Poker Hand Rankings

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poker hands

Perhaps you’ve been in an argument in your home game about whether a straight should beat a flush. You may have disputed who has the better two pair.

This quarrelling is perhaps all part of the fun in a friendly home game. But when cash start getting involved, it’s better to know exactly what beats what.

It Depends on the Poker Variant

Different variants of poker use different hand rankings systems. For example, the game known as Deuce to Seven Triple Draw is a lowball variant. The lower ranked holdings are stronger than higher ranked hands. More on this later, though.

Let’s start out with the standard high hand ranking system. This format is common to most poker variants (including the most popular poker game, No Limit Hold’em).

Making Hands

Although there are some exceptions, poker hands consist of 5 cards. This might be confusing at first. We might think of a pair (two cards of equal rank) as a two-card hand. There is no such thing as a two-card hand in poker.

We must always use 5 cards to create a hand.

Cards which don’t directly contribute to the strength of our holding are referred to as kickers. When two players make the same hand (the same pair for example), the kickers will determine who wins the pot.

In Hold’em, players use a combination of their hole cards along with cards from the board to make a hand. Whether they use, both, one or none, it will still be a 5-card hand.

The Hand Rankings

High Card
One Pair
Two Pair
Three-of-a-Kind
Straight
Flush
Full House
Straight Flush
Royal Flush

These examples are in order of strength meaning hands further down the list beat hands higher up the list.

High Card – AhQsTc6s5d

High Card

We haven’t made a pair or better so our hand strength is determined by the highest card (Aces are high).

If our opponent has the same high card as us, the second card is consulted (and so on).

For each hand, we’ll look at a Hold’em example where player 1 has made the exact hand in the image.

Hold’em Example:

Board: 2h6s5dQs3d

Player 1: AhTc
Player 2: AdJh

Player 1 has made the exact hand in the above image – AhQsTc6s5d.

But is it a winner, loser, or tie?

Both players hold Ace High in this example. So, it’s necessary to consult the second card to determine a winner. Both players hold the Queen as a second card (from the board). Player 1’s third card is the ten while player 2’s second card is the jack.

  • Player 1 holds Ace-Queen-Ten High
  • Player 2 holds Ace-Queen-Jack High

Player 2 wins the pot with Ace-Queen-Jack high.

Read this guide about high card hand.

One Pair – Queens

One Pair

We have two cards of identical rank. Higher pairs are stronger. The three remaining cards are kickers.

Hold’em Example

Board: Qh6h2d

Player 1: Qs9c
Player 2: AdQd

Player 1 has made the exact hand in the above image – QsQh6h9c2d.

But is it a winner, loser, or tie?

Both players hold a Pair of Queens in this example. So, we need to look at kickers to determine a winner.

  • Player 1 has a Pair of Queens with a Nine Kicker.
  • Player 2 has a Pair of Queens with an Ace Kicker.

Player 2 wins with a Pair of Queens, Ace Kicker.

Note that we are still on the flop in this Hold’em example so anything could change by the river.

Read this guide about high card hand.

Two Pair – Jacks And Nines

Two Pair

We have two sets of two cards of identical rank. The strength of the higher pair is most essential. The second pair is only consulted if two players have the same high pair.

This hand uses four cards directly which leaves room for one kicker to complete the 5-card hand.

Hold’em Example

Board: Jh9d2d2c

Player 1: Jc9c
Player 2: KhKs

Player 1 has made the exact hand in the above image – JhJc9d9c2d.

But is it a winner, loser, or tie?

This is a classic example of a spot that might cause some arguments. At first glance it appears that player 1 has two pair while player 2 has one pair. This is not the case, though.

  • Player 1 has Two Pair, Jacks and Nines
  • Player 2 has Two Pair, Kings and Deuces

This means player 2 wins with Two Pair, Kings and Deuces. His higher pair is higher than player 1’s and he can create his second pair from the board. This is a turn spot so things could potentially change by the river.

Read this guide about two pair hand

Three-Of-A-Kind Queens

Three-of-a-Kind

We have three cards of identical rank. Often referred to as ‘Trips’. Higher ranked trips beat lower ranked trips. This situation leaves room for two kickers.

Hold’em Example

Board: QhQs2h3d6s

Player 1: Qd7c
Player 2: AhQc

Player 1 has made the exact hand in the above image – QhQsQd7c6s

But is it a winner, loser, or tie?

Both players have Three of a Kind Queens in this example. So, we need to consult the kickers to determine a winner.

  • Player 1 has Three of a Kind Queens with a Seven Kicker
  • Player 2 has Three of a Kind Queens with an Ace Kicker

This means player 2 wins with Three of a Kind Queens, Ace-Kicker.

Read this guide about three of a kind hand.

Straight Th9s8d7c6s

Straight

We have five cards in direct consecutive order e.g., 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. The suits don’t matter. The higher the rank of the card at the top of the straight, the stronger the straight.

This hand has no kickers since it already uses all 5 cards.

Hold’em Example

Board: 8d7c6s

Player 1: Th9s
Player 2: 9c5c

Player 1 has made the exact hand in the above image – Th9s8d7c6s

But is it a winner, loser, or tie?

Both players have a straight here. But they are not equal.

  • Player 1 has a Ten-High Straight
  • Player 2 has a Nine-High Straight

Player 1 wins with the Ten-High Straight.

Read this guide about straight hand.

Flush AdJd8d7d5d

Flush

We have five cards all in the same suit. The highest ranked card determines the strength of the flush.

If two players have the same high card, the second-highest flush card is consulted (and so on).

