Home Poker Starting Hands in No-Limit Hold’em: How to Play TT

Starting Hands in No-Limit Hold’em: How to Play TT

by Paul Hewson
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Play TT

Ah, pocket Tens. The stories I could tell – including one involving Kelly Lucas, the artist formerly known as Kelly Minkin. She’s one of the many reasons TT is now universally recognized as the Paul Hewson Memorial Hand.

What are you supposed to do with pocket Tens when someone like “Crazy” Kelly 3-bets you? As always, the answer depends on so many things: the seats you’re sitting in, the size of the stacks, whether it’s tournament or cash play, who’s left to act… I could go on.

It’s always nice to have a Plan A. No-Limit Hold’em becomes a lot easier when you start with a sound pre-flop strategy; by cobbling together something close to optimal, you can go into battle fully prepared for any counter-attack, in any situation. Yes, even with a starting hand as tricky as pocket Tens.

When Should I Raise With TT?

If you’re first to act, always open-raise with TT. It’s the fifth most powerful starting hand in Hold’em, with 75% hot-and-cold equity versus two random cards. Get those chips in.

As with pocket Jacks, the trick comes when someone else shows resistance. But things are much trickier now; so many good starting hands have two overcards to your TT, and your chances of surviving the flop go down considerably compared to JJ.

That’s why we’re going to play it safe. We’ll still 3-bet on occasion if someone else opens, but it’s almost always going to be when we’re in the blinds. The rest of the time, a mixed strategy is the recommended “Nash” approach, and even then, there will be a lot of calling instead of raising.

When Should I Call With TT?

As a simplified strategy, I recommend calling with pocket Tens anytime you open from outside the blinds, and someone 3-bets you. You’ll also want to flat anytime you happen to get 4-bet or 5-bet, which should only happen when you’re in the blinds and the ranges of possible hands are as wide as possible.

We’re also going to call in position when someone else opens. This might be the most controversial recommendation in this series, but thanks to the power of computers, we now know that TT isn’t the kind of hand you want to start a raising war with, not against someone in early position.

When Should I Use a Mixed Strategy With TT?

Almost all the time – if you’re really good at poker, and you’re trying to extract maximum value from your opponents in online poker rooms.

Pocket Tens is one of the most “cuspy” hands there is in Hold’em. Aside from the obvious open-raises, 3-betting from the blinds, and flatting 3-bets from late-position raisers, most of the situations you’ll find yourself in are the kind where it almost doesn’t matter which choice you make with TT.

Almost. You’re very rarely going to fold pre-flop with pocket Tens; the choice is between raising and calling, and calling is the preferred play often enough to make it a viable simplified strategy.

If you’re willing to mix in a few raises and take your chances, the best place to do it is when you’re in the cut-off, and you’re facing an open-raise from the hijack. After that, tread lightly; 3-bet on occasion when you’re on the button versus an early open, and even more rarely against that same open when you’re in the hijack.

The great thing about these mixed strategies is that you don’t have to second-guess yourself about whether you “should” have raised or called in these spots. This is why I keep saying you don’t have to fully memorize these mixed strategies, or use random number generators to perfectly execute the desired mix of raising and calling.

Heck, you can even fold TT and not think twice if the situation demands it – which is what I did against Kelly, for reasons. And hitting the “easy” button will be wiser still when you start with pocket Nines, as you’ll see in our next episode.

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Paul Hewson
Paul Hewson (not that one) is a poker player/writer from the Pacific Northwest, appearing on the World Poker Tour, MILLIONS Tour and the WSOP Circuit series. Hewson is the senior writer for the Bodog Poker family; Texas Hold’em is his specialty, with side hustles in 8-Game and Badugi. He’s an Abe Limon Guy.

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