Understanding poker hand rankings is crucial to developing poker strategy and making better decisions at the table. The rankings dictate what beats what in Poker, allowing players to determine if they have a solid or weak holding at any given time. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of Texas Hold’em poker hand rankings with clear explanations, strategy tips, comparisons, and quick reference charts.
THE BASICS OF POKER HAND
A standard deck of 52 cards is used in most poker variations. The suits (spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs) are of equal value. The card values in descending order are Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2. Poker hands fall into 10 general categories, ranging from high card hands with no pair-up to the unbeatable Royal Flush. The approximate odds of getting dealt sure poker hands are:
|PROBABILITIES OF GETTING
|Three of a Kind
|Four of a kind
High Card Hands
A high card hand is one where you do not have a pair or better. Your hand will consist of 5 cards of different values and suits. The strength of your high card hand will be determined solely by your highest card.
For example, K♣10♦6♠4♣2♥ is king-high, while Q♠J♦9♣4♠3♦ is queen-high. If two players have a high card hand, the one with the highest top card wins. High card hands can win pots, especially in multi-way situations, but they are vulnerable even to weak pairs.
One Pair Hands
A one-pair hand contains 2 cards of the same rank plus 3 other mismatched cards. The pair itself acts as the leading value indicator for the hand, but kickers (the other 3 cards) can come into play if multiple players have the same pair.
For example, 10♠10♦K♣J♦7♥ beats 9♣9♥A♠Q♠6♦ because the 10s beat the 9s. However, Q♦Q♠6♣3♠2♦ would beat Q♣Q♥9♦5♠4♠ because of its stronger kicker card (6 vs 5).
Two Pair Hands
With two pairs, you have 2 cards matching one rank, another 2 cards matching a different rank, and one extra side card. The comparative strength depends on the value of each pair, as well as potential kickers.
For instance, K♦K♠Q♣Q♦9♥ is a stronger two-pair than Q♠Q♦J♠J♣9♦ because kings and queens beat queens and jacks. If multiple players hold the same pairs, kickers appear in one pair of hands.
They are also known as trips or a set, three of a kind containing 3 cards of one matching rank plus 2 random side cards. Regardless of the kickers, any three-of-a-kind hand beats any two-pair or lower because having 3-matching cards significantly improves the value.
An example is 7♠7♣7♥K♦5♣ – while the side cards are very weak, the three 7s are enough to make it a powerful hand. However, three-of-a-kind hands can still be vulnerable to straights, flushes, full houses, and better sets.
A straight consists of 5 numerically consecutive cards, each with a different suit. For instance, 5♦4♥3♠2♦A♣ is a 5-high straight, while J♠10♣9♥8♦7♠ is a jack-high straight. The strength depends entirely on the value of the top card in the sequence.
The best possible straight is 10-J-Q-K-A, known as a Royal Straight or Broadway Straight. The weakest straight is A-2-3-4-5, which is called a Wheel. Although vulnerable to flushes and up, straights beat any three of a kind or lower.
A flush contains 5 cards all of the same suit, but not necessarily in sequence. For example, K♥J♥9♥6♥3♥ is a king-high heart flush. Similarly, 7♣5♣3♣2♣A♣ is a 7-high club flush. If two players both have a flush, the one with the highest-ranked flush card wins.
Note that a flush beats any straight because having 5 cards of a suit is rarer than having 5 in sequence but mismatched suits. However, flushes do fall to full houses, four-of-a-kind and straight flushes.
Known as boats or full boats, a full house is a hand with 3 matching cards of one rank plus 2 matching cards of another rank. The three-of-a-kind element outranks the pair element, so Q♠Q♦Q♥9♠9♦ beats 10♠10♣10♦A♠A♥.
If multiple players have a full house, then the player with the stronger three-of-a-kind wins (for example, kings over nines rather than nines over eights). This hand beats all flushes and below but loses to four of a kind and better.
