Poker Hand Rankings Explained: From the Best Hands to the Worst

Poker Hand Rankings Explained: From the Best Hands to the Worst
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Ah, poker hand rankings, one of the things that makes poker such an iconic game enjoyed at both online casinos and land based casinos around the world.

Remember that iconic scene from Casino Royale when James Bond (after a nail-biting poker game) whips out a straight flush out of nowhere to emerge victorious after his nemesis revealed a high-ranking full house to beat a flush and another full house?

If this sentence is a bunch of gibberish, let’s break down exactly what phrases like straight flush beats straight and royal flush beats all mean.

What Are Poker Hand Rankings?

To put it simply, poker hand rankings refer to the hierarchy of hands in poker, which determines the winner in a given betting round.

Knowing the traditional poker hand rankings is essential for any player who wants to be successful at poker, as it helps them to make informed decisions about when to bet, call, or fold.

Texas Hold’em and other poker games have slightly different hand rankings, but the basic principles are the same. For example, Texas Hold’em and Omaha are two popular variations of poker, and while they use the same hierarchy of hands, the specific rankings of each hand may differ.

In Texas Hold’em, for instance, a flush beats a straight, while in Omaha, a straight is considered stronger than a flush.

Nevertheless, understanding the basic principles of poker hand rankings is crucial for any player, regardless of the variation of the game they are playing, as it will give you a fantastic foundation to build your poker game.

Types of Poker Hand

To start, all poker hands consist of a combination of five different cards.

The objective of the game is to make the best possible five-card hand from the cards you are dealt or from the cards on the board (in games like Texas Hold’em).

Here are the different types of poker hands, from highest to lowest:

Royal Flush

The most powerful hand that exists in poker. To get one of these, you’ll need to have a straight flush which will possess the Ten, Ace, King, Queen, Jack all being of the same suit.

Fun fact, the likelihood of landing yourself a royal flush is about 0.000154%. Don’t let that deter you though! In poker, anything is possible, and who knows, maybe one day you’ll find yourself with the best possible hand.

Example: A♠K♠Q♠J♠10♠

Straight Flush

How many poker hands beat a straight flush five cards? Not many at all (only the royal flush.)

A straight flush is the same concept as the royal flush, in that you will need five cards of the same suit and that corresponds in an ascending or descending order.

If you get one of these, you’re most likely in safe hands. However, if someone has a higher straight flush than you, you’ll be losing that pot.

Example: 9♥8♥7♥6♥5♥

Four of a Kind

The Four of a Kind beats most hands and is a very powerful set of cards to come across.

As the name suggests, four of a kind is when you have four cards of the same value, which can be anything from the cards available in the deck.

Example: Q♣Q♠Q♦Q♥7♣

Full House

A full house is a magnificent hand, as it tends to be much more common than the four-of-a-kind and the straight flush, and is quite powerful in its own regard.

A full house beats most hands and is constructed by having a two-pair and three-of-a-kind in one hand, thus filling out your hand with a brilliant combination.

Example: 8♥8♠8♣5♦5♠

Flush

Arguably one of the most aesthetically pleasing hands, the flush is five cards of the same suit.

The great thing here is that you don’t have to worry about the order, just make sure you’ve got five of all the same suit and you’ve got yourself a flush.

Example: K♠J♠9♠7♠4♠

Straight

Any sequence of five cards of different suits in order. The straight is a brilliant hand to come across and is one of the more common hands you’ll see in a poker game

Example: 10♣9♥8♠7♦6♠

Three of a Kind

Three-of-a-kind is when you have three cards of the same value in your hands, whether that be threes, jacks, or aces.

Such hands of three kinds of consecutive cards of matching rank can also be referred to as trips or a set.

Example: 4♥4♠4♣J♦9♠

Two Pair

The two-pair occurs when you have two cards of the same rank and two cards of a different rank.

It is a useful hand that will fill out 4 cards of a 5-card hand. Two pair beats one pair or a high card. If you come across two players with two pair, the same highest pair wins the game (for example if one person has Kings and the other Queens)

Example: A♥A♠5♦5♣10♠

One Pair

One pair is essentially two cards of the same rank in your hand. Even a pair can win games in texas holdem if one plays their cards right.

Example: K♣K♠7♦6♠3♥

High Card

Any hand that does not fit into the above categories, where the highest card in the hand determines its rank.

This is the only hand on this list that doesn’t have any combinations.

Fun fact: There is a famous Iron Maiden song called Aces High (which is a high card ace)

Example: A♠K♣9♥7♠4♦

Knowing The Winning Poker Hands

It’s worth noting that if two players have the same type of hand (e.g. two players both have a pair of Aces), the winner is determined by the highest-ranking card outside of the pair. If that card is also tied, the second-highest-ranking card is used, and so on until a winner is determined.

