In this column we typically discuss more advanced Hold â??em strategy. But sometimes, itâ??s good to take a few steps back. And for beginners, I recommend playing only these top 10 hands and folding on all others.


The top 10 are, in order of relative promise: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, A-K, J-J, 10-10, 9-9, 8-8, A-Q, and finally 7-7. Experience has shown me that these are the strongest starting hands in limit Hold â??em. This beginning â??strategy for survivalâ? is designed to keep you in the game while you learn the more subtle techniques that are necessary to beat tougher games. Or to extract more money from weak games. And in some games using just this strategy will make you a winner. With this patient strategy alone, and really not much else in the way of poker instruction, I was able to crush the games in Madison.
What happens is that when you consistently play only the top 10 hands, your opponents will begin to fear your bets and raises because theyâ??ll see that youâ??re always playing something powerful. This fear gives you some leeway to make a few different plays later on, when youâ??ve absorbed the intermediate and more advanced advice Iâ??ll be giving you later. In other words, the â??top 10 handsâ? strategy teaches the right fundamentals when you do add some intermediate and advanced strategy to your arsenal, because playing supertight alone just wonâ??t get the pots in these tougher games: the good hands donâ??t come along often enough, and perhaps even more important, you risk becoming a bit too predictable.
When you break limit Hold â??em down to its basic elements, good game theory suggests that you wait for big starting hands before you get involved in a hand, because the blinds are relatively small compared with the size of the pots, unless youâ??re playing in a very tight game (which is rare at low stakes). It may seem a bit boring to play only these top 10 hands; after all, most of you play poker just to have a good time and socialize – that is, for entertainment. Fair enough, but if you want to win the money, then you need to show some patience and entertain yourself in another way. And, anyway, how entertaining is it to play all the hands and lose most of them?
In general, I recommend playing the top 10 hands regardless of your position in the betting order or the number of bets it will cost you to get involved in the hand. Always raise with theses hands, no matter what it costs you to get involved. Of course, if you have a lot of evidence to suggest that your 7-7 is beaten (perhaps the tightest player in the game has just re-re-raised the hand, making it, as we say, â??four bets to goâ?), then you might do well to fold the hand. But in general, playing these hands aggressively is a good way to play Hold â??em.
I know that youâ??re probably thinking right now, â??Is it really that easy? All I have to do is play Philâ??s to 10 hands?â? The answer is basically yes, at least as far as your starting requirements (your first two cards) are concerned! Yes, because it will be easy for you to play before the flop (on the first round of betting) when all you have to remember is to play only the top 10.
The â??Top 10â? Starting Hands for Beginners
1.  A-A
2.  K-K
3.  Q-Q
4.  A-K
5.  J-J
6.  10-10
7.  9-9
8.  8-8
9.  A-Q
10.  7-7

 

 

by Phil Hellmuth, Jr.

Phil Hellmuth Jr. is a 13-time World Series of Poker Champion, leading all other poker players in the world. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, and his latest book, â??Deal Me In,â? also is widely popular. Visit phillhellmuth.com to check out his clothing line, blog and exclusive gaming tips.