so simple!! hehe!

AK seems to be a very psychological hand.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 03:23:02 PM

I like that AK vs. AQ stacking strat. Playing against sets would still scare me with that C/R all-in on the turn.

I’m not going to lie to you, you will stack off with this play. I think on balance, though, it’s a net positive.

Personally if you bet into me on the flop and I had AQ, and Had top pair, I would raise you to find out where you were at.

I don’t normally take this line with AQ and position. I think you see far more smooth calls on the flop than you would see raises. At least full ring. I don’t know about 6-max. That game is a lot more aggressive I think.

What I do with a re-raise is really read dependent. If the guy hasn’t moved a chip in 3 orbits and min-raises me, I might give it up. If the guy has been 3-betting me and I’ve had to give up some hands, I’m going to get it in. I play a pretty volatile game, though.

@ Fri Aug 24, 2007 04:27:28 PM

Would anyone happen to know the odds of going against AA or KK when holding AK?

At a table of 10?

At a table of 6?

@ Sat Aug 25, 2007 07:26:14 AM

Do you also suggest to only play PPs, AQs-ATs, KQs, and AQo UTG at 6max?

@ Sat Aug 25, 2007 08:24:28 AM

IMO this depends on the preflop-play of your opponents. If they are more loose-passive, it is great to see cheap flops with weaker hands like suited connectors. even if its raised to 4BB and some others will call (no 3bet addicts please), i often can call the raise then with stuff like 76s. ok position isnt great then, but with T9s against for example three others i get good odds, and its definately an easy fold/call/raise if i see the flop.
When the preflop play is more aggressive, with button raising KJo to 4BB and the BB then 3bets with 77, you see yourself folding too much UTG limps or getting involved in not so easy situations OOP.
The more starting hands you want to play UTG, the better you have to LAG-steal on the turn/river.

Gaston Jeremy
@ Sat Aug 25, 2007 09:42:27 AM

Ducks, I am not 100% sure about this but..

There are (50*49)/2 = 1225 pocket hands left to deal (ignoring the order) if you have any random AK.

Since you have AK, there are 3 possible AA and 3 possible KK combinations among those 1225 hole cards.

So we have 1219 PC’s that are not AA/KK and 6 PC’s that are either AA or KK.

At a table of 6:
The propability that atleast one of the other 5 players have either KK or AA would then be:

1 – (None of the other 5 players have AA/KK)

1 – (1219/1225*1218/1224*1217/1223*1216/1222*1215/1221)
which is about 0.0243 = 2.43%

At a table of 10:
1 – (1219/1225*….*1210/1216) = 0.0481 = 4.81%

Gaston Jeremy
@ Sat Aug 25, 2007 09:53:54 AM

Just a quick note to the above post.
A random AK is just one of the >>1326

Gaston Jeremy
@ Sat Aug 25, 2007 10:00:48 AM

It seems that part of my previous post was sliced (possibly due to typing the “

Gaston Jeremy
@ Sat Aug 25, 2007 10:01:30 AM

It seems that part of my previous post was sliced again, it was meant to be like this:

Just a quick note to the above post.
A random AK is just one of the 1326 possible PC’s. My calculations are based on the fact that a random AK is totally removed from the deck first, leaving 1225 PC’s possible for the rest of the players.

Sorry for my english, it’s not my native language.

@ Tue Aug 28, 2007 01:04:42 PM

Well, I’m only halfway through reading the great AK debate above, and I won’t finish it during my lunch hour. But I did want to throw in a comment:

I firmly believe AK is the most over-rated hand in poker. the most over-valued and the most over-played…

I’m certainly no expert, and I misplay AK my fair share. But in my experience people who believe AK is overrated are often those who misplay it frequently. It does have the downside that it rarely makes better than top pair. But it has the significant upside that it never makes a pair less than top pair; always outkicks any other top pair; beats any other unpaired hand in a showdown; and on the rare occasions that it makes two pair, a straight, or a one-card flush, it beats similar hands made by lower cards.

In some games I’m growing fond of limp-reraising AK (especially where people will interpret this to mean I have queens or better), but limping AK just because I’m afraid I’ll miss the flop is a misunderstanding of poker. The real value of raising AK is in getting called by dominated hands. The implied odds on outkicking a naive opponent with AJo or K9s are pretty good. And if both of us “miss”, that’s a misnomer, because I didn’t really miss. I flopped the better hand. Only tricky opponents will regularly bluff-raise CBs with ace-high.

