Starting Hand Charts Are For Beginners

Let’s talk about the much-maligned starting hand chart. Many people claim that playing from a chart will stunt your development as a poker player. This simply isn’t true.

Yes, learning a fixed strategy, then playing that strategy while never deviating, never re-evaluating, and never looking deeper into the game would be a huge mistake. This applies to both preflop and postflop play, just as much as it applies to chess, baseball, and trying to get a date. Once you’ve mastered one level of complexity, you should look deeper to find the next one. But you always have to start with level one.

Imagine you are playing No Limit Holdem for the very first time. When you look at your first two cards, how are you supposed to know how to play them? Or whether to play them for that matter?

A hand chart can be a great place to start. The idea is not to learn the opening requirements, then slavishly follow them for the rest of your poker career. The idea is to create a frame of reference. The chart says: All other things being equal, play these hands from this position. We’ve included charts with the hands that Dusty defaults to in particular situations.

Chart No. 1 outlines the weakest hands you should play from each position when everyone has folded to you.

For instance, if the chart says to raise 66, that means you should also raise 77 and better. If it says to raise AJ and KJ offsuit, you should also raise AK, AQ, and KQ. If it says A2 under the suited column, then you should raise any ace with another card of the same suit.

Do not follow this chart when a player has called or raised ahead of you. Those are different situations and each will be dealt with in its own chapter. (See Misconceptions 8 and 9.) This chart is specifically for situations where no one has voluntarily put money in the pot. If the chart says you should play the hand, you should raise to about three blinds as a default, but there are situations where a different raise size would be better. (See Misconception 7.)

The first column in the chart indicates your position at the table, which is also the first thing you should consider when deciding whether or not to open raise. The fewer players left to act behind you, the better chance you have of either winning immediately or having position on a player who calls you (one of the blinds). The exception here is the small blind, where you will always be out of position against the big blind when everyone else has folded (unless you’re playing a 1-on-1 match, which is beyond the scope of this chapter).

The positions in the chart are:

  • Early – 4 or more seats off the button
  • Lojack – 3 seats off the button, or under the gun in a six- handed game
  • Hijack – 2 seats off the button

• Cutoff – one seat to the immediate right of the button
• Button – last to act on every round of postflop betting
• Small Blind – sandwiched between the Button and the
Big Blind

The Big Blind (BB) is not included in the chart since you automatically win the pot when everyone folds to you. Abbreviations for all positions are listed in the chart as well and will be used in hand examples throughout the book.

You don’t have to use this chart. If you want to, that’s fine. But you can also feel free to add and subtract hands as you see fit, developing your own standards. This particular chart errs on the side of caution. It’s a great fit for a novice or an experienced player who prefers to sit at a large number of tables.

What’s important is that you find a style that suits your personality, then deliberately build your game around it. Some players may naturally be better at playing wide ranges than others, while some may be better served by hunkering down and playing a more disciplined and conservative style.

How do you find your natural style? Ask yourself if you’re typically scared of what might beat you postflop. If you err on the side of caution after the flop, it’s a good idea to do the same before the flop. That way you’ll have a stronger range to attack with postflop, allowing you to play aggressively despite your predilections to the contrary.

Are you more often looking for an angle to attack? Do you like to put pressure on people and try to scare them? If you’re good at finding the right spots for this, you might be able to get away with a looser style. It may be your best fit.

Don’t take this as an excuse to do whatever the hell you want. Find what works for you and do it on purpose. Even if you’re already playing a highly dynamic game, laying out your preflop defaults can give you a better idea of what your range will typically look like when you open from a given position. This can help you balance your range, determine how often to fold to 3-bets, and be more aware of your image.

If you’re an inexperienced player struggling with the postflop basics, try playing from the chart. This will free up mental energy to work on the other three very important streets. Playing a totally dynamic game is a waste of energy. Instead of agonizing over razor-thin preflop decisions, you could be adding more tables and making more money. Besides, you can always make your preflop game more dynamic later. But you need to start somewhere.

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