Hand ranking for No-Limit Texas Hold’em

The best starting hands for a beginner in NL are:

  1. The pairs AA-22.
  2. The big suited connectors AKs & AQs.
  3. The big connectors AK & AQ.

Starting Hand Requirements

These requirements work very well in a tight/aggressive style of play. For less experienced players this is a great way to start out.

Avoid playing marginal hands, as you will have to do a lot of guessing which will leave you vulnerable. If you have never played NL before, it is recommended that you restrict yourself to only playing pairs AA-22, AK and AQ. With these top poker hands, you will not find yourself caught in many difficult situations and you can still win big pots. Playing only these hands requires a great deal of discipline since you will not be involved in many pots. Playing with this strategy will provide you with a lot of time to study the game and observe the players as you play.

This table shows minimum required hands per position in a semi-tight/semi-aggressive game.

Minimum required starting hand when facing un-raised pot
# Players left to act Non-pair Pairs
9 (under the gun) AK 99
8 AQ 88
7 AQ 77
6 Ajs 66
5 Ats 55
4 A9s, KQs 44
3 (cut off) Axs, KJs 33
2 (button) Axs, KTs, QJs, JTs 22
1 (SB) Axs, K9s, QTs, J9s 22
0 (BB)


How to modify the table depending on the action before you:

  • If there are a couple of limpers in front of you, you should only raise with the top hands, such as AK and AA-JJ, and be more inclined to call with the marginal hands since these hands play well in multi-way pots.
  • If the pot has been raised, consider who raised and decide whether to call, re-raise or fold. If it was a strong player, re-raise/fold. If it was a weak player, your inclination should be to call, as you will be presented with a good chance of winning a big pot when you hit a great flop. Re-raise the strong players with AK and AA-JJ in an attempt to shut them out and win the pot immediately, otherwise fold. Be more inclined to just call raises from weaker players with all pairs, AK and AQ, but only if you have position and will likely end up heads-up, otherwise re-raise. You do this in order to trap them on the flop when you hit a great hand instead of shutting them out pre-flop.

Limp or Raise:

  • Raise with AA-QQ, AK and AQs in any position.
  • Basically, all other starting hands are limping hands. And though you might re-raise with them when you are defending your blinds, you might also raise with these hands when you are first in from a late position.
  • Occasionally mix up your play by raising/calling/re-raising with hands you would not usually play. It is preferable to avoid becoming too predictable.

General Pre-Flop Advice

  • Most of the time you should raise/re-raise with top-pairs (AA-QQ) and top connectors (AK, AQs) in order to make low-pairs and various connectors pay to see flops against you. Remember, they will often have the opportunity to double up on you if they hit (although many beginners do not realize this and fold too often pre-flop).
  • Stick to the premium hands (see table of minimum required hands). You will pay dearly to “chase” with second-best hands in NL.
  • Keep most raises down to between 70% and 100% (making it 3 times the big blind to go typically equals an 80% pot bet) in order to save money when you get re-raised or called by stronger holdings. If there are limpers in front of you, raise to about 4-6 times the big blind.
  • Have respect for strong tight players (for example, you should drop AQ if a strong player raises under the gun).
  • When very weak players have entered the pot, be inclined to call and take flops with them.