The 10 Best Starting Hands in Texas Hold 'em Poker

Knowing If Your Hand Is Playable

Illustration of sets of hands holding cards

Illustration: The Spruce / Julie Bang

One of the keys to being a strong Texas Hold 'em poker player is to know which hands are playable and which are not. This list of the top 10 best starting hands for Texas Hold 'em is a good place to start learning. Do keep in mind, however, that there is some disagreement over which hands are the best, and it does depend in part on your skill level and style of play. Also, a great starting hand can turn bad quickly with the wrong community cards. This list reflects a consensus of the most trusted resources.

If you are new to Texas Hold 'em—or poker altogether—you may need to brush up on some of the terminology. In this type of poker game, there are cards dealt to the players, called hole cards, and cards dealt to the board, called community cards. When a player has a pair of their hole cards it is called a "pocket pair." And if the pair is made up of face cards (jack, queen, king) and their suits match, they are "suited;" if they aren't the same, then they are considered "offsuit." In addition to this lingo, there are many nicknames for cards and hands that you may encounter along the way.

  • 01 of 10

    Ace-Ace

    Man playing poker, close-up of hand and two aces

    Nick Koudis / Photodisc / Getty Images

    A pair of aces, also known as "pocket rockets" (and sometimes "American Airlines") is the best starting hand for Texas Hold 'em. Be wary of how many other players enter the pot, as more players increase the likelihood of someone beating your aces. Watch the flop. You have the best pocket cards, but you can still lose to two pairs of any other cards. You will see this combination once in every 221 hands, on average.

  • 02 of 10

    King-King

    Second on the list is a pair of kings, also known as "cowboys" or "King Kong." This starting hand is only worse than a pair of aces. You are strongly favored, but if there is an ace showing on the flop you are in danger.

  • 03 of 10

    Queen-Queen

    A pair of queens, also known as "ladies," rounds out the top three best starting hands for Texas Hold 'em poker. You will hear many groans from players over this hand. It looks so pretty and it is strong, but they have often had it busted in the past. If an ace or king comes on the flop, you are probably going to be bested.

  • 04 of 10

    Ace-King (Suited)

    This is where people start to disagree. A suited (both the same suit) ace-king, also known as "big slick," is arguably the fourth-best starting hand for Texas Hold 'em. However, you really have nothing until you start developing a flush, straight, or pair with the flop. But you do have a lovely chance of a nut flush (a flush with ace as the high card) or a royal flush (ace, king, queen, jack, 10 in suit), not to mention a straight or high pair.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Ace-Queen (Suited)

    The suited "big chick" or "little slick," the nicknames given to a pocket ace-queen, is fifth on the list. You have the chance for a nut flush, royal flush, straight, or high pair.

  • 06 of 10

    Jack-Jack

    A pair of jacks—also known as "hooks" or "fishhooks"—checks in at number six on this list. It's a great pair, but it can be beaten by pairs of aces, kings, and queens, so use caution if those come on the flop.

  • 07 of 10

    King-Queen (Suited)

    A suited royal couple, king-queen, is next in the list of Texas Hold 'em poker's most powerful starting hands. You could get a flush, but it won't be the nut flush unless the suited ace comes on the flop.

  • 08 of 10

    Ace-Jack (Suited)

    Nicknamed "blackjack" for obvious reasons, and sometimes called "Ajax," the ace-jack combo rates eighth. You have a chance for a nut flush, royal flush, straight, or high pair.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Ace-King (Offsuit)

    Only one offsuit non-pair makes it into the list of the top 10 best starting hands for Texas Hold 'em poker—the "big slick," an ace-king. It doesn't have as good of a chance for the flush combinations as a suited big slick.

  • 10 of 10

    10-10

    This is the only starting hand in the top 10 without a face card or an ace: a pair of tens (aka "dimes"). Some players believe that a suited king-jack is a stronger starting hand.