There’s no better feeling in poker than raking in a massive pot on the river. But before you get to the end of a hand, you have to start at the beginning. Preflop is by far the most important stage of a poker hand; there isn’t much money on the table yet, but if you don’t make the right decision with your hole cards, you’ll lower your chances of scooping up that big pot down the road.

Choosing the best starting hands in poker isn’t terribly complicated. The difficult part is sticking with the plan. Most of the time, unless you’re playing heads-up or short-handed, the right decision with your hole cards is to fold. Opening more than 35% of your hands at a 6-max table is probably going to cost you money in the long run. If nine people are playing, it’s more like 25%. Who wants to fold their cards that often?

Taking out the Trash
Smart players do. If you want to win at poker, starting with quality hands is a must. Don’t let greed or fear of missing out drive you to make bad decisions; you wouldn’t bring a knife to a gunfight, so don’t open with trash hands. Stick with good stuff.

This goes double for beginners. Once you’ve picked up more experience, you can start pushing the envelope with your starting hands – but not too much. Even Tom Dwan throws away most of his trash. No matter how good you are at poker strategy, there’s only so much you can do at the table when you start from a position of weakness.

Gun Law
Speaking of position, where you’re sitting at the table will dictate whether your hand is good enough to open. The more players there are between you and the blinds, the more conservative you have to be with your decision. If you’re “under the gun” at a 9-handed table, you might want to stick with the best 10% of hands; that would be something like pocket Fives or better and Ace-Ten or better in Texas Hold’em.

If the action has folded around to you in the button, that’s a different story. There are only two more players in the blinds, and you’re guaranteed to be in position post-flop, so now you can consider opening 50% of your hands. In Hold’em, that includes janky stuff like Queen-Deuce suited and Jack-Eight offsuit. Just remember not to be too eager when you play these hands. They’re still napkins compared to pocket Aces.