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February 6, 2024

How To Read a Texas Hold’em Strategy Chart To Refine Your Poker Skills

In a game of Texas hold’em, where quick decision-making is key to success, there is always room for improvement. You will always need some luck to reach a winning hand, but consistently upgrading your strategy with advanced techniques will help you in the long run. 

One of those skills is knowing whether your starting hand played from your specific position will be profitable. Learning how to read a Texas hold’em strategy chart will get you there!

Understand the Symbols Used in a Texas Hold’em Poker Strategy Chart

Image source: amirali mirhashemian

There are over 150 different starting hand combinations in Texas hold’em. Some of them are strong enough to be played from any position, such as a premium pocket pair or suited connectors. Most of them are better folding, especially if you play out of position.

Starting-hand strategy charts use various symbols and abbreviations to let you know the exact hand strength. Here are the main ones you should pay attention to:

  • S for a suited set
  • O for an offsuit set
  • Plus sign
  • Minus sign
  • Additional notations

S for a Suited Set

Any hole card combination can first be separated into a suited and offsuit set. Suited cards are any two cards of the same suit. 

In a Texas hold’em strategy chart, these combinations will be marked with an “s” symbol. For example, if you see TQs, they include all the following suited pairings of ten and queen:

  • 10♠️ Q♠️
  • 10♣️ Q♣️
  • 10♥️ Q♥️
  • 10♦️ Q♦️

Suited cards are more favourable than their offsuit counterparts as they have a bigger potential, especially if one or both cards have a high value. 

There are also one-letter symbols to mark the exact suit in this category of hand combinations:

  • h—suited hearts, e.g. 7h6h
  • c—suited clubs, e.g. 98cc
  • d—suited diamonds, e.g. KJdd
  • s—suited spades, e.g. AsQs

O for an Offsuit Set

Combinations that have an “o” sign next to them indicate a pair of two cards that are of a different suit. For example, if you see TQo in a chart, it includes any ten and queen that are of a mismatched suit, such as:

  • 10♠️ Q♥️
  • 10♠️ Q♣️
  • 10♥️ Q♦️

Plus Sign

The “+” sign is the third important symbol you’ll encounter in Texas hold’em strategy charts. It indicates that you should play the combination and all other combinations that rank higher.

For example, 88+ means you should play this pair and the pairs higher than it (i.e. 99, TT, JJ, QQ, KK, and AA). If you see A6s+, you should play that combination and any other in which the ace is suited with 6 and higher (i.e. A7s, A8s, A9s, etc.)

Minus Sign

The “-” sign tells you two important things about your or your opponent’s combination, depending on where you see it:

  1. At the end of the hand—Hands below or equal to the presented hand combination
  2. Between two hands—All hands between the two presented hand combinations

Additional Notations

If you want to further advance your mathematical poker knowledge, you can incorporate various software in your strategy, such as odds calculators or heads-up displays (HUD). In that case, you may encounter additional symbols that signify different hand ranges. The following table showcases four main ones:

SymbolMeaningExample
^Non-pair combinations that either start from the denominated card or are between two denominated cards J^ (QJ, KJ, AJ, KQ, AQ, AK)
4^7 (45, 46, 47, 56, 57, 67)
[]Two associated hand ranges  J[T763] (JT, J7, J6, J3)
[TJQ][345] (T3, T4, T5, J3, J4, J5, Q3, Q4, Q5)
.Hands that include a denominated card, usually followed by a symbol that further specifies the range. Often used interchangeably with “x”   Q. or Qx (all hands with a queen)
KhQ. or KhQx (all king and queen pairs with a king of hearts)
|Used as an “or” symbol JT(dd|cc) (either JT of diamonds or JT of clubs)

What Are Good Starting Hands in Texas Hold’em? 

Just as there is a hierarchy of 5-card poker hands, there is a hierarchy of starting hand combinations.

