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Best Hands in Poker
In order to master any poker game, you need to understand the basic rules. It all starts with learning hand strengths. If you don’t know how strong your hand is, you won’t be able to win. There are many different types of poker games, including Texas hold’em, Omaha hold’em, Omaha hi/lo, Seven-card stud, Stud hi/lo, and more. These are the traditional poker games, which we will be focusing on in this guide.
Knowing the strength of your hand is crucial because if you don’t know how strong your hand is, you won’t know how to play your cards. The decisions you make will be based on the strength of your hand and the strength you perceive your opponent’s hand to be. For example, if you think your opponent has a weak hand, even if you have a weak hand, you should bet and try to bluff them out of the pot.
If you have a strong hand, you want your opponents to think you have a weak hand. That way you can get them to call your bets or try to bluff you. That’s how you make money playing poker. When you have a weak hand, you want people to believe you have a strong hand so that you can win the pot without good cards. When you have a strong hand, you want the opposite reaction out of your opponents. Poker is a mind trick game.
Getting the most out of your hand starts with understanding hand strengths. What is and isn’t a good hand? Well, that all depends on board texture. Confused? We’re going to clear things up! There are certain hands that are strong all the time and others that are strong some of the time, which will be explained in this guide. But before we do that, let’s get to know the poker best hands.
Best Poker Hands Ranked
In traditional poker games such as Texas hold’em, stud, and Omaha, the basic hand rankings are the same, although the games themselves are slightly different. The same hands in Texas hold’em, for example, beat the same hands in Omaha. The difference is how many cards you are dealt.
The strongest possible hand in traditional poker games is a royal flush. Getting a royal flush is so uncommon that you could play poker for many years on a daily basis without ever having been dealt one. To get a royal flush, you must have the Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of the same suit. If you get a royal flush, your hand can’t possibly be beaten.
The next strongest possible hand, which is also uncommon, is a straight flush. It’s the same thing as a royal flush except you can have any possible five connecting cards. They don’t have to be Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace. They could be, for example, Nine, Ten, Jack, Queen, and King, so long as they are of the same suit. If you play enough poker, you’ll get the occasional straight flush. You will get one more often in Omaha than you will Texas hold’em because you are dealt two more cards.
Four of a kind
Another monster hand, which is inferior to the straight flush, is a four of a kind (Quads). This is self-explanatory, but when you have four cards of the same value, you have a hand that is tough to beat. It’s rare to get a four of a kind and extremely rare to have a four of a kind beat by a better hand. The likelihood of that happening is nearly astronomical, but you will occasionally be dealt Quads. Should you play poker on a regular basis, expect to get Quads about five or six times a year in Texas hold’em, and a few more if your game is Omaha.
Up next on the list of strong hands, we have a full house. Or, as many poker players refer to it as, a “full boat” or “boat”. A full house is simply three cards of the same value mixed with a pair of cards of another value. An example of a full house is Ace, Ace, Ace, King, King. Most of the time, a full house is very strong in any traditional poker game. Of course, there will be times where you are up against a stronger full house and lose. To determine which full house is strongest, you take the value of the three of a kind. If they are the same, the player with the strongest additional pair wins the hand (i.e. three Aces and two Tens beat three Aces and two Nines).
The fifth strongest hand is a flush. A flush is when you have five cards of the same suit. If those cards connect (i.e. Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine), you have a straight flush, but when you just have five random cards of the same suit, you just have a regular flush. A flush is typically a very strong hand, although it can be vulnerable at times (we’ll explain this later).
The next strongest hand is a straight. This is when you have five consecutive value cards that aren’t all of the same suit. An example of a straight is Nine, Ten, Jack, Queen, and King. The highest value straight is Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace altogether. Straights are great hands most of the time, but it’s not all that uncommon for a straight to lose to a flush or full house. So proceed with caution!
Three of a kind
Up next, we have three of a kind. When you have three cards of the same value and two cards of a different value (i.e. Two, Two, Two, Four, Nine), you still have a very strong hand in most cases. We’ll go more into detail about this below, but you do need to be a tad cautious when holding a three of a kind hand because it will be crushed sometimes.
