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Wondering which hands beat others in poker? Curious about the odds of winning hands? Find tips for ranking poker hands and learning when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
If you are new to poker and trying to wrap your mind around how best to strategize wins, the first thing to learn is how to rank hands. Poker is all about what your opponents think you have rather than what you are actually holding.
Any time you are looking for winning tricks in poker, never forget that a measure of cool, calculated detachment will go as far as any card toward assisting your table gains. Also, with so many varieties of poker, it’s important to learn how certain cards may carry different powers in different games.
Beyond presenting the right attitude, there are hands in poker that are stronger than others. Just because you might get dealt a weak hand doesn’t mean you can’t still win with it. Knowing what beats what and how to utilize certain cards will go a long way toward supporting your success at poker. This article breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of different hands in poker and lets you know which ones have the highest odds of happening.
Ranking Poker Hands
Most traditional poker games are played with a 52-card deck with no jokers or wilds involved, although we’ll also discuss how to manage games in which jokers and wilds play a role. A typical hand of poker includes five cards and is deemed “strong” or “weak” based on several key factors.
A hand in which you get five cards of sequential rank and the same suit is called a “straight.” The inversion of that is a hand in which you get five cards of the same suit but not in sequential rank, which is called a “flush.” There are other common hands, such as “three of a kind,” “two pair,” and “one pair,” which all have different values depending on the hands held by others and where the game’s progress is when you get these hands. Typically, aces are of the highest value in poker (more on that later) and deuces are lowest in rank.
The following segments list various hands of poker from the weakest hand to the best hand and outline a few basic poker rules as they relate to each hand.
If you get dealt a five-card poker hand in which no cards match, this is termed a “high card” hand. This hand is considered the weakest in poker because none of the combinations of cards that can induce more strategy — or a more interesting win — are at play. With a high card hand including two or more players with no matching cards, the player with the highest card in hand (the "kicker") is the winner. As the ace card is the strongest card in poker, having one ace in a high card hand can secure the win.
If you get a five-card hand in which only two out of your five cards match, this is called a “one pair” or just “pair.” The other three cards are essentially irrelevant in this hand unless someone else at the table also has an equal pair. In that case, the highest of those other three supporting cards in either player’s hands will dictate the winner. As a pair is considered a considerably weak hand in poker, receiving a hand like this can mean that another player has a better hand and a fold is wise.
Hands that contain two sets of cards of the same rank or number are referred to as “two pair” deals. As with the pair hand, should two or more players end up with two pair hands, the winner will be decided by who is holding the higher pair. The only time that the fifth card would come into play is in the unlikely event that two players hold the same two pairs, in which case the winner would be determined by a "showdown" with whose fifth card is the highest.
Three of a Kind
Receiving a hand in which you get three cards of the same number or rank is a “three of a kind” so long as the other two cards don’t also match one another. If those cards match, this would be a full house. Three of a kind is sometimes also referred to as “triplets” or “trips.” When two or more players hold three of a kind hands, the highest set of three is the winner.
Although three of a kind is not the strongest hand you could have in the game, it has enough possibility in it to consider holding if you can read your opponents well enough to know they might have something lower, like a one pair or two pair hand.
As mentioned, if you get five cards in sequential order, you hold what is known as a “straight.” These cards don’t have to be of the same suit. Interestingly, if two or more players end up with straights, the player who holds the highest starting card wins — not necessarily the player with the highest card overall in the straight.
For example, if player A holds J-10-9-8-7, this hand would beat player B who holds 5-4-3-2-A, even though player B holds that all-powerful ace (in the latter example, the ace is considered a 1). Straights are not viewed as overly powerful hands but can easily secure wins in games that have skewed toward lower-level hands.
Getting into the more competitive hands, any five cards of the same suit is a flush, and a flush can give you some opportunity in poker. One key point to know is that the high card in your flush can determine a lot.
If you are holding a flush with a king as the high card and one of your opponents holds an ace-high flush, your opponent will beat you in this round. As no one suit of cards in poker is worth more than another in poker, cards have to be compared one to one if two players hold flush hands that are numerically equivalent but in different suits. For instance, if player A holds K-Q-J-10-9 in clubs and player B holds K-Q-J-10-9 in hearts, this round results in a tie.
A full house is any three of a kind plus a pair. This spread is often referred to as a “boat” and is considered quite a good hand that can hold its own against many others in poker when you know how to play it. The highest three of a kind will dictate the winner when two or more players hold a full house. As aces are high and 2s are low, an aces-full three of a kind beats any other suit and a deuces-full three of a kind cannot beat any other suit.
Four of a Kind
As its name implies, four of a kind, or “quads,” occurs when you have the good fortune to get four identical cards and one random card, such as 3-3-3-3-7. This is regarded as a powerful hand in poker and can quickly bring you a win if you know how to bluff your opponents into thinking you have something even stronger and forcing them to fold. Like most everything else in poker, the highest four of a kind hand wins if two or more players hold this type of hand. A pair of aces beat all, whereas deuces beat nothing.
One of the best poker hands you can get is a straight flush, the second-highest card hand. This is when you get five cards in sequential order and all of the same suit. For example, a hand containing 5-6-7-8-9 all of clubs would be a straight flush. If two poker players have a straight flush, the highest cards win; besides the royal flush that we will go over in a moment, the highest straight flush is 9-10-J-Q-K.
Royal Straight Flush
If Lady Luck sees fit to give you a high hand containing 10-J-Q-K-A in the same suit, you hold the best possible hand that exists in poker: the royal straight flush. As you can imagine, the royal straight flush is incredibly rare and hard to come by.
It’s estimated to occur in regular five-card stud poker roughly once every 649,000 hands and in video poker (five-card draw) about once in every 40,000 hands. Nothing in poker beats a royal straight flush, so feel free to beam away and forget being poker-faced if you hold this hand.
What Wild Cards and Jokers Can Do
Some variations of poker include the presence of wild cards and jokers, bumping the card game up to a 54-card total. Even those games still played with a standard 52-card deck may elect to designate one card “wild” and allow it to substitute for other cards in certain scenarios unique to that particular style of poker.
For instance, in the poker variation known as “one-eyed jacks,” the jack cards of the spades and hearts suits are designated wild. In “deuces wild” poker, the wild cards become all of the 2 cards in the deck.
Generally, wild cards are used to create special “five of a kind” hands and stand in for other cards that a player might not have in their hands. Five-card draw poker is played with what is known as “the bug.” The bug is a joker card added to the standard 52-card deck and can be used in place of an ace or any other card needed to complete a straight or a flush.
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FAQs: Which Poker Hands Beat Others
Does a straight beat 4 of a kind?
A straight flush (meaning a straight in the same suit) does beat a four of a kind. However, a standard straight (consecutive cards in different suits) does not beat a four of a kind.
What beats five of a kind in poker?
A five of a kind beats a straight flush when using one or more wild cards during the game.
What cards beat what in poker?
In a traditional poker game, these are the poker hand rankings in order from the lowest ranking (least likely to win) to the highest-ranking (most likely):
- High Card
- One Pair
- Two Pair
- Three of a Kind
- Full House
- Four of a Kind
- Straight Flush
- Royal Flush
How many poker hands contain a 4 of a kind?
Technically, only the four of a kind hand contains four cards of one suit in a traditional poker game.