Poker Hands


Though there are countless varieties of poker – each of which boasting its own unique rules, strategies and modes of play – there is one thing that never changes: the hands and their strengths.

Indeed, whether you’re playing stud, draw, hold ‘em or HORSE, the different kinds of hands you will come across at a poker table are ubiquitous and an essential part of play. If you’re shaky on hand strength or unsure of your draw, here’s a simple guide to help explain the different hands you will come across.

High Card

High card King

High card King

At the bottom of the list in poker hand strength is high card. As its name implies, high card refers to the card with the greatest value in play, with each card bearing the value of the number on it, followed in increasing strength by the jack, queen, king and ace. There are a few situations in which the high card will decide the winner of a hand. First, and most obviously, is in the event that no player involved in the hand manages to make a pair, straight or flush when all of the money is in. In this case, the player with the highest value card will win the pot.

High card can also come into play in the event that players share the same hand. For example, if two players both show a pair of 9s at the end of a hand, with one player holding an ace and a 9 and the other holding a 9 7, the player with the ace will win. In this situation, the ace is what’s known as a kicker – which is to say the next strongest card outside of a pair or set of cards. In some varieties of poker, however, there are times when the kicker will not come into play. In Texas hold ‘em, for example, players make the best 5-card combination using their own hole cards and the shared community cards, or board. In the event that the board shows cards stronger than any player’s kicker, the hand will be a draw, and the pot will be split among the players whose hands tied.

High card is also an overarching factor in other hands that will be discussed later in this list, as pairs, straights, flushes, etc. will all be decided by which player has the highest cards.

Pair

Pair of 10's

Pair of 10′s

The most basic made hand in poker, a pair is formed when a player matches two cards of equal value. Though a made hand, pairs can only beat lower pairs or players who failed to make any hand at all. Pairs of higher value, of course, defeat the lower ones, and should two players hold the same pair, a winner will be decided by the players’ kickers.

Pairs are particularly common in 7-card poker games, where hands with at least a single pair are more common than hands without a pair, according to a report from Simon Fraser University’s Brian Alspach.

Two Pair

Two Pair

Two Pair

A step up from the single pair, two pair hands see a player boasting two separate groups of cards of the same rank. In the event that multiple players have two pair, the individual with the highest single pair will win. For example, if two players show their cards where one holds 9 9 7 7 5 and the other A A 2 2 5, the player with the pair of aces will win.

Should two players hold the same two pairs, a winner will be decided by the kicker.

Three of a Kind

Three of a Kind

Three of a Kind

Also known as a ‘set’ or ‘trips,’ three of a kind is when a player has three cards of equal value.

As one might suspect, trips are rarer than pairs, so players holding a set tend to be more confident in their hand strength and bet accordingly.

In a match off between two players with the same Three of a Kind, the winner will be decided by the kicker.

Straight

Right hand has the higher - and winning - straight

Right hand has the higher – and winning – straight

Whether you play 5- or 7-card varieties of poker, a straight is when you have five cards of sequential value of any suit combination. Straights are unique in that an ace can be played low, serving a value of 1 (A 2 3 4 5, a straight also known as a ‘wheel’), and high (10 J Q K A, a straight called ‘Broadway’).

Like all hands, the high-card principle prevails in the event of multiple straights, with the player holding the highest value card in the straight winning the hand. For example, if one player has 2 3 4 5 6 and another 3 4 5 6 7, the player with the straight to the 7 will win the hand.

Flush

Flush

Flush

A flush is a hand where a player boasts five cards of any order that are all of the same suit. Flushes are ranked by the highest card in the suit, but the suits themselves are not ranked. In other words, a queen-high spade flush is ranked evenly with a queen-high heart flush.

If two players share the same high card, then the winner will be decided by the kicker.

 

Full House

Two Full Houses - hand on the right wins

Two Full Houses – hand on the right wins

One of the stronger hands in poker, a full house describes when a player has both a set (three cards of matching value) and a separate pair (two cards of matching value). When two full houses, colloquially known as ‘boats,’ come against each other, precedence is given to the player with the higher set. If both players share the set (something only possible in poker games with communal cards) then the values of the pair will be compared.

As a defined five-card hand, the kicker will not come into play in a full house faceoff.

Four of a Kind

Two players with Four of a Kind - Player on the right wins with a higher kicker card

Two players with Four of a Kind – Player on the right wins with a higher kicker card

Also known as quads, four of a kind is a poker hand in which a player has collected all four cards of any particular value. In a situation with two groups of quads, the cards of higher value will be the winner.

If players share the same group of quads (only possible if all four cards are present among the community cards) a kicker can decide the winner.

Straight Flush

Straight Flush (This example is a Royal Flush, more specifically)

Straight Flush (This example is a Royal Flush, more specifically)

The rarest of the rare, a straight flush requires a player to have five sequential cards within the same suit. The highest of these hands is a Royal Flush, wherein a player has the 10 J Q K A of the same suit (shown on the right). Straight Flushes are extremely rare, and can only be beaten by straight flushes with a higher range.