Top 10 best poker hands and how the flop affects them
By Bob Garcia
There’s nothing quite like sitting at a poker table, peeking down at your cards, and seeing a huge hand. Whether it’s aces or ace-queen suited, the adrenaline immediately starts flowing through your body as your subconscious begins visualizing all the chips you’re about to add to your stack.
However, it’s important to take a moment to slow down and recognize that poker is primarily a game of unsecured edges, meaning that no two cards are “drawing dead” preflop. Even the very worst hand in the game – 72 off-suit – has about a 12% chance of beating the very best hand in the game – AA. Nowhere is this shift of edges more apparent than on the flop, where fortunes are won and lost every day thanks to people overplaying top-tier hands that are no longer so. With that in mind, let’s look at the 10 best starting hands in poker and then reflect on how they can be affected by the flop.
Top 10 Best Texas Hold’em Hands
Pocket Aces (AA)
Pocket Kings (KK)
Pocket Queens (QQ)
Pocket Jacks (JJ)
Ace-King Suited (AKs)
Pocket 10s (1010)
Ace-King Offsuit (AK)
Ace-Queen Suited (AQs)
Pocket 9s (99)
Ace-Jack Suited (AJs)
Of course, pocket aces is the hand all poker players dream about. It is a guarantee that the more money you pile into the pot with aces preflop, the better your bottom line will be in the long run. However, on any given flop, things can quickly change. With that said, aces will play favorably on many flops, especially on those that don’t include a pair (KKQ, for example) and aren’t overly connected (for example, 7h8h9h). As such, aces can be continued to be played aggressively on many flops.
Although there is always the soul-crushing possibility of running kings into aces preflop, by and large, you’re going to be fine getting as much money as possible into the pot preflop unless you’re up against an extremely tight opponent or a number of players all raising and reraising. However, it is a different story on the flop, where just a single ace might not only eliminate the bulk of the value of the hand, but also make it extremely difficult to extract chips from those hands that are still behind kings. In these situations, you likely want to tone down the aggression and employ some pot control.
Although queens dominate the vast majority of hands, they are rarely far ahead of the hands that seems to be looking for big action preflop. Even against a hand as “weak” (comparatively speaking) as AK off-suit, queens are only a little better than a coin-flop, being only a 56% favorite. That edge is reduced to 53% if the AK is suited. Things get even more dicey on the flop, where any ace or king can quickly have you scratching your head wondering how to proceed. As with kings on an ace-high flop, the problem isn’t just that you might now be behind, but that you will no longer have the ability to extract value from a worse hand (since they’re likely to assume you hit one of those two overcards). As such, queens must be played with much greater caution on many flops and are rarely going to hold a lot of strength when there’s a lot of betting action happening.
Notorious for being one of the most difficult hands to play, pocket jacks are a mishmash of strength and weakness. Although they sit high on the rankings of the best no limit hold’em poker hands, if you are facing a lot of action either preflop or on the flop, it is unlikely that you’re going to feel super confident piling your chips into the middle. Therefore, jacks are often best played more on the cautious side, performing best when employed as the open-raise or 3-bet that does not face further preflop raises or reraises. On the flop, pocket jacks will be looking to make sets or pick up extremely favorable flop textures before turning up the aggression. Otherwise, especially if there is heavy betting action, jacks can be played like other mid-pocket-pairs and thrown into the muck.
Although they might not technically be better than a hand like queens or jacks (or even 33!), there is something uniquely exciting about getting dealt ace-king suited preflop. This is a hand that can be played quite aggressively, though it’s infamous for being overplayed straight into a waiting pocket aces. However, even against a hand as powerful as KK, AKs is still very much alive with a 35% chance of putting a bad beat on one’s opponent. But perhaps the greatest beauty of the hand is that it plays incredibly well on a wide variety of flops, and when it doesn’t – especially when facing heavy flop betting action – it’s a fairly easy hand to throw into the muck.
Much like pocket jacks, pocket tens is a great hand in the scope of all poker hands, but less so when it comes to putting a lot of chips into the pot. Many players consider tens to be the top end of the mid-tier hands and proceed relatively cautiously when holding them preflop. On the flop, tens can be played somewhat aggressively on safer boards such as 359 and 447, but can also become an auto-muck on high-card dominant boards when facing heavy or even moderate betting action.
Although not as pretty as it’s cousin AK suited, ace king off-suit is still a powerful hand that can be played relatively aggressively preflop in a high number of situations. Once again, the benefit of getting to the flop with AK is that it’s often going to be very apparent whether you should continue based on the texture of the board as well as the amount of action you are facing. When an ace or king hits the flop, it is often right to continue with aggressive action, though you must stay conscious of being up against a set or two pair hand if the action gets heavy, especially when facing an opponent who is not known for splashing around.
Ace-Queen suited is a strong hand that, when played correctly, can be extremely profitable. It can generally be played as both a raise and 3-bet preflop, though will often be a fold when facing a 4-bet from a non hyper-aggressive opponent. On the flop, AQs can be played aggressively on most A or Q-high boards, as well as on many straight and flush draw boards. However, when facing a lot of flop action while holding nothing more than one pair, it would be wise to exercise caution and practice some pot control.
Most of what was written above about pocket tens can be applied to pocket nines as well. Although it is a relatively strong hand in comparison to all possible poker starting hands, its value shrinks quickly when facing heavy preflop betting. For this reason, pocket nines are often played in the same way that the lower pocket pairs are, which is getting to the flop cheaply and looking to either hit a set or an extremely favorable flop, such as a disconnected low board or some sort of low/mid board with an open-ended straight draw. Barring these situations, nines can often go into the muck on the flop when facing betting action from multiple players.
Closing out the top 10 best poker hands, ace jack suited is a hand that is fun to play and can be played relatively aggressively preflop, especially on tables with passive or inexperienced players. Although it doesn’t match up well against premium hands like the bigger pocket pairs or AK/AQ, it does have the ability to dominate weaker aces and perform well against a wide range of hands. On the flop, AJ suited often falls into the “fit-or-fold” category of hands, meaning that if you don’t catch a strong piece such as top pair, flush draw, straight draw, or a pair plus draw combo, it will generally be right to give up the hand when facing any sort of resistance.