Poker Tournament Starting Hands Part II

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Poker Tournament Starting Hands Part II

The previous article on tournament poker starting hands (Part I of II) identified Harrington’s basic/conservative starting hand ranges.  However we must remember that Harrington’s starting hand guide is just one of the many that is used in poker.  David Slansky, for example, posited his own different guide. 

This article will cover some more advanced theory for playing starting hands pre-flop.  It outlines hands which re playable according to your position and your opponents.

Premium Starting Hands: AA, KK, QQ and AK

These are the top 5% of poker tournament starting hands.  The first rule of poker tournaments is to never slow play top hands.  Each of these hands should always be raised pre-flop (other actions can be made for appropriate reasons however).  For AK or QQ from early position, you should really be folding to any 3bets, or if there has been an opening raise of two bets with many players yet to act.

OK Starting Hands:  JJ, 1010, 99, 88, AQ, AJ + High Suited Connectors

These hands are good, but definitely not considered premium hands.  You should rarely play these hands from EP and you should be folding to raises from UTG.  The problem with these hands in early position is that calling/re-raising puts you in a positional disadvantage.  You’ll have to act first on the flop, turn and river, and at most you only be slight favourite.  Overall, with many players left to act there is negative EV playing these starting hands from early position.

However, in late position (and mid position on tight table) these hands should be played like the premium hands above.  On a dry/tight table with an average VPIP% < 15% you should actively be raising these hands in mid-late position.  If there are many limpers then you could definitely be holding the best hand.  You should also be prepared to insta-fold however to a re-raise or check-raise from EP (you will most likely be behind).

Situational Starting Hands: KQ, QJ, Axs, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77 and Low Suited Connectors

These are the type of hands where you need implied value.  Your aim should be to see the flop as cheaply as possible without committing more than 10% of your stack. We should rarely play these hands from early position at all (except for late mid-final stages).  They should only be played from late position with many limpers.  They can often be quite profitable; however you should fold to any raise (unless there are many limpers and you are sure no one will re-raise).  You should also never call raises with KQ, JQ or Ax because these are dominated hands (hands with no potential).

Marginal Starting Hands: J10, 109, Ax and Suited Cards

These are the worst hands and you should never call a raise regardless of your position.  These are highly speculative hands and the ones that get people in most trouble.  At best these are stealing hands (i.e. you do not want to get called).  A big source of trouble with these hands is the negative implied odds of you making a hand that also improves your opponents (so you will almost always be behind).

Junk Starting Hands: Everything Else

These should never be played with except from the big blind in an non-raised pot.

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