How to play - Basic strategy No Limit Hold’em (NLHE)

1) Starting hands:

Evaluating your two "hole cards" is the first step when playing a hand of NLHE poker. Although there are other factors, the strength of your starting hand will always be a significant consideration when deciding whether to enter a pot.

The best starting hands:

Two Aces

Two Kings

Two Queens

Ace King Suited

Two Jacks

Ace King Off-suit

Ace Queen Suited

Two Tens


Pairs are important starting hands in NLHE and the best three starting hands (AA,KK,QQ) are all pairs. The odds of being dealt any pair are 17 to 1 and the odds of being dealt any specific pair are 220/1.

Pairs can be divided into three categories, Big Pairs (AA – QQ), Medium pairs (JJ – 99), Small pairs (88-22).

Big pairs are the best possible preflop hands and players should therefore be raising and re-raising these hands.  When holding AA a player has about 80% to beat any other 2 cards if they go All-in preflop (apart from another AA).

Medium pairs are good hands players will often want to play and raise preflop, though they do not play as well as Big pairs post-flop. As it is likely overcards will fall on the flop it is often difficult to tell if you have the best hand.

Small pairs are hands which should be played cautiously. They should be folded a lot of the time preflop (if facing a raise) and players should try and see a flop cheaply if possible.

Flopping a set:

A ‘set' is when a player is holding a pair and one of the cards flops to make three of a kind. The chance to flop a set is the reason why players try to see flops cheaply with small pairs and he odds of flopping a set (or better) is around 12%. It is a very strong hand with the extra advantage that it is very hard for an opponent to spot and can therefore often lead to winning a big pot.

Non-paired Hands

Non paired hands can also be divided into three categories. High card value (how high the cards are), Suited (cards are the same suit), Connectors (both cards can be used to make a straight).

High card value is the most important factor when considering non-paired hands and it is the main consideration (with-non paired hands) when deciding whether to enter a pot. A hand becomes stronger if it includes multiple attributes – AK suited is the 4th best possible starting hand in NLHE and includes all the non-paired hand attributes (Highest possible high-card value, suited and connecting).

Hands that do not fall into any of the categories are considered ‘junk'. They are poor starting hands that will be folded preflop most of the time.

2) Position:

A player's "Position" at the table is determined in relation to their seat and the dealer button.

Position is important because it determines when a player has to act (bet, call, fold etc) in relation to the other players at the table.

The dealer button moves clockwise around the table and defines the positions of the players. The players directly to the left of the button post the big and small blinds and on their left is the player first to act preflop (known as "under the gun"). These are the weakest positions on the table. Next follows players in Early, Middle and Late Position.

Seat 1: SB – seat 2: BB – seat 3: UTG – seat 4: EP (UTG+1) – seat 5: EP – seat 6: MP –seat 7: MP (Lowjack) – seat 8: MP (Hijack) – seat 9: LP (CO) –seat 10: LP (BTN).

Later position is better as a player gets to see most of the other players actions before it is their turn to act. The ‘button' is the most advantageous position on the table as that player gets to act last in every round of betting postflop and only has the blinds to act after them preflop.

Players must therefore define their hand selection according to both the strength of the hand and their position on the table. Playing from an early position requires a stronger starting hand and in the same way players should play a wider range from later positions.

Playing a hand in accordance with position:

A player's position is an important consideration when deciding whether or not to play a hand. The very best hands (AA KK AK etc) will be played from all positions, but for medium strength hands position will be very significant when deciding whether to enter a pot or not.

For example, on a 10 handed table A10 offsuit is well above average strength though could be played very differently depending on a player's position. If the player is "under the gun" they should fold most of the time. If the player is on the button and no one has raised before them they should almost certainly raise.

If the player does raise (A10o) when UTG all other 9 people at the table will act after them. If any of these players re-raise A10 does not match up well to their potential holdings (Ak – AJ and any pair above 99 crush A10.) Even if the player calls the re-raise and hits an A they can still often be behind and end up losing a big pot. Furthermore, the player will have to act first on every round of postflop betting allowing the players acting behind them to apply pressure and control the pot more easily.

How to play