Poker Hand Ranking

In poker, a player wins by forcing his opponents to fold their hand, or by having the best card combination (hand) at the showdown. A ranking of all possible poker hands is therefore needed to determine which player is holding the best hand.

In Texas Hold'em, every player can compose his best hand using his two hole cards and the five community cards. A poker hand has to consist of five cards. It is of no importance whether the player uses just one of his hole cards, both or even none of them. The two cards he doesn't use to form his hand don't play a role any longer even then not if they are his hole cards. If the community cards, for example, form a Royal Flush, then this is the player's hand, because he cannot form a better hand with his cards (a Royal Flush is the best possible hand in Texas Hold'em).

When it comes to describing poker hands, the following symbols are used for the different cards.

stands for ace

stands for king

stands for queen

stands for jack

stands for ten

stands for nine

… etc. For all of the other smaller cards, just the figures are used.

Furthermore, the individual suits are displayed as symbols as well.

stands for spades

stands for clubs

stands for hearts and

stands for diamonds.

If a player has two kings as hole cards (the king of diamonds and the king of clubs), the correct manner of representation would be . If the suit is unknown, the two kings are displayed as follows .

In contrast to other popular card games such as skat, the various suits (clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds) have no value in poker. Consequently, it makes no difference whether someone has e.g. the ace of clubs or the ace of diamonds unless he can form a flush (see below) with this card. If players still in the pot have exactly the same hand at the showdown, only in different suits, the pot will be split.

Overview of the hands

The value of poker hands depends on how often they occur, i.e. the less often a card combination occurs, the higher its value.

In poker the following combinations are possible (high card has the lowest, royal flush the highest value):

  1. High card
  2. One pair
  3. Two pair
  4. Set, trips or three of a kind
  5. Straight
  6. Flush
  7. Full house
  8. Quads or four of a kind
  9. Straight flush
  10. Royal flush

The hands in detail

Overall there are ten different poker hands that need to be described more precisely below.

High card

If a player has no combination including a pair or better, the high card is the decisive card during the showdown.

  • Example:

We have and the board is:. This means that we have nothing better than as high card. If we assume that our opponent has in his hand, his high card is the king. Since our ace is higher than his king, we win the hand.

If the high cards are the same, the second-highest card is compared. If these cards are also the same, the third-highest card is compared etc. These cards are known as the kicker.

  • Here's another example:

Player 1 has
Player 2 has

The board is

Both players have "high card ace". Player 1 wins though, because he has a king as his second highest card (kicker) – his opponent "only" has a queen. 

One pair

 

If we can form a hand containing two cards of the same value, we have a pair.

If our hole cards are and then is dealt, we can use our king to create a pair. If our opponent also has a pair of kings, the kicker determines the winner. Another possibility is that there is already a pair on the board (e.g. ). All of the players still in the hand now have this pair and it then comes down to whether they can form a second pair or an even better hand. Otherwise the best kicker decides again.

  • Example:

Player 1 has
Player 2 has

The board is

Thus, Player 1 has seven cards () available, to form his best possible hand , in this case a pair of aces. In contrast player 2 only has the cards available to form a hand. So his best possible hand is , in this case a pair of queens. Player 1 therefore wins.

Two pair

 

A player has two pair if he can form a hand containing two pairs of cards of the same rank.

  • Example:

We have again. The board is . So we have two pair. A pair of aces and a pair of kings.

If there is already a pair on the board, e.g. , then we can use it of course and only need one additional pair to have two pair (here our best hand would be ).

If the board is paired while we are holding a pocket pair, then we would also have two pair.

  • Here's another example:

Player 1 has
Player 2 has

The board is

Player 1 has a pair of kings and a pair of queens and therefore beats player 2 who has a pair of queens and a pair of sevens.

Three of a Kind (Set, Trips)

 

In order to have three of a kind, we need three cards of the same rank.

Three of a kind are differentiated according to how they arise, into "sets" and "trips".

A player has a set when his hole cards contain a pair and one of the community cards is of the same rank. If we have and the board is , then we have a set with .

Trips is when there is already a pair on the board and one of our hole cards is of the same rank, i.e. on a board of (our hand is then ). A set, however is a much better hand than trips, because with trips we have the problem that one of our opponents may have the same three of a kind, but with a better kicker or even as a full house.

  • Example:

Player 1 has
Player 2 has

The board has

Player 1 has three nines with an ace and the ten as kicker and loses against player 2, who has three nines and an ace and the king as kicker. 

Straight

 

A straight consists of five consecutive cards of different suits.

  • Example:

We have and the community cards are . This allows us to form a straight to the queen ().

As soon as two or more players have a straight, the player with the higher end wins. A straight from to is therefore better than a straight from to .

When forming a straight, the ace can be used in two different ways. It can take the highest or the lowest position, i.e. it can appear at the end () or the beginning (). This special straight which begins with an ace is also known as a "wheel" in poker language, because it connects the highest and the lowest card. A straight via the ace (e.g. ) is, however, not possible.