Hold’em Example

Board: 2sJd8d5dKs

Player 1: Ad7d
Player 2: Td4d

Player 1 has made the exact hand in the above image – AdJd8d7d5d

But is it a winner, loser, or tie?

Both players have a flush in this case. So, we need to consider who has the highest flush Card.

  • Player 1 has an Ace-High Flush.
  • Player 2 has a Jack-High Flush.

Player 1 wins with his Ace-High Flush.

Both players have access to the same community cards. So, player 2’s hand will often be referred to as a Ten-High Flush (even though it is really jack-high).

Similarly, if player 2 held 3d4d it would often be referred to as a Four-High Flush (even though such a hand is technically impossible in poker and in the absolute sense it is still a jack-high flush).

Read this guide about flush hand.

Full House – Aces Full Of Sevens

Full House

Our hand has three cards of one rank and two of another. (Three-of-a-Kind plus one pair). The strength of the hand is determined by the rank of the Three-of-a-Kind.

The pair is only consulted if two players have the same ranked Three-of-a-Kind.

Hold’em Example

Board: Ah7c7d

Player 1: AdAs
Player 2: Ac7h

Player 1 has made the exact hand in the above image – AdAsAh7c7d

But is it a winner, loser, or tie?

Both players hold a full house, so we need to analyze who has the strongest three-of-a-kind component.

  • Player 1 holds a Full House, Aces full of Sevens
  • Player 2 holds a Full House, Sevens full of Aces

Player 1 wins with Aces full of Sevens. Note how player 1 has the three-of-a-kind aces while player 2 has the inferior three-of-a-kind sevens.

Read this guide about Full House hand.

Quads/ Four-Of-A-Kind Queens

Four-of-a-Kind

We have four cards of identical rank. Often referred to as ‘Quads’. Higher ranked quads beat lower ranked quads. This leaves room for 1 kicker.

Hold’em Example

Board: QhQsQdQc2s

Player 1: 5c5d
Player 2: Kh6d

Player 1 has made the exact hand in the above image – QhQsQdQc5d.

But is it a winner, loser, or tie?

This one has been known to cause a few arguments also. At first glance, it seems that player 1 must be stronger because he has a pair of Fives in the hole. But this is not the case.

Both players are forced to use the four Queens on the board. The hand strengths are therefore as follows.

  • Player 1 has Four-of-a-Kind Queens with a Five Kicker.
  • Player 2 has Four-of-a-Kind Deuces with a King Kicker.

Player 2 wins with Four-of-a-Kind Deuces, King Kicker.

Read this guide about four of a kind hand.

Straight Flush 10h9h8h7h6h

Straight Flush

We have five cards in consecutive rank order all in the same suit – e.g., 5,6,7,8,9 all hearts.

The strength of the straight flush is determined by the card at the top of the straight (Aces are high).

Hold’em Example

Board: 6h7h8h9h2c

Player 1: AhTh
Player 2: Qc5h

Player 1 has made the exact hand in the above image – 10h9h8h7h6h.

But is it a winner, loser, or tie?

It’s completely irrelevant that player 1 holds the Ah here. He instead plays the Th to make the higher end of the straight flush.

Player 2 also makes a straight flush. So, we need to compare the card at the top of the structure to determine a winner.

  • Player 1 has a Straight Flush, Ten High
  • Player 2 has a Straight Flush, Nine High

Player 1 wins with the Straight Flush, Ten High.

Read this guide about straight flush hand.

Royal Flush TsJsQsKsAs

Royal Flush

We hold TJQKA all in the same suit. This hand is the strongest in poker and can never be beaten. (At worst, it will tie). The royal flush is a type of straight flush - the best possible Straight Flush.

Hold’em Example

Board: TsJsQsKsAs

Player 1: 2d2h
Player 2: KcKh

Player 1 has made the exact hand in the above image – TsJsQsKsAs.

But is it a winner, loser, or tie?

At first glance player 2’s hand might seem significantly stronger. But none of the hole cards matter in this case since there is a royal flush on the board.

  • Both players play the 5 community cards to create a Royal Flush.

This hand is, therefore, a tie.

Read this guide about Royal Flush hand.

Many other variants use the same high hand rankings. This includes games like, Omaha, Seven Card Stud, and Five Card Draw.

Razz and 2-7 Triple Draw are examples of lowball variants that use a different hand ranking system.

Razz - Razz is the lowball version of stud. Low hands are stronger, but straights and flushes don’t count against us.

The Ace is always low in Razz.

So, the best hand in Razz is A,2,3,4,5 followed by A,2,3,4,6, then A,2,3,5,6.

Top Tip: Imagine the hand is a number being read backwards (where Ace is 1). Lower numbers win.

For example, A,2,3,4,6 is 64,321 while A,2,3,5,6 is 65,321. A,2,3,4,6 is the winner because its corresponding number is lower.

This type of Low Hand Ranking system is used in split pot games such as Omaha hi/lo and Stud hi/lo.

2-7 Triple Draw - This variant has its own low hand ranking system. It is different from Razz and most split pot variants.

In 2-7 Triple Draw, aces are always high, and straights and flushes count against our hand.

The nuts in 2-7 Triple Draw is 2,3,4,5,7 hence the name. (2,3,4,5,6 is a straight and an extremely weak hand in this variant).

Top Tip: The hand rankings should be straightforward to remember. It is the exact opposite of the Hold’em high hand rankings system.

Whichever hand would typically win in Hold’em will be the loser in this variant.

Getting Started

Don’t worry if the lowball hand rankings seem confusing. Beginner players nearly always start out with a high hand ranking game (usually Hold’em).

Make sure to review the examples above and only play in play-money games until you are fully confident with what beats what.

This guide to playing No Limit Hold’em might also provide some useful pointers.

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