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Pocket Cards

Hole Cards - Down Cards - In the Pocket

by Jesse Knight
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Pocket Cards
Pocket - A player’s hole cards.


A player’s hole cards are sometimes referred to as their “pocket cards,” or simply “the pocket.” Pocket cards are cards which are dealt face down so that only the player holding them may see them. Pocket cards are frequently called “hole cards.” The pocket is also frequently referred to as “the hole.”

In Texas Holdem, each player is dealt two hole cards before the first betting round. This is commonly known as the “starting hand.” Each poker hand begins with the delivery of the starting hand. After receiving it, players must decide whether to continue on in the hand based upon several factors, including the quality of their starting hand, the quality of their position, and the size of the bet they are facing. Good players are typically very selective about the starting hands they choose to play, and they maintain and self-enforce starting hand requirements. This means that starting hands must meet a certain standard of quality to be considered playable, and if they don’t meet that standard, then they are categorically rejected without consideration. Different players will have different starting hand requirements, depending upon how loose or tight they play.

In a Hold’em game, if a player holds a pair in his starting hand, it is called a “pocket pair.” Pocket pairs are frequently referred to specifically by their rank, so that a starting hand of two Aces would be referred to as “pocket aces” (aka pocket rockets). A starting hand of two kings would be referred to as “pocket kings” (aka pocket cowboys), and so on. Pocket pairs are generally accepted by most players as playable starting hands, although some tighter players may opt not to play small pairs, especially if they are out of position or if the pot has already been raised.

The starting hand is extremely important in a Hold’em game, because it is the only thing that differentiates your hand from your opponent’s. After the two card starting hand is delivered, the remaining five cards the dealer will deliver are all community cards, which are dealt face up and shared by all players. Holdem game play is pretty much centered around trying to figure out which two hole cards your opponent is likely to be holding.

Hold’em is a flop game, which puts it into an entirely different category of poker games than Seven Card Stud. Seven Card Stud does not use community cards (except on rare occasions), has a three card starting hand rather than two, and receives its river card face down as part of the pocket, instead of face up as a community card. Despite these and many other differences, Texas Hold’em was developed as a derivation of Seven Card Stud, and the two games do have many similarities. In most types of Seven Card Stud games, players are dealt a three card starting hand, frequently referred to as “Third Street.” A third street starting hand consists of two down facing pocket cards and one card delivered face up. The down cards are called hole cards, just as they would be in a Hold’em game, whereas the up card is called the “door card.” These down cards have a similar function in both Stud and Hold’em, because in both games they are secret and known only to the holder. Also similarly, when the down cards make up a pair in either game, it is referred to as a pocket pair.

Of course, a Hold’em player only has a two card starting hand, making pocket pairs a relatively rare occurrence (16 to 1). Contrast this with Seven Card Stud, where each player starts with a three card starting hand, which causes a pair to appear with much more frequency (5 to 1). In a stud game, two thirds of your third street pairs will be split pairs (comprised of the door car plus one of your two pocket cards) while only one third will be pocket pairs. Pocket pairs are generally considered to be more valuable than split pairs of the same ranking, because they are concealed, and are often difficult for your opponent to read.

Stud players are wary of split pairs and regard the pairing of another player’s door card as dangerous, especially if that player has been calling raises or betting aggressively. This makes sense, since players frequent include paired hand in their starting hand requirements. Some tight players may even give you credit for at least three of a kind and make a big laydown when you pair your door card under these circumstances. It is a much more difficult read for your opponent to make when you have made a set from a pocket pair, because you will only be using one card from the board, while having two concealed in the pocket.

Usage: Pocket Deuces Never Loses, Pocket Fives

Previous Poker Term: Play the Board
Next Poker Term: Pocket Pair

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