Poker Hands: Learn the Hand Rankings for Texas Hold'em
And while draw poker is in many ways a completely different game to Texas Hold’em, for instance, one thing is always the same, no matter what version of poker you’re playing — the ranking of the hands.
What are Poker Hands?
A poker hand is defined as the combination of cards you are able/choose to play. This may consist solely of the cards you are holding, it may be the best five card combination you can make out of seven cards (as in 7 card stud) or it may involve trying to form a winning combination. made from a mix of your own cards and communal cards, as in Texas Hold’em.
In Texas Hold’em the aim is to make the best possible poker had using either:
- your two hole cards (the cards you’re dealt and which remain hidden) and three of the five communal cards
- one of your hole cards and four of the five communal cards
- neither of your hole cards and all five communal cards
Poker Hand Rankings
The ten different poker hands are listed below, in order of precedence. Each hand will beat the hands below and lose to the hands listed above it.
It is essential to know the hands and their ranking order, as this has a significant bearing on how you play each round of the game, and will influence your betting strategy as well.
- Royal Flush (A-K-Q-J-10, all the same suit e.g., A♥-K♥-Q♥-J♥-10♥)
- Straight Flush (five consecutive cards, all the same suit e.g., 8♣-7♣-6♣-5♣-4♣)
- Four-of-a-Kind (four cards of the same value e.g., A-A-A-A)
- Full House (three-of-a-kind, plus 1 pair e.g., A-A-A-8-8)
- Flush (all the same suit e.g., A♣-10♣-8♣-4♣-2♣ )
- Straight (five consecutive cards, unsuited e.g., 6♣-5♠-4♦-3♣-2♥)
- Three-of-a-kind (three cards of the same value such as 5-5-5)
- Two-pair (e.g., 10-10 and 3-3)
- Pair (any pair, e.g., 2-2)
- High card (a hand with none of the above combinations)
A Royal Flush is the best possible hand in poker, and beats everything else. It consists of the top five cards — A-K-Q-J-10 — in the same suit, e.g., A♥-K♥-Q♥-J♥-10♥.
A straight flush consists of five suited cards in sequence (but not including A), and will beat every other hand except a Royal Flush.
If more than one player has a straight flush, the sequence with the highest card wins, e.g. 8♣-7♣-6♣-5♣-4♣ will beat 6♦︎-5♦︎-4♦︎-3♦︎-2♦︎.
Four-of-a-kind means that you are holding all four of a particular card, e.g., A♣-A♣-A♦-A♥, and is the third highest ranking hand.
If more than one player has four-of-a-kind, the highest card will win, e.g., 8♣-8♣-8♦-8♥ will beat 7♣-7♣-7♦-7♥.
A full house consists of a three-of-a-kind and one pair, e.g., 8-8-8-3-3. The relative strength of a full house is based on the three-of-a-kind, rather than the pair. This means, for instance, that K-K-K-2-2 would beat Q-Q-Q-A-A.
A flush is five suited cards, not in sequence, e.g., 10♣-8♣-6♣-4♣-2♣.
If more than one player has a flush, the highest card will win, e.g., J♣-9♣-8♣-5♣-2♣ will beat 10♥-9♥-8♥-5♥-2♥.
A straight is five unsuited cards in sequence e.g., 6♣-5♠-4♦-3♣-2♥.
If more than one player has a straight, the highest value card will win, e.g., 7♣-6♠-5♦-4♣-3♥ will beat 6♣-5♠-4♦-3♣-2♥.
Three-of-a-kind is three unsuited cards of the same value, e.g., 6-6-6. If more than one player has three-of-a-kind, the highest value cards will win, e.g., 6-6-6 will beat 5-5-5.
Two-pair is two pairs of cards of equal value, e.g., 10-10-3-3. If more than one player has two pair, the highest value top pair will win, e.g., 10-10-3-3 will beat 9-9-8-8.
If two players have the same two pair, the winner will be the player with highest value fifth card (the ‘kicker’). This means that 10-10-3-3-7 will beat 10-10-3-3-6.
