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Poker Hands - Poker Hand Rankings

by Randy Ray

What Beats What in Poker

The most fundamental thing to learn about playing poker is the rankings of the possible hands. Not knowing what hand beats which other hands is the biggest mistake you can make as a poker player. It can be the most costly mistake. Luckily, it's also one of the easiest mistakes to avoid, provided you're willing to memorize the rankings of poker hands.

Poker Hands - Poker Hand RankingsCards in poker have 2 qualities: rank and suit. There are 4 suits, spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. No suit is better than any other suit in poker. There are also 13 ranks, 2 through 10, plus Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces. In general, higher ranked cards beat lower ranked cards. Aces can count as high or as low, being higher than an ace or lower than a 2.

A poker hand is made up of 5 cards, even when you're playing a game with 7 cards like Texas holdem or a game with 9 cards like Omaha. These 5 cards always fall into 1 of 10 categories of poker hands, as outlined below. The hands are hierarchical in nature, so if a hand beats another hand, it also beats all the other hands below it in the hierarchy.

When 2 hands of the same type are in play, there is usually a methodology for breaking that tie. That is explained in the hand explanations below. The hands are listed in ascending order, from worst hand to best hand. (If you're interested, this article explains why one poker hand beats another.)

No Pair

Any hand that doesn't qualify for any of the hands on this list is considered a no pair. In the event that more than 1 player make it to a showdown and no player has a better hand than this, the player with the highest ranked card in his hand wins. If both players have the same highest ranked card, the next highest card in each hand determines the winner, and so on.

A Pair

A Pair of JacksA hand that has 2 cards of the same rank (e.g. 2 jacks or 2 tens) is a pair. In the event 2 players have a pair, the higher ranked pair wins. (A pair of aces beats a pair of kings, for example.) If 2 players have the same ranked pair, then the highest other card in the hand ("the kicker") determines the winner.

Two Pair

A hand where 2 cards are of the same rank, and another 2 cards have the same but different rank, is considered 2 pairs. The 2 pair with the highest ranked top pair wins the showdown. If the higher ranked pairs are the same for each player, the higher of the lower pair determines the winner. In the event that both players have the same ranked 2 pair, the kicker determines the winner.

Three of a Kind

Three of a KindA hand where 3 cards all share the same rank is called three of a kind. The higher ranked three of a kind always wins. It's impossible for 2 players to have 3 of a kind of the same rank (since there are only 4 of each rank in a deck of cards). Some people call this hand "trips".

Straight

A Straight in PokerA straight is a hand where all 5 cards are in consecutive order. For example, a 6,7,8,9,10 would be considered a straight. If 2 players both have straights, the straight with the higher card wins.

Flush

A flush is a hand where all 5 cards share the same suit. If 2 players both have a flush, the player with the highest ranked card in their flush wins. (The best possible flush being one with an ace in it.)

Full House

Full HouseA full house is a 3 of a kind and a pair combined. (i.e. the player has 3 cards of 1 rank and 2 cards of another rank.) In the event of a tie, the person with the higher ranked 3 of a kind wins. If both players have the same rank in their 3 of a kind, the pair is compared to determine the winner. A full house is also often called a "boat".

Four of a Kind

A hand where all 4 cards of a rank are in the hand. Sometimes also called "quads".

Straight Flush

Any straight where all cards are of the same suit is a straight flush. In the case of a tie, the straight flush with the highest ranked card in it wins the tie.

Royal Flush

Royal FlushA royal flush is the best possible straight flush you can make. It's a straight, or 5 cards in succession, starting with a 10 and ending with an ace. And it's also a flush, which means all 5 cards are of the same suit. Another royal flush can tie, but since this is the highest possible hand, there is no possible tie breaker.

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