A Theory of Starting Hand Value

A Critical Decision

In Hold'em, the most important decision you will make in the play of the hand is whether you will play the hand. Some hands such as AA, if played at every opportunity, will be long term winners. Others will be long-term losers if you play them. Some weak poker hands are 72 or 83. Some hands like T9 are speculative hands, which will be profitable if played in the right situations.

You may want to pick hands that are either strong in their own right or have multiple ways to improve and win. Hands like AA or KKare strong on their own, often winning without any further improvement. The example of strong multi-way hand is AK. It can win by pairing either card or by making a flush; it has straight potential, and, if you get really fortunate, it can even win just on high card value. Other hands such as 77 have speculative value, although they generally have only one way to win. If a third 7 falls on the flop, then you will be a strong holding but that sometimes happens so you will usually have to give up such a hand on the flop. Not always though -even small pocket pairs can sometimes with unimproved.

A Winning Style

A winning poker style requires that you only play your very best hands, folding most hands early, but in Hold'em it is not always clear how to determine which hands are best. There is no particular list of playable hands. To determine what kind of hands have value in what kinds of situations is one of the important skill you need to develop to become a successful poker player.

Struggle For the Ante

In the theories of poker, poker games start with a struggle for the antes or blinds. As pointed earlier, there are important reasons to bet other than because you have the best hand. Also, there are many other reasons to play a hand other than it's possibly the best hand.

In typical tight games, this theoretical rule of playing the best hand is the guiding principle-it is the way to make most of your money for that game. As the game becomes looser, however, this principle is based on the ante theory becomes less significant, and theories based on bad players or odds becomes more significant.
As the game conditions become loose, hand values extracted from the drawing potential of the hand begin to become more significant than the value extracted from the hand being best hand right now. Potential value from betting that will occur on future round of betting becomes important. This is the implied odds that we talked earlier. Also, as always, the mistakes that your rivals tend to make add value to hands. Different kinds of player mistakes can give value to different hands. When you are deciding to play a hand, you need to think in terms of potential value and in the terms of rank.

Changing Hand Ranks

We shall first see why it is a mistake to even attempt to list hands in rank order. A complete poker hand requires five cards. In Hold'em, you must make a decision whether to play after seeing only two cards. This is not enough to have a definition of what your five-card hand will be or to be able to provide any fixed rules about how good a starting hand it is. Some hands are better than others and we can formulate some basic guidelines but we cannot formulate an entire ranking.

In other forms of poker, you cannot bet until you have more cards: three cards in Seven-Stud, four cards in Omaha poker and in Hold'em with initial two-card you cannot determine the fixed ranking. Hence you don't know which hand is the best hand. Any ranking you may try can prove to be intransitive.
Transitive is a term used in mathematical concept that if A beats B and B beats C, then A will beat C. This is a property numbers, as given as example. This is a property which everybody is known to it even if they are not known with the term transitive. Intransitive means that the things we deal with don't have the transitive property. Not every group of entities can be treated as if they are numbers. For example, two-card hands in Hold'em.

For example, in a two-player showdown (where both players will still stay to the end) almost always

AK beats JT
JT beats 22
22 beats AK

Which one you think is the best hand? The best hand will win most of the money and that depends on the game conditions - the nature, ability and habits of your rivals. two-card Hold'em hands don't have stable ranks. You cannot list all the hands, draw a line, and say play all the hands above this line. It really won't work. It is very important. Many players would be looking for magic formula to make them a winning player.
Many writers have tried to categorize hands. They come up with different rankings because different writers are considering games with either different betting theory structure or different game conditions. The hands rankings you will find in texts are all correct - and they are all incorrect. There cannot be any existence of hands rankings without very specific defined situations. The value of hand is determined by the playing characteristics of the poker game you are in and the betting structure of the game. The differences you will find between different texts are a reflection of the differences in the particular situation for which they are trying to value the hands. There is no right or wrong except that it is a typical game or typical rival.

The main thing about Hold'em hand rankings is that there are no stable hand rankings. You can say that AA is better hand than KKbut you cannot say with certainty that AK is a better hand than JJ except within the specific defined situations.

The thing is that even when you consider the value of starting poker hand only in terms of its probability of winning the pot, hands cannot be ranked, but poker hands have value from sources other than just the poker hand value. Some hands have more value from a late position in the betting order because the position is itself very likely to give you more opportunities to make tactical plays such as bluffing.

Other source of value for a hand is the kind of mistakes your rival commits while playing. An example is a player who in a loose hold'em game tends to overplay hands like the top pair. There are five sources of value for a poker hand.

1. Characteristics of a hand that makes it likely to be the best hand at that point.
2. Characteristics of a hand that make it likely it will develop into the best hand.
3. Characteristics of your position that give you strategic opportunities.
4. Characteristics of the game that make it likely the hand can win a large pot should it develop.
5. Characteristics of certain kinds of common mistakes that your rivals might tend to make.

In Hold'em, when you think about a starting hand, it is also very important to think of the hand in terms of value- not in terms of hand ranks. Hands cannot be ranked and most of the value of a hand comes from sources other than the characteristics position of the hand itself. Always think about value.

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