The following table shows the strongest hole card combinations, from strongest to weakest, with their abbreviations and nicknames. 

Starting Hand CombinationAbbreviationNickname
Pocket acesAABullets or Rockets
Pocket kingsKKCowboys
Pocket queensQQLadies
Ace-king suitedAKsBig Slick
Pocket jacksJJFishhooks
Pocket tensTTDimes or Dynamite
Ace-king offsuitAKoBig Ugly
Ace-queen suitedAQsBig Chick
Ace-jack suitedAJsBlackjack or Hijack
King-queen suitedKQsMarriage or Royal Couple

All of these starting hands are strong enough to be played from any position. 

The Importance of Your Position in Texas Hold’em

Since table position is crucial when deciding which hands you should play in Texas hold’em, it plays a significant role in pre-flop strategy charts.

These are the names of the positions at a standard poker table, with their abbreviations:

  1. Small blind—SB
  2. Big blind—BB
  3. Under the gun—UTG
  4. Middle position—MP
  5. Hijack—HJ
  6. Cut off—CO
  7. Button—BTN

If there are more players in the game, they would fit into a middle position. Position terminology also includes phrases like:

  • In position—A player that acts after others and has an information advantage
  • Out of position—A player that acts before others and lacks any information advantage

Texas hold’em pre-flop charts will usually mark the positions with different colours, showing how the same hand combination can be profitable or not, depending on the position. For instance, the ranges of early position (EP) players’ hands are tighter than the late position (LP) ones. Since the button player is always the last to act, they have the information advantage over other players, and their range can be looser.

What Hands Should You Play in Texas Hold’em?

Image source: Aditya Chinchure

Knowing which hands you should play in poker largely depends on your starting hand and how it relates to your position. That is why a solid Texas hold’em pre-flop betting strategy requires an understanding of different starting hand categories and the degree to which their strength varies.

Two of the most common categories you should know are:

  1. Pocket pairs
  2. Suited hands

Pocket Pairs

While pairs are always a desirable starting hand combination, their strength can differ:

  • Small—22 through 44, these are also known as low pocket pairs. You should avoid raising with them from an early position, but you can bluff from a late one. Your goal with a low pocket pair is to reach at least three of a kind on the flop 
  • Medium—55 through 99, the medium pocket pairs offer some chance of an aggressive betting style. Again, your goal will be to hit a three of a kind on the flop
  • Premium—TT+, the premium pocket pairs are favourable in any position. You can confidently raise them pre-flop because your goal with them is to build a large pot

Suited Hands

The two main types of suited hands are:

  • Connectors—Hands that are connected by rank and suit. These combinations have a strong chance of reaching a straight or flush. Higher connectors (e.g. AKs, KQs, and QJ) can be played from any position, while lower ones (e.g. 45s or 67s) are mostly favourable only from late positions
  • Gappers—Hands that are almost connected by rank but lack one or a few middle cards to be connected suits. These combinations are tricky to play. Examples include QTs, 8Ts, 79s, etc. Depending on the price and position, they can be profitable   

Apply Your Texas Hold’em Strategy Chart Knowledge

Image source: Rich Smith

After analyzing a Texas hold’em strategy chart for some time, you should test it out in a free online poker game! You can get any of the 150+ starting hand combinations and see whether they are profitable depending on the position you are at, the board texture, and your opponents’ behaviour.

With the rise of online gambling in Canada, choosing reputable venues among countless options may be challenging. Below is a list of the ten best venues for safely exploring your favourite poker games:

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Signing up for any of the listed gambling sites and incorporating pre-flop betting charts into an actual game will help you improve your Texas hold’em skills to a significant extent. Whether you enjoy playing casually or have Texas hold’em tournament aspirations, you’ll find what you are looking for!

Featured image source: Clifford Photography

Tuomas Laine

Navigating offers and finding the best, Tuomas is our dedicated Casino Bonus Hunter

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