Poker Hand Ranking: Understanding Poker Hands

You don't need to be a genius to kill it at the table, but you will need a solid understanding of poker hands. begin your foray into game mastery here by learning about the various poker hands, and how they stack up. 


You don’t need to have Stu Unger’s swagger or the script of Rounders committed to memory to be a winning poker player, but you will need a solid understanding of poker hands.  After all, pimped out duds and smooth talk can’t make up for a lack of basic knowledge. Before you learn how to make the cool moves and close calls, you actually have to be able to recognize and rank poker hands. For newbies, this fundamental lesson is one of the very first and most important. Thankfully, learning your poker hands will also be one of the easiest lessons, so let’s get down to it.

Poker Hands, In Order of Ranking...

Royal Flush: 5 cards of the same suit in sequence with the Ace high. This is the highest ranking of poker hands.

Straight Flush: 5 cards of the same suit in sequence.

Four of a Kind: Also known as 'quads', this poker hand is made up of 4 cards of the same value and one random card. In the event multiple players have quads, the higher ranking cards will usurp the lower. If multiple players get the exact same hand with the same value (as can happen in poker games that use more than one deck), the random, unmatched card is used to determine the winner. Highest card wins.

Full House: A 5 card hand that has three of a kind, and also 2 of a kind. In the event multiple players have full houses, the player with the highest 3 cards wins. Again, if identical 3 card hands turn up (due to using multiple decks), then the highest 2 cards determines the winner.

Flush: These poker hands have all 5 cards of the same suit, but in any sequential order. In the event of two flushes, the player with the highest ranking card used to compromise the full wins.

Straight: 5 cards in sequence of made up of at least two different suits. In the event multiple players land a straight, the player with the highest card in his or her straight wins.

Three of a Kind: Quite simply, 3 cards of the same rank. The additional 2 cards are not the same rank or value. These poker hands are also called 'trips' or a 'set'. In cases where multiple players get trips, the one with the highest valued cards wins. In the event multiple players have the exact same trips (as may happen when more than one deck of cards is used), the kickers are utilized to bust the tie.

Two Pair: Again, this poker hand is pretty self-explanatory. If you land this hand, you quite literally have 2 distinct pairs of identical cards of identical rank. Higher top pair wins if multiple players have the same hand, and the kicker is used if multiple players have identical hands of identical ranks (again, a product of using multiple decks of cards.)

One Pair: If you've got two cards of the same rank, you've got one pair. The remaining 3 cards in this 5 card hand are not of the same rank. In the event of multiple pairs, the highest ranking pairs win and in the event multiple players have the exact same pair (i.e. multiple decks of cards), then the kicker determines the winner.

High Card: Any 5 card hand that simply boasts a high individual card. Basically, no hand is made so whoever has the highest one card wins.

Other Rules for Poker Hands

While there are many poker variations, poker hands remain pretty consistent across the board, as will the following rules:

1) The 5 Card Hand. Poker hands consist of 5 cards, even when the player has more than 5 cards at their disposal. In these cases, the best 5 card combo is played.

2) Individual Rank. Independently, each card holds the following rank from highest to lowest, regardless of suit: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.

3) Aces Go Both Ways. Aces can be viewed as high or as low (i.e. being valued for the numeric equivalent of '1') when they make up part of a straight or, alternatively, a straight flush.

4) Suits are Valuable, and Valueless. While the suit of cards is the determining factor when we're looking to make a straight flush or a flush, they hold no intrinsic, numeric value in themselves.

5) Deal Order is Irrelevant. Poker hands have the same ranking no matter what order the cards are dealt in. Example: Getting dealt hole cards of 46 and then hitting a 357 on the board during any of the subsequent streets still makes for a straight, regardless of the order of any given card's appearance on the board.

6) Equal Rank = Split Pot. In the event there are multiple hands of identical rank show up come showdown, the pot is divided equally (provided there are no kickers or provided that the kickers have equal value. A kicker is the highest individual hole card and it is used to decide who wins in the event of a split.)

If this seems a little overwhelming, here’s a bit of motivation: once you learn your poker hands basics, you never have to learn them again. Unlike your opponent’s play, your mood, a game’s pay out structure or your stack size, poker hands have been the same for centuries, so at least you have a sure bet there!

Photo Credit: Thomas van de Weerd | Flickr