Starting hand terminology and notation
There are (52 × 51)/2 = 1,326 distinct possible combinations of two hole cards from a standard 52-card deck. However, since suits are only relevant for flushes, many of these hands are indistinguishable from the point of view of pre-flop strategy. In fact, considering suits to be equivalent unless both cards are the same suit, there are precisely 169 distinct possible starting hands in hold ’em.
As an example, although J♥ J♣ and J♦ J♠ are distinct combinations of hole cards, they are indistinguishable as starting hands. Any starting hand comprising two Jacks is called pocket jacks and is denoted JJ. Similarly, any starting hand comprised of two Aces is called pocket Aces and is denoted AA, and any starting hand comprised of two 7’s is called pocket sevens and is denoted 77. Each of these starting hands is called a pocket pair or a wired pair.
The starting hands which are not pocket pairs fall into two classes – the suited hands and the unsuited hands. An example of a suited hand is 8♠ 7♠. Any starting hand comprised of an 8 and a 7 of the same suit is called 8-7 suited and is denoted 87s, where “s” is an abbreviation for “suited”. An example of an unsuited hands is Q♣ 9♦. Any starting hand comprised of a Queen and a 9 of different suits is called queen-nine offsuit and is denoted Q9 (or sometimes Q9o, where “o” is an abbreviation for “offsuit”). Remember, an “s” always denotes a suited starting hand, while the absence of an “s” always denotes an offsuit starting hand.
In almost all poker writing, the rank of 10 is abbreviated with the letter “T”, so that all the ranks can be written with a single character, unless cards are featured pictorially when “10” is often used.
Consecutive cards of the same suit are called suited connectors. Many starting hands have colloquial names.
Most poker authors recommend a tight-aggressive approach to playing Texas hold ’em. This strategy involves playing relatively few hands (tight), but betting and raising often with those that one does play (aggressive). Although this strategy is often recommended, some professional players successfully employ other strategies as well. While most poker authors focus on playing primarily premium starting hands, some authors claim that the importance of starting hands is overstated.
Almost all authors agree that position is an important element of Texas hold ’em strategy. Players who act later have more information than players who act earlier. As a result, players typically play fewer hands from early positions than later positions.
The no-limit and fixed limit versions of hold ’em are strategically very different. Doyle Brunson states, “In fact, the games are so different that there are not many players who rank with the best in both types of hold ’em. Many no-limit players have difficulty gearing down for limit, while limit players often lack the courage and ‘feel’ necessary to excel at no-limit.” Because the size of bets are restricted in limit games, the ability to bluff is somewhat curtailed. Since one is not (usually) risking all of one’s chips in limit poker, players are sometimes advised to take more chances.
Lower stakes limit games also exhibit different properties than higher stakes games. Small stakes games often involve more players in each hand and can vary from extremely passive (little raising and betting) to extremely aggressive (many raises). The difference of small stakes games have resulted in several books dedicated to only those games.