Poker Tournament Starting Hands I

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Poker Tournament Starting Hands – Part I

Starting hands are perhaps the most important and easiest thing to grasp in MTTs.  Playing the wrong starting hands can cost you your tournament life.  If you play too tight, you won’t accumulate enough chips; and if you play too loose then you’ll bleed chips early.  This guide (Part I of II) will explain which starting hands you should play in a tournament.

Harrington’s Starting Hands for Poker Tournaments

Dan Harrington, propagator of the “M-theory” and author of the best-selling poker tournament book Harrington on Holdem, outlined the essential tournament poker starting hands.  The most important factor that determines your starting hand selection is table position. 

TAG Tournament Starting Hands

Early Position (first 2 players to act – UTG and EP): Pairs 10-10 to A-A; AK off suite; AQ suited

Middle Position (places 3-6 to act): Pairs 8-8+; A-J off suit or better, K-Q

Late Position (Button and Cut-Off): Pairs 7-7+, Any Ace + Suited Connectors J-10+

These starting hands act as a reference point for a conservative TAG player in the early stages of an MTT.  Players should raise these hands if no one has previously raised the pot.  However, when a player acting before you has already raised you need a hand from an earlier level in the chart to be able to call.  For example, if you are in middle position and someone has raised ahead of you, then you need an early position hand to call.   The chart not only outlines which hands to call with but also which to re-raise with (re-raises are usually 3xopening raise).

Change These Starting Hands for the Middle and Late Stages

The advantage to using this TAG starting hand range is that it will keep you out of trouble 90% of the time.  It avoids messy situations on later streets by ensuring you always have a better than your opponent pre-flop.  It also gives you respect for your pre-flop raises.

Unfortunately, as the tournament progresses you’ll need to play outside this system and mix up your game more.  You’ll need open up your game, for example playing the mid-position hands from above in early position instead. Low-mid pocket pairs also become good hands to raise with towards the mid-final stages regardless of your table position.

Playing Loosely/Aggressive in Tournaments

These starting hands are focused on a TAG style and only include your top 15% of hands.  Loose-aggressive players will need play way more hands than this, possibly up to 25%, and they will hit-back at weak players and limp from more position.  In fact, a LAG starting hand range can’t really be definate because so much of their strategy is based on textual situations rather than basic positional play i.e. bluffing.

As you develop as a player, you’ll will become aware of the advantages of “opening your game” and entertaining a more creative game.

Conclusion on These Basic Starting Hand Rules

Notice I have used the term “basic”.  This is intentional because the guide is limited for TAGs and only includes playing your top 15% of hands.  Some solid MTT players will open up their game more ofcourse, but for new players at least I think this expedient for positional pre-flop play.  For a more advanced article on tournament starting hand ranges, see our article: Poker Tournament Starting Hands Part II

One Response to “Poker Tournament Starting Hands I”

  1. Hand Variety - Poker Forums says:

    […] like fishinthesea says, play extremely tight when the blinds are small with premium hands, its ok to call the odd few hands when the blinds are tiny to see a flop, but otherwise play tight and aggressive. later on you can loosen up a bit and as the tourney goes on you'll have to play looser unless you're deep stacked to stay ahead of the blinds. heres a useful guide on basic hand strategy in mtts…rting-hands-i/ […]