One pair is two unsuited cards of the same value, e.g., 10-10. When more than one player has one pair, the winner is determined by the highest value, non-paired card (the ‘kicker’). If this is the same, the next highest value card will determine the winner, and so on.
This means that 10-10-7-5-4 would beat 10-10-7-5-3.
High card is the term used when none of the nine poker hands listed above can be made. In a showdown between two players without a recognisable hand, the high card will win. If they have the same high card, the winner will be determined by who has the next highest value card, and so on.
This means that Q-10-7-6-3 would beat Q-10-7-6-2.
Understanding Hand Strength
Relative hand strength is everything in poker, but in a game like Texas Hold’em, where it can take time for a hand to emerge, the most skillful players are those who recognise which hands are worthwhile waiting to try and hit, and those that are less likely so that it makes more sense to fold.
Often, the potential value of a hand will also be determined by how many players are participating in a round of betting, and your position on the table.
Common Poker Hand Scenarios
A very simplified example of how hand strength operates can be demonstrated as follows.
You are the big blind in a game of Texas Hold’em, and have been dealt 7♠-5♠. This means you could potentially hit a straight flush, a flush or a straight, but at this stage if is not an especially strong hand and you would need a lot to go your way in order to win.
Your decision as to what you do next, however, will in large part be determined by what the other players do, as this will give you an indication of the strength of your hand in comparison to others.
For instance, if there are several players who call but do not raise, it would make sense to stay in the hand; as you are the big blind, it will cost you nothing to see the flop, and with several players in the hand, there is the potential for a big pot. No raises also suggest no other player has a particularly strong hand at this stage, and so is waiting to see a flop before committing too much of their stack.
On the other hand, if one or two players both raise significantly, this would mean that even as the big blind you are going to have to bet to stay in the round, and all of a sudden, your 7♠-5♠ does not look as strong. Even if you paired either card on the flop, or even made three-of-a-kind, they are relatively low value cards, and likely to not be in contention given that players have raised on the strength of their hole cards. Most players in this scenario would fold.
If you decided to stay in the hand, and the flop came A♠-6♥-8♣, your odds of hitting of a straight flush or flush have diminished, but the straight is still a good chance. Again, however, the actions of the other players, and how much it will cost you to see the turn card, will go some way to indicating the strength of your hand.
With a A♠-6♥-8♣ flop, anyone who bets big or raises is trying to represent that they have at least one A, giving them the top pair, or even three-of-a-kind. If this is the case, your 7♠-5♠ would be behind and it would probably make more sense to fold.
However, if no-one makes a big move, it might suggest the other players are still trying to hit a hand, and so you could risk it to stay in and see the turn card. Ultimately, the relative strength of the 7♠-5♠ is determined by your perception of what other players have in the hole.
However, there are times when the strength of your hand is more obvious, e.g, you are dealt A♠-A♥.
At this stage, you have the best possible hand (the nuts); however, there are different ways of playing it. You might want to make a sizeable bet, or raise another’s bet. so that it will cost anyone else with a strong hand, e.g., K♠-K♥, a good amount to see a flop, thus rapidly growing the pot.
However, the risk is that if you bet too much and represent too strong a hand, others may take you at your word, assume your strength and fold, meaning you can’t capitalise on an excellent hand.
The alternative approach might be to slow play, i.e., to bet moderately or simply call any other bets rather than raise, to suggest that your hand is not especially strong. The danger in this is that the flop comes K♦︎-2♥-7♣, for instance, and so the player with K♠-K♥ in the hole has hit three-of-a-kind, while you still only have your pair. In this scenario, you have let another player get in front and may not be able to capitalise in your initially stronger hand.
These two brief, simple examples demonstrate that poker hand strength is not fixed in stone — rather it is fluid and depends on a range of circumstances, such as what other players do and how the board (the communal cards) evolves.
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Mark Angus is a professional writer and editor currently based in Adelaide and London. Mark writes on a variety of sports betting and gaming topics, most notably football and cricket (he has been a season ticket holder at Fulham for far too many years), as well as horse racing, in particular jumps racing. In addition, Mark produces website content, blogs and articles for a variety of publications, organisations and businesses, and has extensive experience in writing for all forms of online, print and broadcast media.