In most poker games, the player with the highest-ranked hand wins.

This means that the player with the highest-ranking hand, based on the hierarchy described above, is the winner. If two or more players have the same type of hand (e.g. two players both have a Full House), the winner is determined by the highest-ranking card in their hand.

If the highest-ranking card is also tied (e.g. two players both have a Full House with three Kings and two Queens), the second-highest-ranking card is used to determine the winner, and so on until a winner is determined.

It’s worth noting that in some variations of poker, such as Omaha, players must use exactly two cards from their hand and three cards from the board to make their best hand.

In these cases, the winner is determined based on the best combination of two cards from the player’s hand and three cards from the board.

Sometimes, determining the winning hand is not immediately obvious, especially if there are multiple players and complex hands involved. For example, if two players both have a flush, the winner is determined by the highest-ranking card in their flush. If the highest-ranking card is also tied, the second-highest-ranking card is used, and so on until a winner is determined.

In situations where there is a tie and all cards have been used, such as in a community card game like Texas Hold’em, the pot is split between the players with the tied hands.

Kickers and Tie-Breakers

So if you’re a fairly new face on the poker scene, kickers and tie-breakers might come across as almost a foreign language.

Basically think about it similar to a tennis game, when both players have won 6 games and the set needs to go down to the wire to determine the winner.

In Poker, when players have the exact same hand (let’s say both have two pair nines and aces) the kicker will be the fifth card in the hand that dictates who will win the round. If someone has a kicker of 7 for example, and the other has a 10, then the 10 will come out on top.

To break it down a bit further, here’s a diagram.

Punter 1: 9♥ 9♠ A♣ A♦ T♥ resulting in Two Pair, Nines and Aces with a Ten kicker

Punter 2: 9♦ 9♠ A♣ A♦ 7♠ resulting in Two Pair, Nines and Aces with an Seven kicker

As you can see, the first punter will be absolutely cheering, as they’ve clawed their way to the top with a ten overcoming the seven.

Strategies for Using Hand Rankings

While understanding hand rankings is an important first step in becoming a successful poker player, it’s not enough to guarantee victory.

To be successful, players must also understand how different hands should be played in different situations.

Starting Hands

For example, a pair of Aces is a strong starting hand in Texas Hold’em, but it might be vulnerable to a straight or flush draw. In contrast, a pair of Twos is a weaker starting hand, but it is less likely to be beaten by a draw. Understanding the relative strengths and weaknesses of different starting hands is crucial to making informed decisions at the table.

Pay Attention to The Table

Players should also pay attention to the board (i.e. the community cards in games like Texas Hold’em) and their opponents’ actions to get a sense of what kind of hand they might be up against. If the board has several high cards and there is a lot of betting action, it’s possible that one or more players have a strong hand.

In contrast, if the board is mostly low cards and there is little betting action, it’s possible that no one has a strong hand and the pot is up for grabs.

Player Positions

Another important strategy is to pay attention to the position of the other players at the table. In general, players in later positions (i.e. closer to the dealer button) have more information to work with and can make more informed decisions than players in earlier positions. As a result, players in earlier positions should be more cautious when playing their hands.

Be Flexible

Finally, players should be prepared to adjust their strategy based on the specific circumstances of the game. For example, if a player faces aggressive opponents, they may need to play more conservatively to avoid getting trapped in a big pot.

Alternatively, if a player has a strong hand and is facing passive opponents, they may need to be more aggressive in order to extract the maximum value from their hand.

To Summarise

In summary, understanding hand rankings is an important first step in becoming a successful poker player, but players must also be able to adjust their strategy based on the specific circumstances of the game.

By paying attention to the board, their opponents, and their position at the table, players can make more informed decisions and increase their chances of winning.

Poker Hands FAQ

Where Can I Play Poker Online?

Well, you’re in luck!
We’ve got a ton of online poker sites to recommend that have been checked for safety and quality, where you can hone your poker skills.

What is a Kicker in poker?

A kicker is a card that is used to break ties when players have the same rank of hand. For example, if two players have a pair of Aces, the player with the highest kicker (the highest card not used in the pair) wins the hand.

Can a straight wrap-around in poker?

No, a straight cannot wrap around in poker. For example, Ace-2-3-4-5 is a valid straight, but Queen-King-Ace-2-3 is not.

Is Online Poker safe?

If you’re playing at a regulated and licensed online casino at a live dealer table, you can be rest assured that you’re in good hands.
However, there are many differences between playing in person at a casino or at an online table.
See for yourself which one suits you best.

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Emily Turner
Emily Turner
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Emily is our seasoned content writer. She writes easy to read and helpful game guides, so you can quickly understand the rules of each game and get some useful tips that can help boost your chances of winning.

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