A hand of poker can be won in two ways: either by betting and forcing your opponents to fold or by having the best poker hand at showdown.
Poker hands consist of the best five-card hand made up from any combination of the cards you are dealt and the community cards.
Every beginning player, therefore, needs to understand the poker hand rankings to determine the strength of each player’s hand and, subsequently, the winner.
Where applicable, we’ll give the odds of making those hands, so you can begin to appreciate how rare your hand might be – or not!
If the board (the five community cards called the flop, turn and river) fails to connect with your two private hole cards, then you only have a high card.
Your high card is the highest of your two hole cards.
It’s usually worthless as most of the time another player will have connected with the board to make at least a pair. If your opponent only has a high card as well, then the highest one wins. If you both have the same high card, your “kicker”, that is to say, the value of your next hole card comes into play.
In poker, there’s roughly a 50% chance a player will pair one of their hole cards. So, if you’re playing a table of six or nine others, you can see how vulnerable a high card might be at showdown.Back to top
Next best hand in poker is one pair. Here, you either need to have been dealt two cards of the same value, called a pocket pair, or you need the board to pair up one of your hole cards. The higher the pair’s value, the better.
In poker, the best cards you can be dealt are a pair of aces. But that’s before the community cards follow. If your aces don’t improve, you can be beaten by any of the higher ranks, from two pair upwards.
Being dealt a pair is quite rare – a 16/1 shot (6%). But the hand becomes all-too-common after that. The chance of making a pair on the flop is 32%, and that rises to around 50% by the river.
If more than one player has a pair, the higher card value wins, with aces being the highest all the way down to a pair of twos.Back to top
Two pairs beat one pair, as you might expect. If the board pairs up both of your hole cards, then you have two pair. Or, if the board itself has a pair and also pairs one of your hole cards, you also have two pair.
If more than one player holds two pair at showdown, the one with the highest pair wins. If both hold the same highest pair, the strength of the second pair determines the winner. In the unlikely event that two players hold the same two pairs, then the winner is determined by who has the highest ranking single card.
The chances of flopping two pair are rare, only about 2%, and – unless the flop has some flush or straight-making possibilities, you will likely be ahead at this time, although you should be aware of the next ranking in the order of poker hands, three of a kind.Back to top
When you have three cards of the same value, you’ve hit three of a kind. You can either have a pocket pair and make a “set” by landing a third card with the same value on the board, or perhaps the board itself pairs and you hold a third card of the same value (called making “trips”).
When you hold a pocket pair, there is just under a 12% chance of flopping a set – a great hand because your opponent can rarely put you on it. If you miss on the flop, there’s still around a 6% chance of hitting on the turn and only slightly less with just the river to come.Back to top
Next in the poker hands list is a straight, consisting of a run of five cards of consecutive values, such as 4-5-6-7-8. Aces count as high or low, so you can make a 10-J-Q-K-A straight, the highest, or an A-2-3-4-5 straight, which is the lowest and sometimes called a “wheel”.
It’s unlikely you’ll flop a straight, but you might flop a straight draw. Perhaps you hold 8-9, and the flop comes 3-10-J. Any Q or 7 will make your straight. That’s eight possible cards, giving you roughly a 32% chance of hitting on the turn and river. If only the river is left, there is around a 16% chance of completing your straight.Back to top
When it comes to the best poker hands, a flush is powerful. It means you’ve made a five-card poker hand all of the same suit. You might hold two cards of the same suit and fill your flush with three more on the flop, turn or river. Or, you can make a flush with one hole card if four of the same suit arrive on the board.
The strength of a flush is determined by the highest value card you hold in that suit, with an ace being the highest. If you hold A-Q diamonds and the flop comes 7-9-2 all diamonds, then you have an ace-high flush.
After the flop, if you’re looking for one more card to fill your flush, you will succeed around 35% of the time. The chances of flopping a flush on the flop are remote at around 0.8%.Back to top
We’re now getting into royalty in this poker hand strength guide. A full house, also known as a “boat”, is usually the winning hand. It consists of three of a kind and a pair. So, if you hold K-K and the board comes K-10-6-6-8, then you have made a full house of K-K-K-6-6.
You might hear this described as “kings full of sixes”. The ranking is determined by the value of the three matched cards.Back to top
Four of a kind is huge; one of the best hands in poker. You’ve already learnt that flopping a set (three of a kind) is a 12% shot. You then must hope to add another card of the same value on the turn or river – and there’s only a 4% chance of that happening.
In the highly unlikely event that two players both have quads, then the quads with a higher value win the hand.Back to top
A straight flush is like any other flush – except it consists of a run of five consecutive cards in the same suit. Again, if two players were to hit a straight flush, the one with the highest card wins. An ace-high straight flush is the best hand here.Back to top
Finally, it’s the daddy of poker hand rankings. The Royal Flush is a straight flush but with the cards 10-J-Q-K-A. It’s a beautiful sight when you make one but keeping your poker face on is hard… because it only happens statistically once every 32,000 hands!Back to top
Now you understand the value of poker Texas Holdem hands, you can play your game accordingly. But do take note of some of the simple stats we have included in this guide to poker winning hands, as this will also help you determine your poker hand strength.Back to top