In this lesson you’re going to learn the first and most important step about how to play poker by learning the all important poker hand rankings.
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- A standard poker hand consists of five cards.
- Each poker hand is ranked in a set order.
- The higher the rank, the less chance statistically you have of getting it.
- The higher the rank of your hand the better, because two pairs always beats one pair, and a flush always beats a straight.
- When two or more players have a hand of the same rank, then there are more ways to determine the best hand.
Hopefully all these points will make perfect sense by the end of this lesson.
Poker Hands (from Best to Worst)
Be sure to pay close attention and memorize the poker hand rankings. Let’s start with the best possible hand in poker….
A Royal flush consists of five cards of the same suit, in sequence from 10 through to Ace. Remember that all suits are equal in poker. If two or more players hold a royal flush (highly unlikely) then the pot is split, i.e. the players share the winnings.
Five cards of the same suit, in sequence. This example shows a Jack high straight flush. If two or more players hold a straight flush then it is the highest that wins. For example, a Queen high straight flush beats a Jack high straight flush. You will notice that this is very similar to a Royal flush, and that’s because a Royal flush is in fact an ace high straight flush – but it’s given its very own ranking.
Four of a Kind
This hand contains four cards of the same rank/value. This example shows four 8’s, plus a 5 (remember that all poker hands must have five cards). If two or more players have four of a kind, then the highest value wins (e.g. four 9’s beats four 8’s). If two or more players share the same four of a kind, which can happen when using community cards (more on that later) then the winner is decided by the fifth card. So a player with four 8’s and a 6 would beat a player with four 8’s and a 5.
A full house contains three cards of the same rank, plus a pair. In our example you can see three 10’s and a pair of 7’s. The value of the three matching cards determines the strength of a full house. So three Jack’s with a pair of 7’s would beat our example hand. If players share the same three cards, which is possible when using community cards, the strength of the pair is then taken into account. So, three 10’s and a pair of 8’s would beat our example hand.
Five cards of the same suit in any order. Our example shows a Queen high flush. If two or more players have a flush then the player with the highest ranked card wins. If the players share the same high card then it’s determined by the value of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th card respectively.
This hand contains five unsuited cards in sequence. Our example shows a King high straight. In the event of a tie, the best straight is determined by the highest ranked card. A straight consisting of 8, 9, 10, J, Q, would lose to our example hand. But a straight consisting of 10, J, Q, K, A, would win. Also note that an Ace can be used as the low card for a straight of A, 2, 3, 4, 5. This would lose to a straight of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Three of a Kind
Three cards of the same rank, and two unrelated cards. Our example shows three 4’s. Three 5’s would beat our example hand, three 6’s would beat three 5’s, and so on. If players share the same three cards, then the value of the highest unrelated card would count and if necessary, the value of the second unrelated card. So, three 4’s with Jack, 8, would beat our example hand. As would three 4’s and 10, 9 (because 9 is higher than 8).
Two cards of matching rank, with another two cards of another rank, plus an additional card. In the event of a tie, the highest pair wins. If players share the same highest pair, then the value of the next pair wins. For example, a pair of Aces, and a pair of 6’s would beat our example hand, as would a pair of Kings and a pair of 7’s. If two or more players share the same two pair, then the value of the fifth card counts. So, a pair of Kings, a pair of 6’s, with a 4, would beat our example hand.
A paired hand contains two cards of matching rank, plus three additional cards. The value of the pair determines who wins in the event of a tie. For example a pair of 10’s beats our example hand. If players share the same pair then the best hand is determined by the value of the highest additional card. If this is the same then it goes to the second card, and if necessary the third. So, a pair of 9’s with an Ace, 2, and 10, would beat our example hand. As would a pair of 9’s, King, 10, and a 3.
Texas Holdem High Hand Rules
If a hand doesn’t fall into any of the above categories, then it is judged on the value of the highest ranked card among the five. In this example we have a hand which is Queen high. If players share the same highest card, then it goes to the value of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and even 5th card if necessary. A hand of Queen, 10, 9, 5, 4, would beat our example hand.
As you already know, a poker hand consists of five cards. In many variations of poker, players receive or can choose from more than five cards. For example, in Texas Hold’em each player is dealt two private cards, but can also use the five community cards that are available for all the players to use. This makes a total of seven cards, but each player must choose their best five cards to make their best possible hand. Here’s an example:
In the above example, the best five cards among total of seven (two private cards and five community cards) would be combined to make a flush.
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If you don’t fully understand the poker hand rankings then please read through the list again. It’s vital that you know which hand beats which. Of course, how good a poker hand is, is very dependent on which type of poker game you are playing and other factors such as the number of other players you are playing against. You will learn the true strength of a poker hand as you gain experience of playing the game.
We have created a printable poker hand rankings chart that you can use as a source of reference. Hopefully we’ve explained the poker hand rankings to you well enough whereby you don’t need this chart, but it still might be handy for some. The chart will load as a PDF (link opens in a new window) and you’ll need to have Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer to be able to view it.
Make sure that you memorize the poker hand rankings before moving onto the next lesson.
By Tim Ryerson
Tim is from London, England and has been playing poker since the late 1990’s. He is the ‘Editor-in-Chief’ at Pokerology.com and is responsible for all the content on the website.
If you’re a beginning poker player and want to learn not only
which hands beat which hands, but how to read the board and
possible hands while playing Texas holdem, you’ve found the best
page available to help.
While it’s important to understand how each hand ranks in
comparison to others hands it’s equally important to understand
how to read the board of community cards, how to read possible
draws, and how to read what hands your opponents may be holding.
Each of these subjects is covered below.
New players should make sure to read each section in order
below. But if you already know how to play poker and are
familiar with the rank of poker hands you can skip to the
sections following the hand rankings section. But it’s never a
bad idea to refresh your knowledge and it only takes a couple
minutes to read the extra sections.