Now, if I get called four ways, that’s different. I’m no longer hoping AK unimproved holds up to showdown. Now I’m getting a great overlay to flop my 2:1 shot at TPTK. It’s not perfect, because some aces and kings are probably disproportionately dead, and I might flop TPTK and pay off a bigger hand. But my dominated opponents have made a serious error, if they knew what my cards were.

You raise AK for value. You might also get some semibluffing opps against 55 on a queen-high flop, but you’re mostly hoping weaker aces and kings call you.

@ Tue Aug 28, 2007 04:48:34 PM

Y’know, I’ve been thinking about much of the above, but not so eloquently or as clearly. Thanks for being able to put it into words. I agree with you – and sure, every once in a while someone might mine themselves a set, but there are so many times that AK is the best hand that’d it’d be a shame to keep it in the raising closet, so to speak. Besides, it really is a hand where you’d rather see fewer opponents, so I would have thought that a raise is usually in order, no? Thanks for being able to put up a better argument than I could – even in your lunch hour. :)

@ Tue Aug 28, 2007 04:59:47 PM


looks like it’s about time you jump in with the first part of your starting hands chart… :)

@ Tue Aug 28, 2007 08:54:57 PM

WOW…DucksTakinDownAKSuffer, you have made some horrendous replies to this article.

I for one am hoping Ed comes back and addresses some of the things posted here.

Limping AK in EP is pretty bad IMO!

What I don’t understand is that you state “I firmly believe AK is the most over-rated hand in poker. the most over-valued and the most over-played…” and then you say that you like to “Limp in early position with it, and then re-raise hard with it to any raises.” LOL.. umm, I love the irony!

BTW, why do you assume that you are gonna stack someone when you hit your set? Even if they hit, a decent (doesn’t even have to be all that good) can get away from TPTK if their opponent is screaming that they have the best hand.

So let’s say that I 4x AK UTG and you flat PF. 6 out of seven times you are gonna miss your set and have given me 6x4BBs = 24BBs. One the 7th time you hit and I miss. So you get 4BBs + ~6BBs from a C-Bet = 10BBs. For you to stack me, I’m gonna have to hit the flop pretty hard as well, as I don’t plan on stacking off w/ TPTK unless I am short, but then I am shoving ANY flop and you can not exploit me.

Yeah, If the flop comes AA2 or even AK2, you may stack me, but w/ a AA2 flop, I’m still gonna win 15% of the time.

Personally if you bet into me on the flop and I had AQ, and Had top pair, I would raise you to find out where you were at.

So you limp AK in EP and cold-call w/ AQ and raise flop to “see where he is at”? I’m guessing you are folding to a reraise? What if he calls? Say he calls and it goes c/c on the turn and he 3/4 pots the river? What is your plan? I think raising is usually bad against a good player here because it lets them play there hand well. You can call the flop bet and have the chance to check behind the turn quite often allowing you to keep the pot small. Bloating the pot w/ TP2K is pretty bad.

If you called a re-raise would you continue and c-bet the flop even if you missed?

Why would anyone “c-bet” here if you missed AND you were not the last PF aggressor? If you are 3bet and you call, you CAN NOT C-bet, since C-bets are only from the last PF aggressor.

Those of you who would cold raise UTG with AKo what would you raise to? 5BB, 10BB, 20BB?

LOL @ raising 20BBs PF w/ AK. Yes, some live games are like that, it still doesn’t mean that you should do it. Raising it up 4-5BBs should be good for basically any game.

One last question.. you are limping AA/KK/AK UTG in an attempt to LRR. What ARE you raising then? QQ/JJ only? Do you raise anything from EP? In loose passive games it is HORRIBLE to limp AA/KK or even AK with the intention or LRR’ing. Many times you end up going 6 handed to the flop for 1BB each. I would much rather see a flop 2-3 handed for 4BBs each. Also LRR’ing AK in smaller games is going to kill you when some passive calls.. and when he does, you are drawing SUPER THIN. LRR’ing AA/KK in an aggro game from EP is fine since you know someone will be raising quite a bit especially after 3-4 limpers enter as someone looking to squeeze will be higher.

