Beginner’s Guide to Poker Hands

Poker is the greatest card game in the world. There are 52 cards in a standard deck of cards. That means there are thousands of possible hands you can make. Each hand has a certain value. The object is to get a higher value hand than your opponent. If you are able to do that, you win the hand, unless they bluff you out of the pot. Of course, you can’t control the cards that are dealt to you.

For this guide, we are going to focus on the world’s most popular game, Texas hold’em. There are many other forms of poker and the hand values differ from game to game, but since most of you play hold’em, we’ll stick with that game for now. 

Texas hold’em is an exciting poker game. It’s the game played at the world’s most famous poker tournament – the World Series of Poker Main Event. Hold’em is a simple game to learn how to play but difficult game to master. You have to continually practice and gain experience before you can expect to see positive results. That’s what makes Texas hold’em so exciting though. The game offers the perfect mix of strategy and luck.

Here’s how you play the game. You start by receiving two cards face down. You determine, based on the strength of those two cards, if you want to remain in the hand by calling the initial bet, raising, or folding because the cards are weak. We call this “pre-flop action”. If you remain in the hand through this first round of betting, you will then see the “flop”. This is where three community cards are put on the table face-up.

All community cards are available for each player in the hand to use. The object is to make the best possible five cad poker hand from the seven total cards that will be available. Right now, we’ve mentioned just five total cards. The flop is the second round of betting. If there are at least two players remaining after the flop, the next community card will be placed on the table. 

This card is called the “turn” or “4th street”. Another round of betting takes place. If at least two players are still in the hand, the final community card is placed on the table. This card is called the “river” or “fifth street”. The river is the card that often makes or breaks your hand. Sometimes you will catch a card on the river that makes your hand superior to your opponent’s hand and sometimes your opponent will do the same thing to you. It’s always frustrating when you end up on the wrong end of the river stick. That’s called a “bad beat”.

More often than not, however, the player with the best hand before the river will still have the best hand after the river. The river is the last round of betting. If a player places a bet on the river and receives a call or neither player elects to bet the river, the winning hand comes down to the player with the best five card poker hand. How do you know if your hand is the best? This guide will answer that question.

Poker Hands Order (Premium Hands)

Determining the winning poker hands depends on the strength of each hand. Every poker hand is assessed a value. The following poker hand ranking values are in order of strongest to weakest. The winning hand is the player with the strongest hand.

Royal Flush: Getting a royal flush isn’t easy. In fact, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get one any time soon. But, if you do, you have the absolute best poker hand possible. A royal flush is when you hold the 10, J, Q, K, and A all of the exact same suit. It’s rare to get a royal flush so if you get one, your opponents are unlikely to put you on that hand. 

Straight Flush: Getting a straight flush also isn’t easy, but slightly less difficult than a royal flush. It’s the same thing as a royal flush, but instead of holding the 10, J, Q, K, and A, you can have any connecting cards of the same suit. An example is 8, 9, 10, J, Q of hearts. Although you likely won’t ever have a straight flush up against another straight flush, the winning straight flush is based on the player holding the highest value card.

Four-of-a-Kind (Quads): Again, we have a hand here that is hard to get and almost never beat by another hand. Quads are when you have four cards of the same value, such as A-A-A-A. You won’t get this hand too often, so make the best of it when you do. Like a straight flush, it is extremely rare for quads to NOT be the best hand. But if you’re up against a straight or royal flush, your hand is beat. If your four-of-a-kind value is lesser than your opponent’s four-of-a-kind value, your hand is beat.

Full House (Boat): Poker players refer to a full house as a “boat” because when you place the cards on the table, it looks like a sail boat. A full house is the combination of a three-of-a-kind and an extra pair. Let’s say you are dealt A-A and the flop comes A-3-3. You have a full house (Aces and 3’s). Once again, when assessing full house strength, the value of the three-of-a-kind must beat your opponent’s three-of-a-kind value. If it doesn’t, they win, unless there is a tie. In the event of a tie, it comes down to the value of the extra pair.

Poker Hands Order (Additional Hands)

The above hands are the absolute strongest Texas hold’em hands you can possibly get. But they aren’t the only hands possible. These are the remaining six general types of poker hands you can have.

Flush: A flush is when your entire hand is of the same suit. So let’s say you have 4-9-10-J-K, all of which are clubs. You have a flush, which is a pretty darn good poker hand. You won’t flop a flush very often, but if you play the hand all the way to the river, you just might end up with one if you began the hand with two cards of the same suit. 

Straight: Picking up a straight can be a sneaky strong hand because it’s always difficult to put an opponent on one. A plain straight is when your hand connects with each other and isn’t filled with the same suited cards. An example of a straight is 3-4-5-6-7. All the cards must be in order to be considered a straight. So if you have, say, 2-3-4-5-7, you have just a small straight, which is good in Yahtzee, but no good in poker.

Three-of-a-kind (Trips or Set): Although we’re way down the list of poker hand rankings, three-of-a-kind, which is self explanatory, is still very good most of the time. You just have to be a little careful when there are 3 or 4 community cards that are of the same suit or connectors. Otherwise, three-of-a-kind is a very strong hand for you to play.

Two Pair: It’s hard to make big hands in Texas hold’em. That’s why, despite being this far down the list, two pair can pay off quite well. Two pair is easy to understand. If your hand includes two pairs of cards (i.e. 4-4-5-5), then you have another fairly strong hand. You can win some big pots with two pair, but it all depends on board texture and the type of opponent you’re up against.

Pair: If you have just one pair and the rest of your cards are un-paired, it’s hard to win a big pot, but not impossible. If your opponent’s are loose players that will call down bets with just about anything, you can get paid off with top pair. 

High Card: If you can’t even put together one pair, you have what is called high card. This is a weak hand that rarely will win in a showdown on the river. However, it will win occasionally if your highest cards are high value such as Ace and King. 

Playing Hands Properly

The value of your hand isn’t the only thing you must take into consideration when facing a decision. You must also play your opponent. Their hand matters just as much as yours does. For example, if you have three-of-a-kind, that’s a strong hand. But having that strong hand won’t do you any good if your opponent has a better hand.

If your instincts tell you that your hand, even if it’s strong, is beat, lay your hand down. Always play smart poker. Trust your instincts and consider what your opponent may be holding. Don’t just automatically assume your hand is the best hand just because it’s strong. If you’re beat, you’re beat. The toughest part of playing poker is having the discipline to lay down a strong hand that can’t win.