StarCraft vs. Poker - Build Orders vs. Starting Hands

Whenever you watch somebody play StarCraft, the first few minutes already tell you if he is a seasoned veteran or more of a novice at the game. Does his build order have a nice “flow” to it or do you get the feeling it’s made up on the go?

StarCraft players that want to improve their early game can usually do so by watching streams, VoDs and replays. Later, they can implement the build orders they learned about in their own games. It’s not mandatory to follow a specific build order to win a match, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t try to get this comparably easy part of the game right.

Starting hands galore

Poker is very similar to StarCraft when it comes to the “early game.” You are dealt two cards and you have to decide if you want to fold, call or raise. Just like you would take the opponent’s race into account when settling on a build order, you should make sure to consider more than just the strength of your cards when deciding how to play a hand. Good players also take into account the various stack sizes of their opponents and their position at the table.

In cash games, this is a relatively straightforward craft. Players usually have around 100 Big Blinds - sometimes even more - in front of them. Once you have found the “range” of starting hands (or “poker build order”) suitable for you to use against the opponents you're seated with, you can stick to it for the rest of the night.

Tournament poker is a little different. With blinds constantly increasing, your stack size and the stack sizes of your opponents (both those who have already invested money in a pot AND those who can still get involved in a pot when they act after you) suddenly become extremely important. Finding the right spots to steal the blinds and understanding when to re-steal when somebody else tries to steal are two vital concepts to becoming a winning tournament player.

Magna Carta

Beginners frequently struggle with selecting the right starting hands. They either believe that they should wait for true monsters such as Aces or Kings, or they feel that a 10 and a 7 is worth playing because it can also make a strong hand - they just need a flop with a 6, an 8 and a 9.

This is why the good folks at have created starting hands charts for the various game types that exist. Just like watching a StarCraft pro to copy his build order, a starting hard chart (or SHC, as it’s commonly abbreviated) allows you to use the same concepts as the pros.

In the beginning these charts seem like a bit too much to swallow, but over time you will realize that they become second nature to you, just like you can do a simple build order with your eyes closed after the first 200 matches with your main race.

Adapting & Tweaking

Even though the SHC’s are a great way to get started, you should always take them with a pinch of salt. If you are playing a table with mostly passive and weak players, raising a bit more often than the chart suggests can be a profitable adaptation. If the players in the blinds keep raising your attempts to steal from the button, you should probably be a little tighter when opening.

The advantage of Poker is that you get more opportunities to adjust. If you are playing on, you rarely get the chance for a re-match. In poker, every new hand is a bit of a re-match and your “build order” should be influenced by what you have learned about your opponents over the course of the past hands. If you are a beginner, sticking closely to the SHC is almost always the best way to go.

Moving forward

As your poker game progresses, you will feel a need to try out new things. You may decide to be a little more independent and move away from the starting hand chart. That’s fine and normal. Just keep in mind that you always need to have some faint idea of what to do with a hand post-flop.

The advantage of a SHC is not only that you get help with deciding which hands to play pre-flop, but that it also tries to keep you away from ending up in overly complicated situations post-flop. Of course, raising King-Ten from middle position seems appealing once in a while, but what will you do on a flop like K - 9 - 8 when you get raised? Stick it in? Get out of the way? If your decision is to fold, maybe you shouldn’t have raised in the first place if even top pair isn't good enough for you!

In StarCraft you sometimes see elaborate build orders for things like fast Phoenixes or similar strategies. They look fancy and elegant, but keep in mind that even if you can pull off the build order, you still have to execute the strategy afterwards. And that might be the tricky part.

Keep it simple

Becoming a solid poker player requires solid starting hand selection. That’s what the charts are for. They are the basic build orders on which to base your initial approach to any poker game you play - especially before you know what you are dealing with. Adapting and experimenting are fine, but without truly understanding what you are doing, you can easily find yourself in hopeless situations against more experienced opponents. Keep it simple!