There are a variety of factors that allow us to determine whether a hand is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘playable’ or ‘unplayable’, ‘profitable’ or ‘unprofitable’ in poker. The primary factor, perhaps somewhat obviously, is a hand’s overall strength relative to the hand rankings that form a basis of the rules of the game. Since all the biggest pots are won at showdown on the river, and winning the hand at showdown requires having the strongest hand, we will always prefer to play hands that have a higher chance to win at showdown. These hands have higher equity in each pot that they play.
However, some hands are better at navigating towards showdown than others. A hand that has the ability to flop or turn a lot of draws and medium-strength hands tends to be able to play the flop and turn more easily, progressing towards showdown at a higher frequency. If a hand is better at navigating towards showdown than other hands, we would say that it has a greater capacity for equity realization - it is less likely to be forced to fold the flop or turn, increasing its overall chances to win the hand, especially if we are in position.
As a consequence, realizing our equity won’t often be too difficult when we have position postflop, but when we’re out of position (such as in the blinds), we should select our hands very carefully, in order to maximize both our equity versus our opponent’s range of hands, and our capacity to realize that equity through good decisions postflop.
There are three qualities a hand can possess which allow for easier equity realization:
- Showdown value: which is the ability to win the hand at showdown with minimal to no improvement.
- Suitedness: two cards of the same suit.
- Connectedness: two cards which can combine to make a straight before the river. The more closely connected, the higher the likelihood of making a straight.
In order for a hand to be considered ‘strong’ preflop, it should possess at least two of these qualities. The only exceptions are the strong pocket pairs, which possess enough showdown value to offset the others.