If you are a newbie to poker, the first thing you need to learn is how to identify what poker hands are best. With only a few exceptions, poker hands are consisted of five cards with the best five card hand being the winner. Let’s take a look at the various poker hands starting from the worst to the best.
The absolute worst poker hand that you can have is a high card hand. For example, if you have a hand with no pairs, straight, etc, then you have only a high card hand. A hand such as J-8-5-3-2 would be considered Jack-high. The best high card hand is ace-high and the worst hand is seven-high. If at showdown, all players have high card hands only, the player with the highest card wins. A common name for this hand is a “chinese straight.”
After a high card hand, you have a pair. A pair is two matching ranked cards, such as two kings or two sevens. Aces are the highest pair and the two’s are the lowest pair. If two players have a single pair, the player with the higher pair wins. In the instance where both players have the same pair, the player with the highest card after their pair would win. For example, if both players have a pair of eights but one player has a queen to go with his eights and the other player has a jack, then player with the queen wins. This card is known as a kicker.
The next best hand is two pair. An example would be a player holding a pair of kings and a pair of queens. This is a two pair hand. You may also hear someone call this kings-up, meaning that they have two pair with the kings being the highest pair. If two players have the same high pair, then the second pair determines the winner. Kings and queens would beat kings and jacks. If two players have the same two pair, then their kicker determines the winner.
After two pair, the next best hand is three of a kind. This can also be referred to as trips or a set. This is simple as it sounds, three of the same ranked card. In games other than Omaha and Holdem, if two players have three of a kind, the player with the highest three of a kind wins. In Holdem and Omaha, there is a chance that two players can have the same set of trips. In this case, the player with the best kicker wins the hand.
The next highest poker hand is the straight. A straight is a five card hand in numerical or rank succession. For example, a 2-3-4-5-6 is a straight. Also, a K-Q-J-10-9 is a straight. The ace can swing when it comes to the straight. It can make the wheel, A-2-3-4-5, or broadway, A-K-Q-J-10. In the event of the wheel, the ace is low, therefore making a five high straight. If two players have a straight, the player with the highest straight wins. If both players have the same straight, they chop the pot.
After the straight, there is the flush. A flush is five cards of the same suit, such as five hearts or five spades. If two players have a flush, the player with the highest card in their flush wins the hand.
A flush is a great hand, but not as good as a full house. A full house is a five card hand containing three of a kind and a pair. If more than one player has a full house, then the player with the higher three of a kind in their full house is the winner. The only exception is in Omaha or Holdem where board cards are shared. If both have the same three of a kind, the pair of their hand determines the winner.
After a full house, the next best hand is four of a kind. Just like three of a kind, this hand is simply four of the same rank. If somehow two players make four of a kind, the higher ranking hand wins. In Omaha or Holdem, there is a possibility of four of a kind on the board. If this happens, the player with the best kicker is the winner.
Only two hands beat a full house in a standard poker game. The first is the straight flush. A straight flush is five cards that are both in numerical or rank sequence and are of the same suit. An example would be 2-3-4-5-6 of spades. In the extreme long shot chance that two players have a straight flush, the higher straight flush wins.
The best of all poker hands is the royal flush. The royal flush is the A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit. If you hold this hand, you cannot lose in non-wildcard games. If two players beat the odds and make a royal in the same hand, they split the pot.
For the sake of completeness, we will go over one more hand that is possible in wild card games. In wild card games, a player can make five of a kind. This is every card of the same rank. This is the best hand in wild card games and in the case of multiple players making five of a kind, the best five of a kind wins. However, if you don’t play with wild cards, this hand is not necessary to remember.
Knowing the ranking of poker hands is just the first step in learning how to play poker. However, knowing these hand rankings before going into your first poker game will give you an early advantage over other players trying to get these basics down. It will not take long to memorize these hands once you start playing. All it takes is some practice. Good luck to you at the tables.