The eighth strongest hand is two pair. If your hand includes two separate pairs of cards, you have two pair. The best two pair hand is Aces and Kings. If your opponent also has two pair and you have Aces and Kings, they can’t beat you. Two pair is a vulnerable hand especially in games such as Stud and Omaha, so be careful.
If you don’t have at least two pair and have just one pair, your hand is often going to be dominated by another hand. However, in Texas hold’em, one pair, as long as it is the top/best pair, you will have the best hand quite often. In games such as Omaha, one pair will rarely be good enough to win the hand, so proceed accordingly.
Lastly, if you don’t so much as have a pair, you have what’s called “high card”. This isn’t a very good hand and will rarely be enough to win the pot without bluffing. But if your opponent has just King-high and you have Ace-high, you win the hand. Just don’t count on winning many hands with high card only. Most of the time, you’re going to need more.
Getting the Best Hand in Poker
Knowing the strength of each hand is important, but you also need to understand board texture and how it should impact your decision. In some cases, a hand that is usually strong is actually weak and vulnerable. This depends on the community cards dealt in Texas hold’em and the cards your opponent has placed face-up in stud. Let’s take a look at a prime example of when the best poker cards (hands) aren’t as strong as you might think.
In a Texas hold’em game, you are dealt two Aces (pocket rockets). On the flop, you hit another Ace but there are three spades. Your hand is still very strong here. The only thing that can beat you is a flush, which is unlikely. But, on the turn, a fourth spade is turned over. That means if your opponent has just one spade, your three of a kind is no good unless the board pairs up on the river to give you a full house.
On the river, your hand doesn’t improve, leaving you vulnerable to a flush. So although you started with a very strong hand and now have three of a kind, based on this board texture, three of a kind is actually a weak hand. You won’t always be beaten here, but you will most of the time. You shouldn’t just factor in the basic strength of your hand when making decisions. You should also factor in board texture, which you have learned, in this case, your basic strong hand is actually weak.
Here’s another example of how board texture can change the strength of your hand. You flop two pair (Kings and Tens) on a K-10-3 board. That’s a very strong hand, and you should bet with confidence. An Ace hits on the turn. You still have a strong hand but could be up against a stronger two pair or a straight, but most of the time your hand will be good. A three spikes on the river.
If your opponent has any Ace, you're beaten because that hand will be a stronger two pair (Aces and Threes). If your opponent shows strength by betting big, you’ll probably be forced to fold. The board texture just isn’t very good at this point. There aren’t many hands you can beat unless your opponent is bluffing.
This is why you must take into consideration board texture and not just the basic strength of your hand. What happens when you only factor in your own hand strength is you lose money. Poker is a game in which sometimes you have to lay down a strong hand because it isn’t strong enough. Losing poker players don’t have the discipline to lay down strong hands when they are beaten. Instead of limiting the damage, they keep throwing chips in the pot. Don’t be this type of poker player!
Know When to Hold'em, Know When to Fold'em
The best poker players are those that know when to lay a hand down and when to stay in the pot. We’ve already discussed the basic hand strengths and explained board texture, but just because the board texture is bad doesn’t mean you have the worst hand. Confused? Read on!
There are going to be times when you have a hand that looks strong, but the board texture devalues your hand, but you still have the best hand. Here’s an example. Let’s say you flopped a flush with your Two-Three of spades. That’s a strong hand. The turn is another spade and the river pairs the board.
Unfortunately, your originally strong hand is now weak. If your opponent has any spade, you are beaten since you have the weakest flush possible. Also, your opponent could have a full house since the board is paired, which means you have to worry about a better flush and a full house. Basically, you’re often not in a very good situation and will lose the hand, at least half the time, if not more.
However, that doesn’t mean your hand isn’t best. To make the right decision, you need to trust your read on your opponent. Just because your opponent is betting doesn’t mean you have to fold. They may be bluffing. This happens quite often. So instead of automatically folding your hand just because the board texture isn’t advantageous, stop and think about what reads you have on your opponent before making a decision. You may catch them in a bluff and win the hand with the tiniest flush.
Poker is a difficult game, but it’s a fun game to play and learn how to play. Now that you have the poker hand basics and understand how to read board texture, you are well on your way towards a successful and enjoyable poker career. The smarter you play, the more money you will make. The above advice is very important so make sure you understand everything we wrote.