Four of a Kind
As you may have guessed, four of a kind involves having 4 cards of equal rank. For example, 5♠5♦5♠5♥K♠ is four 5s with a king kicker. The lone side card rarely comes into effect unless two players happen to make quads of the same rank.
Regardless of suit or kicker, four-of-a-kind is an extremely powerful holding that dominates everything below except straight flushes and Royal Flushes. However, the chances of improvement are also low when you flop quads, so get value!
A straight flush combines the powers of straights and flushes into one hand: 5 consecutive cards in the same suit. For instance, 5♦4♦3♦2♦A♦ is a 5-high diamond straight flush. These hands are very rare but almost impossible to beat.
The only hand that outranks any straight flush is a Royal Flush. Even a lowly 2-high straight flush would still comfortably beat four-of-a-kind aces. Make sure to maximise your winnings from any straight flush you can make!
The best possible poker hand is a Royal Flush: A-K-Q-J-10, all of the same suit. For example, A♠K♠Q♠J♠10♠. This hand is tough to beat – it CANNOT be beaten by any other poker hand in conventional games.
If multiple players miraculously make a Royal Flush, the pot is split, as there is no way to break the tie-in-hand value. But you should never expect multiple opponents to hit this less than 1 in 650,000 long shot with you!
POKER HAND RANKING CHART AND CHEAT SHEET
A poker hand rankings cheat sheet can be beneficial for remembering what beats what in poker, especially for beginners. Referencing a chart makes it easy to quickly compare the relative hand strengths and make better-informed decisions at the table. The following poker hands chart summarises all holdings from strongest to weakest:
|A♠ K♠ Q♠ J♠ 10♠
|8♥ 7♥ 6♥ 5♥ 4♥
|Four of a Kind
|4♦ 4♥ 4♠ 4♣ K♥
|Royal Flush, Straight Flush
|8♠ 8♥ 8♦ J♥ J♠
|Four of a Kind, Royal Flush, Straight Flush
|Q♠ 9♠ 7♠ 5♠ 3♠
|Full House, Four of a Kind, Royal Flush, Straight Flush
|A♦ K♣ Q♥ J♠ 10♦
|Flush, Full House, Four of a Kind, Straight Flush, Royal Flush
|5♦ 5♠ 5♥ K♣ Q♠
|Straight, Flush, Full House, Four of a Kind, Straight Flush, Royal Flush
|J♥ J♣ 9♠ 9♥ 8♦
|Three of a Kind, Straight, Flush, Full House, Four of a Kind, Straight Flush, Royal Flush
|4♥ 4♠ A♦ K♥ Q♣
|Two Pair, Three of a Kind, Straight, Flush, Full House, Four of a Kind, Straight Flush, Royal Flush
|A♠ K♦ Q♥ J♣ 9♠
|One Pair, Two Pair Three of a Kind, Straight, Flush, Full House, Four of a Kind, Straight Flush, Royal Flush
Use this rankings overview to determine which poker hands beat which others quickly. Keep it in front of you when playing, especially when learning the game, to make decisions on the fly about the relative strength of your hole cards.
ADVANCED HAND RANKING STRATEGIES
While the core poker hand rankings concept remains fixed across variations, certain strategic adjustments may come into play depending on the specific rules and formats. For example, lowball variants like Triple Draw and Razz use altered hand rankings, focusing on the lowest values rather than the highest. So, while this guide focuses specifically on conventional hand strengths, be aware that the hierarchical order reverses for lowball games.
It’s also worth noting some additional advanced strategic considerations around hand categories beyond just the raw matchups:
So, while fundamental solid knowledge of “what beats what” is crucial, hand reading and decision-making depend heavily on the scenario. Master the basics here, then apply that tactical understanding depending on the poker format you are playing.
So, in summary, poker hand rankings dictate what beats what in poker. Understanding the comparative strengths of different hands through study and repetition is key to applying optimal poker strategy and improving your performance in any poker variation you play. Master the fundamentals covered in this guide to have the confidence to navigate any poker situation!