I played in an awesome 2/5 game this past weekend. It was faily loose and uber passive. I watched one guy go through 7 buy-ins in about 3 hours. In that span he lost w/ AA 3 times and KK one. He limped each of them in an attempt to trap. If he would of raised PF, he would of prabably won all of them. 2 for sure, since I stacked him twice myself, once w/ KTs where I turned a flush, and once w/ QJs where I flopped the nut straight. Both times I would of folded if he had raised a standard amount. This was a great game, to be in, but a horrible game to be limping big PPs in EP.

@ Tue Aug 28, 2007 08:59:38 PM

One minor correction…
on the AA2 flop, I’m still gonna win roughtly 23%, not 15% as I previously stated… my quick math was a bit off.
51,967,514 games 30.267 secs 1,716,969 games/sec

Board: Ac As 2h

equity win tie pots won pots tied
Hand 0: 22.927% 22.93% 00.00% 11914462 0.00 { AKs, AKo }
Hand 1: 77.073% 77.07% 00.00% 40053208 0.00 { 22 }

@ Tue Aug 28, 2007 10:14:20 PM

What I don’t understand is that you state “I firmly believe AK is the most over-rated hand in poker. the most over-valued and the most over-played…” and then you say that you like to “Limp in early position with it, and then re-raise hard with it to any raises.” LOL.. umm, I love the irony!

In fairness to Ducks (whose general approach I pretty much disagree with), that could be correct for a couple of reasons. First, reraising AK could be a semibluff to represent AA or KK. If you can get 88-JJ to fold to a limp/reraise, then you’ve pulled off a major coup. Secondly, by reraising you’re making the pot bigger, which makes AK easier to play out of position.

I’ll buy that AK loses more of its value out of position than say AA or KK. But when you get down to QQ, JJ, TT you’re also faced with some tough decisions playing OOP if you miss your set, especially against flopped overcards. I’m not sure that AK is really much tougher OOP than JJ, barring a set. It’s just that being out of position really sucks except for the few hands so powerful that they don’t mind as much.

Ed Miller
@ Tue Aug 28, 2007 11:04:11 PM

Sorry for the delay… next installment is coming soon… :)

@ Thu Aug 30, 2007 09:56:22 AM

Hello Ed,

While I don’t think hand charts and a starting requirement lists are bad, this is the wrong area players should be focusing on.
The money in No Limit Holdem comes from postflop play not your preflop one!

Now I understand why you are creating a Hand Chart. A lot of new players do not know a lot of the concept of poker and tehy make a lot of mistakes. These mistakes usually stem down from their preflop play, and can be avoided by good preflop selection.

However I feel this site is decicating too much time on selecting your preflop hands. The truth is the money (especially in short handed & 6max games) comes from your postflop play.
Essentially it doesnt really matter whether you open up 65s from the CO, or open A9o on the button. Every hand we play we want a positive EV at the end of it. Now some players especially new ones do not profit enough with these marginal hands, however we can increase their profitablity by knowing how to play well postflop.

Understanding a good preflop strategy does needs to be encorporated with your postflop strategy though. We cannot just say we open 65s on the CO everytime for no reason. We have to be knowing why we are doing this. For a lot of player this is not the case – they go about raising 65s in the CO in the essence of just ‘mixing it up’ and when they encounter postflop situation with these marginal hands they play poorly, mostly giving away their chips.

I think for the site to develop the area you should develop upon is oyur postflop one. The one where the big decision are made. Where the most money is won and lost. Does it really matter when you lost 4BB calling a wrong hand preflop, compared to losing a whole buyin on the river because you do not know how to play postflop.

@ Tue Sep 04, 2007 12:52:30 AM

Bravos1 –

I would never go to the felt if I limped with AK, AA, KK and never had the opportunity to re-raise big to gain some fold equity.

Only a donk would limp with AA, KK, AK etc… and let himself be felted.

You sound like a newbie to me Bravos.. meet me on full tilt so you can pay some of my bills.

I am a consistent winner on full tilt, and I never said I mis-play AK, but I have seen many many risk the house with AK and always come up short. Go-ahead and continue to over-value your precious AK.

Those guys you played with who got felted limping with AA and KK were donks!

Why would I limp UTG with AK and then re-raise big??? To gain fold equity!! What fold equity do you gain if you raise UTG initially!! NONE!!!

You only hit your flop with AK 33% of the time… it’s only common sense that a huge percentage of your winnings with AK is from fold equity!!! This is all within the scope of early position play.


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