Starting hands – part one


For the next couple of entries, I’m going to look at starting hands to play throughout a tournament. It’s more suited to novices, but is a good reminder to the more proficient players too. This guide is mainly for multi table tournaments. The later parts can be used for sit and go tournaments too.


The start of a tournament requires very good discipline. Only premium hands should be played. If you are playing a low buy-in game ($1-$5) you will find a load of loose players who will overplay almost any medium to strong hand pre-flop just to try and double up in chips. This is a very risky strategy. Why put all your chips on the line at the very start of a tournament?

I would recommend sticking to playing the top 10 hands. These are:

ah ac    kd ks    qs qh    jc js    10s 10d

ad kd    ac kh    ah qh    ad qs    ac jc

The first levels of a tournament should be used mainly to pick up information on the other players at the table. However, if you pick up one of the hands above, by all means play it. Just don’t get overly agressive if you happen to have AJ suited – especially if there has been a raise in front of you. AJ is not that good a hand. There are nine other hands that could beat it! If you see that a tight player has raised in front of you then you should seriously consider folding. If its a loose player raising then you should consider calling.

You may think that 10h 10c is a great hand, but loads of people value ad kd more. It’s wrong to think this. A pocket pair is always favourite over any drawing hand pre-flop. OK, it’s only a couple of % but favourite all the same. But, if overcards hit the flop, you have to be prepared to fold your pocket pair.

The key thing to remember when playing any hand is position. Playing position is one of the fundamental startegies in poker. Early to mid position is a hazerdous zone to be in. Once the flop is dealt you will be one of the first to act. You will have no information on any later players. Use position to your advantage where possible. If you happen to get one of the above hands in late position, you have the freedom to raise as you will be last (or next to last) to act after the flop. This key position gives you information on the players before you. To read more on playing position have a read at this article with links on the subject.

Sound simple doesn’t it! Easy in theory, but so many can’t put it into practice.

So, you are playing tight agressive poker, only playing the top 10 starting hands. Hopefully, you’ve played them well and managed to avoid suckouts and bad beats and have built up a respectable chip stack.

After the 1st hour 

One hour has passed. At this time, the majority of the monkeys will have gone out of the tournament and you will be left with more good/cautious players. But by this time you should know how the majority of the players at your table play, if not all of them. This is where you can try to exploit their weaknesses. Always keep in mind though that position is still key!

You can maybe ‘open up’ a little and start to play the top 15-20 starting hands now. Along with the 10 hands above think about playing these hands too:

ah jc    ad 10d    as 10h    kc qc    kh qc

9s 9d    8s 8c    7h 7d    kd jd    ks jh

As before, position is still key here. If you have a raise in front of you, you have to consider folding ALL of the above hands. Again, it all depends on what ‘read’ you have on the players at the table.

Keep playing tight, agressive poker and you should keep buidling your chipstack. If you have people limping into hands and you have one of the top 20 starting hands in late position, raise to push the limpers out, even with ks jd. If you get called, then you have to suspect your opponent has a half decent starting hand. You should get enough information after the flop to decide what your next move should be.

I try to only play the top 20 hands for the majority of a tournament. Limping with some and raising with others. But again, I must reinforce that it depends on my position at the table. For example; at a table with 9 players, I would limp in at most with the top 11-20 hands in early to mid position, but I would fold them a hell of a lot too.

Above all when playing MTTs, be patient. If you’ve not had a hand for a while boredom can set in and you get sucked into playing rubbish hands. You have to avoid this as you will more than likely pay dearly for it.

Also, when not involved in a hand, WATCH how the other players play. You have to concentrate on the other players. You can pick up on a lot of flaws in their game, like betting patterns and if there is a showdown, what type of hands they play. The more information you gather, you can use to your advantage.

Next time, I’ll cover starting hands to play in the latter stages of a tournament – approaching the bubble!


3 Responses to Starting hands – part one

  1. zitlips says:

    I would like to add to this if I may.
    I am continually scorned for this but I will not change my tactics on the start of a tournament because it is a cheap experiment that pays more often than not for me.
    Table permitting..I will always play any 2 connectors or even a small pair in the first two blind rounds. If they get raised I fold..if not, I get to see a flop. Two out of ten hands on the connector side of this will improve to at least make an information bet.
    The result is usually a win before the turn, because everyone else just limped in and folded after my info bet.
    The risk is very nominal because I only do this at the $10-$20 and $20-$30 blinds.
    Bluffing is ridiculous if you don’t hit any improvement, so dont’ try stealing.
    On the small pair if overcards flop I will still make the minimum bet as an information ruse. If I’m raised I fold.
    I know a lot of players say it’s a wasted effort doing this and it will chip you down when you lose chips that could be used for better hands, but it is my experience that the opposite is true.
    It has almost always chipped me up anywhere from $200- $400 early in the game with very little risk.
    When the blinds reach the $30-$40 I discard this tactic.
    Any losses are usually re-couped when I still have plenty of stack left by going to the tactic Gopher describes above.

  2. svcmgr says:

    Excellent advice for those who are just starting. It is also sound advice for anyone.
    This is exactly how I play a MTT. Of course, it is a basic starting point for me and I may change it around a little depending on the table dynamic and players but that is only because I have been playing for a while and feel confident in my evaluations.
    For those players who are still learning about reading a table and the players, using this tactic should get them through the “Monkey” rounds and potentially get them in a position to place high in a Tourny.
    I would suggest everyone read this as a reminder.
    Good job!

  3. dagopher says:

    Yep, it is more written for the novice. Anyone who has played for a while can and will change tactics as and when they think it is neccessary. Only experience can bring this factor to your play.

    As we’ve seen by some of you folks, a completely different strategy can work too, but for any novices reading this, stick to the basics first then build up your game.

    Thanks for the comments guys!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: