Poker Hand Rankings Explained
Even though the origins of Texas Holdem and its interesting ways of playing poker hands are relatively unknown, there seems to be a consensus about the birthplace of the game. Most people that are knowledgeable in the subject agree that Holdem was first played in Texas, in the city of Robstown, during the early 1900s.
The game remained unknown to the public for decades, until they launched it in Las Vegas, in 1967 at the Golden Nugget casino. Unlike a lot of poker hand variants popular at the time, solid strategy has determined Hold’em players’ success more often than luck. Since the game includes no limits and is complicated by nature, the possibility of complex strategies has arisen. The game quickly gained its reputation as a “thinking man’s game”. Since then, Hold’em has taken over the world and has become the number one poker game out there. With millions of active players in the world, it is no longer a niche gamble for a few select individuals, but the game that is dominating the world’s poker scene, with no signs of falling behind.
Poker Hands – The first Step to Playing Poker
Since we play the game for money versus other players, your best bet of becoming a successful and profitable player is by learning to get as good as possible at the game and to build your strategy tactically along the way. Whether it is a friendly home game you play weekly, a local casino you frequent, or one of the vast number of online poker arenas for both recreational players and top pros, your long-term success at the game relies on the skills you gain by playing the game.
The first step every poker player must take is to learn the hierarchy of poker hands. That way, you never get into an uncomfortable spot of not knowing whether a straight beats a flush or a flush beats a full house. Right after that, you can dive into the starting hands’ classes. Once you know when to use your poker hands you will be on your way to becoming a crusher at the tables. In poker slang, you will be called a ‘shark’.
From the best poker hands that are hardest to beat to the hands that are weakest and can only win with a bluff – in this the following text, we will explain the rankings of poker hands in No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE). After that, we will group the starting hands in NLHE into general groupings that are essential to understanding the gameplay dynamics of the game. In the end, we will talk about some other games in the game tree of poker, to compare the rules regarding the poker hand types required to win.
Poker Hand Rankings
In Texas Hold’em poker, we use the two-hole cards dealt to us alongside the five community cards dealt onto the table to make the strongest possible five-card combination. There are over 133 million seven-card combinations. The frequency of a particular hand class happening in that 133 million combos decides the hand ranking power. The more the hand has the chance of appearing, the weaker it is. The fewer possible combinations of a certain hand, the stronger the combination is. It makes logical sense, right?
|3||Four of a kind|
|7||3 of a kind|
Poker Hand Chart
Below is a chart of how the poker hands play out. Thereafter, you will find a concise explanation of how each poker hand or ranking can be formed on the board. Study this information tirelessly, as this is the most important aspect of understanding any version of 5-card poker. Click it to enlarge it and print it for future use.
A royal flush is the strongest, rarest, and most coveted of all poker hands. You have a royal flush when you have an Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and 10 in the same suit. In the days before online poker, when mass multi-tabling was not an option, many players went through their careers never getting a royal flush poker hand. With the odds against this poker hand in any seven-card combination (two from your hand and five from the board) of 649,739:1, you will not see many of them in-game. In those rare cases where you get to play a royal flush, do not hesitate to put all your money in the pot because it’s the strongest possible hand in Texas Hold’em. As it is not possible for any other poker hand to beat you.
Incredibly strong and very rare, a straight flush is a dream hand for many poker players. You have a straight flush when you have any straight with all five cards of the same suit. With odds against getting any straight flush hand of 72,193:1, it is one of the rarest possible poker hands. In the unlikely event of over one player holding a straight flush, the highest hand wins. For example, 5♥ 6♥ 7♥ 8♥ 9♥ wins against 4♥ 5♥ 6♥ 7♥ 8♥.
Four of a kind
Four of a kind, more often referred to as ‘quads’, is a poker hand in which you have the same card in all four suits. The five-card combination is completed by the highest possible card out of the seven cards in your hand and the board combined. That card is known as the ‘kicker’. If two players have the same four-of-a-kind hand, the hand with the better kicker wins. For example, A♦ A♥ A♠ A♣ K♥ wins against A♦ A♥ A♠ A♣ 4♥. With the odds against quads happening standing at 4,165:1, you can be certain that you will experience playing with quads in your poker career. Four of a kind is a powerful poker hand, as it only loses to straight flushes.
Quick fact: Royal flush versus quad aces might be the single rarest occurrence in the game of poker. You can see this ultimate devastating bad beat that took place no other than in the WSOP main event here. The odds of this spot happening are 1 in 2.7 billion. Add into the equation that it happened at the WSOP’s main event and that Ray Romano was sitting at the table. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime situation.
A full house often referred to as a ‘boat’, is a poker hand containing three of a kind and a pair of any other value. In the event when more than one person has a full house, the highest three-of-a-kind full house wins, in situations where players have the same three-of-a-kind, the highest value of the accompanying pair wins. For example, J♥ J♠ J♣ 8♠ 8♦ wins against T♥ T♠ T♣ A♠ A♦, at the same time J♥ J♠ J♣ 8♠ 8♦ wins against J♥ J♠ J♣ 7♠ 7♦. With the odds against a full house happening in any given poker hand of 624:1, you are certain to see a lot of them during your time on the tables.
Flush is a five-card combination where all five cards are of the same suit, but do not form a straight, such as A♣ J♣ 9♣ 7♣ 2♣ or J♥ 8♥ 5♥ 4♥ 2♥. If more than one player has a flush, the one with a stronger kicker wins. For example, A♣ J♣ 9♣ 7♣ 2♣ wins against A♣ T♣ 9♣ 7♣ 2♣. The odds against a flush happening in any given hand are 509:1, so a flush wins against a straight or weaker and loses to a full house or stronger.
Straight is a five-card combination that is consecutive in rank, but not in the same suit. In straights, Ace can count as both high and a low card, so a straight can be both 5♥ 4♣ 3♠ 2♦ A♦ and A♥ K♣ Q♠ J♦ T♦. When more than one player has a straight, the higher straight wins. The odds against a straight happening are 254:1, so the straight wins against three of a kind and weaker, and loses to a flush or stronger.
Quick fact: The strongest possible straight, A♥ K♣ Q♠ J♦ T♦, is called a ‘Broadway’, while the weakest possible straight, 5♥ 4♣ 3♠ 2♦ A♦, is called a ‘Wheel’.
Three of a kind
Three-of-a-kind is a poker hand in which you have three cards of the same rank with two unrelated side cards that do not make a pair. In the event where more players have three of a kind, the highest combination wins. If players have the same three-of-a-kind combination, the highest kicker, or if necessary, the second-highest kicker wins. The odds against trips happening are 46:1, so they lose to a straight or stronger, and win against two pairs or weaker.
Quick fact: In Texas Hold’em, it is standard to call the three-of-a-kind combinations made with a pocket pair in both your hole cards a ‘set’. Other three-of-a-kind combos are usually referred to as ‘Trips’. Usually, a set is more valuable, since it is more hidden, and it is harder to assume someone holds it. It can mean that an average ‘set’ extracts more value than average ‘trips’.
Two pair is a poker hand in which you have two different pairs and one side card. If more people have a two-pair combo, the highest pair wins. When players have the same highest pair, the highest second pair wins. In a situation where both players have two identical pairs, the highest kicker wins. In poker slang, the higher pair in a two-pair combo would often be referred to as ‘up’, so our example hand, K♠ K♥ T♠ T♣ 5♦ can be declared as ‘kings up’. With the odds against a two-pair combo happening of 20:1, two pairs win against one pair or weaker, and lose to trips or stronger.
A one-pair poker hand in poker contains a single pair and three other unpaired cards. When more players hold a pair at a showdown, higher pair wins. If the pair is the same, the higher kicker wins. With the odds against a pair happening at 1.36:1, one pair is the most often poker hand in the game of Texas Hold’em. One pair beats a high card but loses to two pairs or stronger.
A high card, nothing or ‘squadoosh‘, is a poker hand that consists of five unpaired unconnected cards that are not in the same suit. Since it’s the weakest hand in the hierarchy of Texas Hold’em, it beats nothing but a weaker high card. If both players have nothing, then better kickers win. There is a thing called a bluff… You never know…
Quick tip: When studying Texas Hold’em, it is very important to focus on situations that arise most often. It’s fun to look at the spots containing quads and royal flushes, but the time spent studying those spots will be time wasted. Optimally, you would dedicate your time to studying the spots that arise most often so that you can use the knowledge gained to make money regularly. Since it is much more difficult to make the strongest hands, the bottom part of our list wins in most hands played. Two pairs win the pot in around 31% of the hands, while one pair wins in about 27% of the hands.
NO LIMIT TEXAS HOLD’EM HOLE CARD HAND CLASSES
There are 1326 different two-card hand combinations you can get in Hold’em. There are 4 combos of every suited, 6 combos of every pocket pair, and 12 combos of every unsuited combination of cards. Since suits have no relative value in poker, many of these hands have an identical value before the flop. For example, AKo is the identical value to other AKo, and a pair of sixes are identical in value to another pocket pair of sixes. That brings us to several 169 non-equivalent starting hands in Holdem poker, which is the total count of 13 pocket pairs, 78 suited hands, and 78 unsuited hands. We can rank those starting hands by groups they belong to, which determines their playability and value.
Premium hands are the best hands in NLHE. They make the strongest hand at the showdown most often. That means we want to put our money in with those holdings as often as possible to extract value from our hands. Premium hands are pocket aces, kings, and queens, both suited and unsuited ace-king combinations.
Suited broadways, middle pocket pairs, unsuited high aces, suited aces
In the second category of ranking the poker hands by strength and playability, we find suited broadways (JTs-AQs), high unsuited Ax combos (ATo-AQo), suited Ax combos (A2-A9s), and middle pocket pairs (88-JJ). While not as good as premium hands, they are still good enough hands to play in the vast majority of likely scenarios. Capable of entering the previously raised pot as both a three-bet and a call, the advanced sharks are going to have a plethora of options while holding these hands.
Quick tip: Even though they are good enough to call in most situations, the best hands to bluff with preflop are some hands from this category like ATo or A3-A5s. With those combinations, you block pocket Aces, while still having solid equity versus other strong hands. Low-suited aces are important to consider in this aspect because they can get both a straight and a nut flush, while still doing okay against pocket queens or kings, for example.
Suited connectors and gappers, low pocket pairs, unsuited broadways
Suited connectors and gappers (K9s, Q9s, J9s, J8s, T9s, T8s, 98s, 97s, 87s, 76s) and low pocket pairs (22-77) fall into the category of hands that are tough to play post-flop but have good potential. Low pocket pairs are mostly used to set mine while deep-stacked, and to stack off while very short-stacked. Suited connectors have the possibility of getting both a flush and a straight. They are valuable in position or multiway pots. They both increase in value when they have good implied odds, and decrease in value with reverse implied odds.
Unsuited broadways (KQo-KTo, QJo, JTo) are solid in heads-up pots, but very dangerous in multi ways because they cannot get the flushes and the strongest top pairs, so one should be careful playing with them.
Quick fact: While pot odds are the ratio between the size of the bet and the size of the pot, implied odds are the amount of money that you expect to win on later streets if you hit one of your outs. Reverse implied odds are the opposite of implied odds. Reverse implied odds refer to how much you stand to lose in a hand should you make your draw.
Other suited hands, unsuited aces, unsuited connectors
The biggest thing these hands have in common is the fact that they are mostly being played from the big blind as a defense, and that we need a higher level of understanding of the game to play them correctly. If we call too much preflop and then fold way too much, we will lose money. That is one reason studying is very important to beat the games in the long term.
POPULAR POKER GAMES THAT DON’T USE THE REGULAR HAND RANKING CHARTS
As a poker player, you have much more options than just the regular NLHE or an occasional PLO game. There are a plethora of poker games, and every one of them has its own set of rules, optimal strategy, and even hand rankings. The most popular among them are:
Omaha hi/lo (O8)
In Omaha 8 or better, the best hand still wins the main pot in the standard poker ranking. The pot is split in half if there is an available low hand, so half is won by the high and half by the low hand. The best low hand is a wheel or A♥ 2♣ 3♠ 4♦ 5♦.
2-7 Single and Triple Draw
In 2-7 lowball games, the game aims to make the ‘worst’ hand in the conventional poker sense. We count the straights and flushes as ‘high’ hands, thus being bad in the hand rankings of the game. The weakest hand in the game is a royal flush, and the strongest hand in the game is 2♥ 3♣ 4♠ 5♦ 7♦.
Badugi is a triple-draw game, where you get dealt four cards and can discard a part of your hand three times, with a betting round happening between every discard round. ‘Badugi’ is a hand containing 4 cards of different ranking in all 4 different suits, with the strongest being the lowest. A four-card ‘Badugi’ (all four cards with different powers and suits) always beats a three-card ‘Badugi’. The strongest possible Badugi hand is A♥ 2♣ 3♠ 4♦.
Stud hi/lo is to Stud what Omaha 8 or better is to Omaha. Normal Stud hand is dealt, and the highest poker hand wins unless there is a low hand available, in which case the pot is being split between the high and low hand. The best low hand in Stud h/l is a wheel or A♥ 2♣ 3♠ 4♦ 5♦
Razz is a Stud-type game, but purely lowball, meaning the high poker hand rankings do not count and the lowest hand wins. In Razz, straights and flushes do not count against the player for low, and the ace always plays low. The nuts in Razz are a wheel or A♥ 2♣ 3♠ 4♦ 5♦.
Baduci & Badaci
Slightly less popular and slightly more complicated, Baduci and Badaci are mixed poker games, that are mixed between different lowball variants and Badugi. Baduci is an amalgamation of Badugi and 2-7 Triple Draw. In Baduci, we split the pot into two halves. One half is won by holding the best 4-card Badugi hand at the showdown. The other half is won by holding the best 5-card 2-7 hand. The best possible hand in Baduci is 2♥ 3♣ 4♠ 5♦ 7♦. Unlike regular Badugi, Aces always play high in Baduci, so a hand of A♥ 2♣ 3♠ 4♦ 5♦ would be an Ace-high Badugi (not a strong Badugi) and a straight for the 2-7 hand (a very weak hand).
In Badaci, the 4-card Badugi hand still wins half the pot, however, the best 5 cards A-5 low hand wins the other half. So Badaci is fairly simpler cause the strongest possible hand is a logical A♥ 2♣ 3♠ 4♦ 5♦.
Where can you play poker online?
You should by now know all the poker hands, poker hand rankings, and all of the poker games available. Now is the perfect time to use your newfound knowledge and hit the felt! At PokCas, you will find a massive range of top online poker rooms to choose from. Below is just a small selection of top poker sites you may wish to visit and try out for yourself, with some being US-friendly also.
Online poker sites
- BetOnline (For US, Canada, and other countries), Sign Up
- Bovada (Many US states accepted), Sign Up
- AmericasCardroom (US and many other countries accepted), Sign Up
- 888 Poker (PokCas $8K Race), Sign Up
- GGPoker (PokCas $35K Race, Canada, UK & Russia accepted), Sign Up
- Unibet Poker ($35K Race), Sign Up
To see more brands for your location, check out our full list.
Poker is an exciting game with lots of unique features. The first step towards becoming a winning player is learning the poker hand rankings and categories. That way you can skip forward to really important stuff to add to your strategy later on. Poker is a beautifully complex game where you can develop a number of winning strategies. The most important thing is to start playing and experimenting with your playing strategies. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you beat a player and took the pot because of skill rather than random luck. While your poker hand may land by way of luck, the way you employ your strategy is not.
POKER HANDs FAQ
What is a bad beat?
When a player is a very strong favourite to win a hand but does not win. For example, AA losing to AKo where both players go all-in pre-flop.
Does a flush beat a straight?
Yes, a flush is a better combination than a straight in Texas Hold'em Poker.
Does three of a kind beat a straight?
No, the straight is a better combination in Texas Hold'em Poker.
Can I get a Royal Flush more often in Pot Limit Omaha?
Yes, since you get four hole cards and not two hole cards.
What happens if I have three pair?
In Texas Hold'em you can never have three pair, since the best combination has no more than five cards (your hole cards + community cards).
What is the best starting hand in No-Limit Hold'em?
The best possible two card starting hand is AA.
What is the worst starting hand in No-Limit Hold'em?
The worst starting hand which can be dealt to you is 7-2 offsuit. (Best not to play these cards).
What beats 3 Aces in poker?
A straight or better is needed to beat 3 Aces.
What is a dead man's hand in poker?
A pair of Aces and a pair of eights.
What are the top 3 starting hands in No-Limit Hold'em?
The 3 best starting hands in No-Limit Hold'em are AA, KK and QQ.