For the uninitiated, poker can seem like a high-pressure (and highly complicated) game, with numerous possible hands and lots of rules to keep in mind. Perhaps one of the trickiest elements of the game is remembering the combinations of cards that make up winning hands, and also how these hands rank against each other.
The first basic fact to grasp is that poker hands consist of five cards. So, even if you're playing a seven-card game, only the best five of those cards will play – which means you should always focus on making the best five-card hand you can. Read on to learn about the different hands in detail, and their rankings.
When you haven't made any of the below hands, it's the highest card you're holding that counts. So, if nobody at the table has made a hand, the holder of the highest card wins. Cards must all be of different ranks, not consecutive, and contain at least two different suits for this to apply.
The simple but effective Pair is one of the most common hands in poker. This is when you have two cards of the same rank, and the higher the Pair, the stronger your position.
Sitting just behind Three-of-a-Kind in the rankings is the Two Pair: this is when your hand contains two separate pairs of different ranks, for example 10-10-5-5-3 or J-J-9-9-7. In the case of two players having two pairs, the hand with the highest pair wins. In the example above, this would be the hand with the pair of Jacks, as Jacks rank higher than Tens.
Sometimes you're lucky enough to have your Pair turned into a Three-of-a-Kind, or 'trip' as it's affectionately known. This is when you have any three cards of the same rank (for example, 7-7-7-3-2), and it's a relatively strong hand, depending on the competition.
A Straight is where you land five cards in sequence (for example, Q-J-10-9-8) but from a mixture of suits. It's often a very strong hand, but it's worth less than a Flush.
To make a Flush, you need five cards of the same suit, although they don't have to be in consecutive order – for example, Q-10-7-3-2 (All Clubs). If you come up against a Flush while holding one yourself, the player with the highest card will be the winner. For example, if you had K-9-7-4-2 of Spades and your opponent had Q-J-7-4-2 of Hearts, you would win the hand, as the King would rank as the highest card.
A Full House is when your hand consists of three cards of the same rank, plus a pair of cards of another rank – for example, 6-6-6-4-4 or 10-10-10-2-2. When two players have an equally ranked Three-of-a-Kind, the highest ranked Pair wins.
A Four-of-a-Kind consists of four cards, all of the same rank (for example, 4-4-4-4-A). In the case of two players having a Four-of-a-Kind, the one with the higher set of four cards ranks higher. For example, if one player has 6-6-6-6-3 and another has 4-4-4-4-A, the player with the Sixes wins, as six is the higher number. In the case of two players with Four-of-a-Kinds of equal ranking, the player with the highest 'kicker' (i.e. the 'spare' or 'side' card) wins.
The Straight Flush ranks second in the list, beaten only by a Royal Flush. The Straight Flush differs from the Royal Flush in that the cards aren't all of the royal variety. A Straight Flush is five cards in the correct order, all in the same suit – for example, 10-9-8-7-6 (All Hearts). This is a very strong hand, but if there are lots of players at the table, remember that there could also be a Royal Flush in waiting. When two Straight Flushes are in contention, the one containing the higher top card ranks higher.
The strongest possible hand in poker is the Royal Flush. This hand consists of the royal cards; Ace, King, Queen and Jack, joined by a 10, all of which have to be the same suit. The Royal Flush can't be beaten, and the player that lands it is very lucky indeed.
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