Rank of Starting Hands for Heads Up Poker

The ranks of starting hands in heads-up poker differ from the equivalent for a full ring game. There are several reasons for this. Firstly with only one opponent you only need to compare the strength of your own hand against a single other hand. In a 10 player game you are comparing your winning chances against the best of up to 9 opponent’s hands.


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When 8 out of 10 players have folded in a full ring game it is statistically more likely that the remaining 2 hands will contain aces and other high cards. The fact that 8 people folded has reduced the chances of them holding those cards – meaning the remainder of the deck will have proportionally more aces in it. In a heads-up poker game this is not the case, your hand is ranked against a truly random opponents holding.

As you will see from the table below, pairs increase in value in the rank of starting hands for heads-up play. You will only be dealt a pair once in every 17 deals meaning that the chance of both players holding a pair is approximately (17*17) = 289/1. Any pair is a favorite against a non-paired hand before the flop. Having just a single opponent means that higher pairs are extremely unlikely.

High-Card hands have value in Head-up play, being suited, however, does not add so much value as most showdowns will be won by relatively weak holdings such as one pair. In a full ring game – where stronger hands are usually shown down – having a flush possibility adds more of an advantage.

At the bottom end of the scale 7-2 off suit is promoted in heads-up play! It actually moves from the worst pre-flop starting hand in a full-ring game to the 5th worst in a heads-up poker game. Again the lack of straight possibilities is not such a disadvantage against only one opponent. In heads-up poker 2-3 off suit is the worst starting hand statistically speaking.

Chart of Top 20 Heads-Up Poker Starting Hands

1 – A-A
2 – K-K
3 – Q-Q

4 – J-J

5 – 10-10

6 – 9-9

7 – 8-8

8 – A-K (suited)

9 – 7-7

10 – A-Q (suited)

11 – A-J (suited)

12 – A-K (not suited)

13 – A-10 (suited)

14 – A-Q (not suited)

15 – A-J (not suited)

16 – K-Q (suited)

17 – 6-6

18 – A-9 (suited)

19 – A-10 (not suited)

20 – K-J (suited)