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How To Play Pocket Tens Preflop

By Randy Laboy

Pocket TensI get a feeling of restrained excitement when I look at my hole cards and see pocket tens. I’m excited because I know I have a strong hand that’s most likely the best at the moment, but I also know that I could be in for some tricky post-flop play if my hand gets called.

Pocket tens are the highest of the middle pairs and that makes their preflop play a little more difficult than other mid pairs. This hand is too strong to play solely for set value in most cases. However, raising is difficult too. You don’t want the pot to get too large because you’ll face an overcard on the flop at least 60% of the time and Large Pot + Marginal Hand = Big Problems.

Personally, I like to raise pocket tens from any position. I don’t want a lot of people to see the flop and by establishing myself as the aggressor I give myself the opportunity to win with a continuation bet on the flop even if overcards hit.

My play in a raised pot is different. If I’m in late position with tens and someone in early position raises, I want to see a lot of callers before I get involved. I want to play my pocket tens for set value in this situation. My late position also gives me the information I need to continue the hand. For example, if there are five people in a hand and the flop comes K-J-5, a king will probably bet to see if their hand is good. If no one bets, I may take a stab at the pot by betting around 1/2 to 2/3 of the pot and slow down if I’m called.

My opinion on how to play pocket tens preflop is one of many. Let’s see how the pros play pocket tens preflop.

John Vorhaus on Pocket Tens

Vorhaus is a writer and poker player best known for his Killer Poker series of books. Vorhaus has a no-nonsense style of writing and poker play.

So how does Vorhaus play pocket tens preflop? No special treatment here. He treats pocket tens just like any other middle pair and according to Vorhaus, “The only good thing that can happen if you raise with mid pairs is that everyone folds.” In other words, he plays his tens for set value.

Vorhaus offers three reasons you don’t want to raise with hands like pocket tens:

  1. You may get called by an overpair and go to the flop as a 4-to-1 underdog.
  2. You’ll give away the strength of your hand and make it harder to get paid off if you flop a set.
  3. You’ll fold out hands that could pay you off if you hit a favorable flop.

Vorhaus calls hands like pocket tens “the exception to the rule” that you should raise or fold preflop. He recommends limping with tens in hopes that several other people limp as well. There’s only a one-in-eight chance that you’ll flop a set. It takes a lot of limpers to give you expressed odds good enough to make a call like that.

In addition, you’ll have to deal with an overpair on the flop 60% of the time. However, if the flop comes 9-5-3, you could win a decent pot against someone with A9.

In short, Vorhaus’s recommendation for playing pocket tens is to see a cheap flop and fold your hand if it doesn’t fit the flop.

Phil Hellmuth on Pocket Tens

Sometimes I get the feeling that the poker brat thinks new players are idiots that should only play a few hands insanely aggressive. But since he has eleven World Series of Poker bracelets and at last count I didn’t have any, I figure his advice is worth mentioning.

Pocket tens is the fifth strongest hand in Hellmuth’s list of the top ten hands to play when you’re playing a super-tight style of poker. According to Hellmuth, if tight is right then super-tight is super-right. The poker brat advises new players to get as much money as they can into the pot before the flop and go all-in if possible.

I can see why this strategy would be good when playing low-limit Hold’em. Low-limit players will go to the felt preflop with all kinds of junk and the number of times you get paid off when your opponents call your all-in bet with pocket nines and A10 will probably offset the number of times you lose to a higher pocket pair or a coin flip.

The good news is that Hellmuth’s advice makes you unexploitable post flop and that might be Hellmuth’s goal. If you have poor post flop playing skills, going all-in will prevent you from losing with the best hand. However this style of play is a little risky for my taste. I’d rather rely on my post-flop skills and reading abilities. But then again: Phil Hellmuth - 11 WSOP bracelets / Me - 0 WSOP bracelets.

David Sklansky on Pocket Tens

Sklansky is one of the greatest minds in poker theory. His style of poker uses cold-hard numbers to figure out the potential profitability of any move. According to Sklansky, you win every time you make your opponents play differently than they would if they could see your cards.

How does a poker genius play pocket tens preflop?

In his book No Limit Hold’em Theory and Practice, Sklansky labels pocket tens as a “Bread and Butter” hand meaning that it’s the kind of hand that performs well in deep-stacked games. According to Sklansky, pocket tens is a hand you want to limp with usually (around 80% of the time). Sklansky also cautions players about playing hands like pocket tens in early position if they think a player in later position will come in with a big raise. There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. You want to see a flop with pocket tens, but you don’t want to pay too much to do it. Remember that you’ll be forced to check/fold the flop 60% of the time, so you don’t want to invest too much money up front.
  2. Pocket tens is a good hand, but it can’t take a lot of pressure. Not many players will raise with a hand that you’re a big favorite against.

In addition, Sklansky recommends calling a standard raise when you have position with pocket tens. If you hit a favorable flop, your hand will be well disguised and you could win a lot of money. You’ll also have the chance to see how the preflop aggressor acts before you bet. Good position makes your pocket tens much more valuable.


Pocket tens are the start of what I like to call “the real poker hands.” These hands require much more skill to play than higher pairs. It’s also the point where the pros begin to diverge on their advice. Some players recommend raising to define a hand like pocket tens and hopefully take the pot down on the flop without much of a fight and others recommend limping with pocket tens to disguise their strength so you can maximize your profits when you hit a good flop.

Many players adopt a hybrid style of playing pocket tens. These players will limp and play their tens for set value if they get them in early position and they raise them from late position and try to take down the pot on the flop if they miss.

In the end, the way you play pocket tens will often be determined by your position and the other players you’re up against.

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