  • Here's another example:

Player 1 has
Player 2 has

The board is

Player 1 has a straight from the nine to the king () and beats player 2, who only has a straight from eight to the queen ().

Flush

 

A flush consists of five non-consecutive cards of the same suit (otherwise we would have a straight flush, which is an even better hand and described below). Thus, it is only important that the suits (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs) are of the same suit. It doesn't matter what kind of suit you are holding and the rank of the cards involved is only a subordinate criteria.

  • Example:

Our hole cards are . The flop comes , meaning that we have flopped a flush. As we have a flush through to the ace, we have the best possible flush (known as the nut flush).

If two players have a flush, the player with the highest card wins. If both players have the same high card, the second-highest card wins, etc.

  • Here's another example:

Player 1 has
Player 2 has

The board is

Player 1 has a flush with the still loses against player 2, who has a flush with the . 

Full house

A full house consists of three of a kind plus a pair.

  • Example:

We have . The board shows . This allows us to form a full house ().

If several players have a full house, the three of a kind determines the winner. If the players have the same three of a kind, the pair determines the winner.

In poker language, a full house is also known as a "boat".

  • Example:

Player 1 has
Player 2 has

The board is

Player 1 has a full house aces full of sevens (a set of aces and a pair of sevens) and therefore beats player 2, who has a full house sevens full of fives (trip sevens and a pair of fives).

Quads or Four of a Kind

 

Four of a kind, also known as quads, consists of four cards of the same rank and one card of another rank.

If two players have four of a kind, which is very rare, then the four of a kind with the highest card rank wins. A four of a kind consisting of is therefore lower than a four of a kind consisting of etc.

  • Here's an example:

Player 1 has
Player 2 has

The board is

Player 1 has four tens and loses against the four aces held by player 2.

If two players have the same four of a kind (which can only occur if the four of a kind is on the board), then the highest fifth card, the kicker, determines who wins.

Straight flush

A straight flush is a straight where all five cards are of the same suit.

  • Example:

If our hole cards are and appears on the flop, then we have a straight flush with as the highest card.

The previous rule applies here: If two players have a straight flush, the player with the highest card wins.

  • Example:

Player 1 has
Player 2 has

The board is .

Player 2 has a straight flush from through to and beats player 1, who has a straight flush from to

Royal flush

 

Every poker player's dream is to get a royal flush – the best and the only unbeatable hand in poker.

A royal flush (RF) consists of a straight from ten to the ace with all five cards of the same suit. A royal flush is very rare as there are only 4 hands out of a possible 2.6 million that can form a royal flush, namely

  • in the suits , , and

This means that you will rarely witness such an occurrence, and a lot of players sometimes have to wait years before having a RF at a table.  

Split pot

If two or more players have a hand that is of equal value according to the criterias descibed above, the pot is split accordingly.

  • Example 1:   

Player 1 has

Player 2 is holding

The board shows

Now both players form the following hand: . The suits play no role, since none of the players has a flush. The is indeed higher than the , but this has to be neglected, because only the best five-card poker hand counts. Thus, it is a split pot.

  • Example 2:

Player 1 is holding

Player 2 has

The board is .

So both players have the identical straight. The pair of aces doesn't play a role here, since it doesn't contribute to building the best possible five-card poker hand. Thus, the pot is split as well.

There are often split pots in hold'em, because five of the seven cards you can use to form the best possible hand are identical for all players. If the last two cards are of same rank as well or aren't required for forming the best possible hand, then the pot is split automatically. When both players start with similar hands, e.g. against , the result is almost always a split pot.

The kicker

As already mentioned in some of the previous examples, a kicker determines who wins a showdown, if two players have the same hand.

A hand consists of exactly five cards, but only a straight, flush, full house and royal flush depend on all five cards in order to be formed. With three of a kind, for example, only three cards are important – the three cards that form the three of a kind. With two pair there are four cards that determine the value of the hand. So with hands where not all of the cards are required to define the hand, the remaining cards can be decisive.

This is demonstrated very well by means of a high card hand.

  • Example:

Player 1 can form and  player 2 .

Both players have "high card ". Since the highest card is the same, the second-highest card determines the winner. But both players also have the same second-highest card, so the third-highest card determines the winner. Here, player 2 has , whereas player 1 only has an . Player 2 wins, because he has a better kicker, namely "high card and kicker ".

  • Here's another example:

Player 1 has
Player 2 has

The board is .

Both players have trips, i.e. three queens. Both players can use the ace on the board as their fourth card, meaning that the fifth card determines the winner. Here player 1 can deploy his king, whereas player 2 only has a jack.

Player 1 wins because he has a better kicker.

  • And here's a final example:

Player 1 has ,
Player 2 has ,

and is dealt.

Both players can form two pair as their best hand, i.e. the two pair on the board. But player 1 can replace the two on the board with a queen, whereas his opponent can only replace the two with a jack. Player 1 wins because he has a better kicker (the queen).

So in general, we speak of a kicker, if this card is not a main part of the hand, but in the end still decides who wins.

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