Premium Hands

In poker, the term 'Premium Hands' refers to the best possible starting hands a player can have. These hands have the highest potential to win the pot and are typically strong enough to play in any position.

What Does "Premium Hands" Mean in Poker?

In poker, 'Premium Hands' are the best starting hands a player can have. These hands typically include high pairs (like AA, KK, QQ, and JJ) and high-suited connectors (like AK suited). These are examples in Texas Hold'em. In games like Omaha, hands with AA and KK are far weaker than in Hold'em given that players hold four hole cards. In Omaha, a hand like JJTT double suited or QJT9 is around a 40% dog against AA (varying slightly depending on the suits), far more than the 20% equity most hands have against AA in Hold'em.

'Premium' hands are called as such because they have the highest potential to form strong five-card hands, increasing the likelihood of winning the pot. They are also usually strong enough to play from any position at the table.

Example of "Premium Hands"

For instance, a player might be dealt a premium hand such as pocket aces, which is the best possible starting hand in Texas Hold'em.

In another scenario, a player might be dealt AK suited, which is considered a premium hand because it has the potential to form a royal flush, the highest possible hand in poker.

Folding Pocket Aces Preflop
While there is no better hand in Hold'em than Aces, there are actually some times where it's the correct play to fold them preflop. This is mind-blowing to some, but taking into account ICM implications, it can on occasion be a good play. If, for instance, you're on the direct bubble of a tournament and pick up AA, it's not an automatic all in. Around one in five times, Aces will lose to a random hand.

This means that 20% of the time you'd play Aces on the bubble, you will lose and will not make the money. Folding Aces will mean you will stay in the tournament after that hand 100% of the time, so assuming another player busts you will always make the money. That being said, if you're not covered by your opponent, calling with Aces is a much safer play as even if you do lose, you will have chips left behind to remain in the tournament.

Premium Hands in Satellites
Similarly, in satellite poker tournaments, ICM implications become even greater. This is because there's no greater value to a player for finishing just inside the bubble or finishing first. Therefore, there is less incentive to gain a huge chip stake - the only goal is to finish inside the bubble. Therefore, if you have a medium-sized stack on the bubble and are facing an all-in on the bubble, Aces is technically a fold. If you call, 20% of the time you will bubble. If you fold, you'll remain midway through the field and will only have to outlast one of the short stacks to win a ticket.

A final example of folding a premium hand is when holding AK. If you've seen a lot of aggression before you act - like a four or five-bet, it's clear that players ahead of you have a premium hand. Assuming this, they'll likely have AA or KK. In this situation, AK is a big dog in the hand. Even if they hold QQ or AK, you're flipping. So many top pros can find folds in this situation, despite holding the premium hand of AK.

  • "I was dealt a premium hand, pocket kings, and decided to raise pre-flop."
  • "He had a premium hand, QQ, and went all-in before the flop."
  • "She was dealt a premium hand, AK suited, and confidently called the raise."

How to Play Premium Hands to Get Maximum Value

It's important, especially at microstakes, to play premium hands aggressively preflop. You want to raise the pot preflop to build a pot as you'll be a strong favourite to win the hand. Slow-playing can be optimal at times, but in general, you'll get maximum value with aggression.

If opponents hold other strong hands, they will call anyway. If they have weaker hands, they would be unlikely to call anyway and by raising them out the pot, you don't give hands like 87-suited (which has some equity) a chance to outflop you.

Should I always bet aggressively with premium hands?

While premium hands are strong starting hands, how you should play them depends on various factors, including your position, the betting action before you, and your read on the other players. In many cases, it can be a good strategy to bet aggressively with premium hands, but there might also be situations where slow-playing or even folding could be the better option.

Can I win with non-premium hands?

Yes, you can definitely win with non-premium hands. Poker is a game of skill and strategy, and knowing when to fold, call, raise, or bluff with non-premium hands can be just as important as getting dealt premium hands.

How often will I be dealt a premium hand?

The probability of being dealt a premium hand in poker is relatively low. For example, in Texas Hold'em, the probability of being dealt pocket aces (the best possible starting hand) is only 0.45%, or about once every 221 hands.