Texas Holdem Hand Rankings
The following list is ranked from highest five card hand to
lowest five card hand. Start reading from the top down and the
first hand you find that a player holds is the winning hand. See
how to break ties below the hand rankings.
Remember that you always make your best five card hand out of
the two hole cards and five community cards. You can use both of
your hole cards and three community cards, one hole card and
four community cards, or just the five community cards, but you
always use exactly five cards to make a hand.
- Royal Flush
A royal flush consists of an ace, king,
queen, jack, and ten of all the same suit. In other words,
an ace high straight that’s also a flush is a royal flush.
An example of a royal flush is the ace of clubs, king of
clubs, queen of clubs, jack of clubs, and ten of clubs.
- Straight Flush
A straight flush is a straight and a
flush that isn’t ace high. Straight flushes can be anywhere
from king high down to five high. Two examples of straight
flushes are king of spades, queen of spades, jack of spades,
ten of spades, and nine of spades or the five of hearts,
four of hearts, three of hearts, two of hearts, and ace of
hearts. In the case of the second example, the ace is
counted as a one, or the lowest card in the deck. So if a
straight using an ace as a one is in a tie the ace is always
used as a low card for tie purposes, not high.
- Four of a Kind
A four of a kind includes all four
cards of the same rank in the deck. The fifth card doesn’t
matter. An example of four of a kind is eight of spades,
eight of hearts, eight of clubs, and eight of diamonds.
- Full House
A full house consists of three of a kind
and two of a kind. An example of a full house is the jack of
clubs, jack of diamonds, jack of spades, seven of hearts,
and seven of spades.
A flush has all five cards the same suit. The
rank of the cards doesn’t matter as long as all five cards
are the same suit. Any five hearts is a flush or any five
A straight has five cards in sequential
order. The suits don’t matter in a straight.
- Three of a Kind
Three of a kind consists of three
cards of the same rank. Example of three of a kind hands
include a hand with three jacks or a hand with three sevens.
Other names for three of a kind include trips or a set. When
the word set is used it usually means a hand with a pocket
pair and one matching card on the board making three of a
- Two Pair
Two pair consists of two different pairs of
matching ranks. Two sixes and two eights is an example of a
two pair hand.
- One Pair
One pair is simply two cards of the same
rank. Two nines or two aces are examples of a pair.
- High Card
A high card hand is one that doesn’t have
any of the hands listed above. The highest ranked card is
designated as the high card for the hand. If the highest
card you have is a king you have a king high hand.
How to Break Ties
When two or more hands are tied for the highest hand one of
two things must happen. The first thing is you must decide if
one hand is actually higher than the other / s based on a few
simple rules that we cover next.
Moving from the top of the hand rankings above down, in a
Texas holdem game it’s impossible for more than one player to
have a royal flush unless the royal flush has all five cards on
the board. If all five cards on the board are used in this way
by every player remaining in the hand, all of the players tie.
It’s possible for two players to have straight flushes. In
the case of two or more straight flushes, straights, or flushes,
the player with the highest card in her straight or flush has
the highest hand. If one player has a queen high straight and
another has a nine high straight, the player with the queen high
In the event of two or more players holding a full house, the
player with the highest three of a kind has the better hand. If
two or more players hold two pair hands, the player with the
highest pair wins. If each player has the same high pair the
player with the highest second pair wins.
When two or more players have the same high hand of a pair,
or three of a kind, or something similar, the rest of each
player’s hand is considered.
Two players each have a pair of aces for their high hand.
Player A has A A K J 5 and player B has A A J 7 4. Player A wins
the hand because her next highest card after the tied pair of
aces is a king and player B only has a jack. In the event the
third card is the same you then compare the fourth card.
If two or more hands have the exact same five card hand then
the pot is split between the winning hands. The suits all have
the same rank as far as value is concerned. Hearts is not worth
more or less than spades, etc.
How to Read the Board
When you start playing Texas holdem it’s important to learn
how to read the board not only to determine what you hold but
also what your opponent could possibly have. This is important
because you don’t want to be caught by surprise when you think
you have the best hand and commit a large amount of money to the
pot when another player actually has a better hand.
You start the hand with the ace of clubs and the jack of
clubs and the flop has the queen of clubs, nine of clubs, and
ace of diamonds. This looks like a good flop for you because you
have a pair of aces and a chance to hit an ace high flush. The
turn is the two of clubs, completing the best possible flush.
The river is the queen of hearts.
While you still have the best possible flush, when the board
paired on the river it means you no longer have the best
possible hand. Whenever the board pairs it means there’s a
possibility that one of your opponents may have a full house.
In the example we just used a player starting the hand with
an ace and queen would have hit the full house on the river. The
same is true for a player starting with pocket nines.
Most of the time in Texas holdem you’ll still have the best
hand with a flush in these situations, but you always need to
know what the best possible hand is before deciding how much to
risk in the pot.
Other hands to watch out for include possible straights and
boards that have a high likelihood of having two pair.
Good starting hands often have two high cards, so any flop
that holds two or three high cards has a chance to create pairs
or straight possibilities for your opponents who hold high card
Even flops with middle and smaller cards may offer straight
possibilities, especially in unraised pots. In an unraised pot
the blinds get to see the flop for free or a half bet, so even
on a flop with lower cards they may have hit two pair or a
One of the best ways to practice reading the board is by
dealing out hands at home and figuring out every possible hand.
Then start dealing pocket cards for multiple players and play
each one independently in your mind. This way you see many
different pocket cards in combination with the board cards.
If you’re still struggling to see all of the possibilities
and hands ask a more experienced player to work with you as you
practice to point out things you may be missing.
How to Read Draws
Reading draws kind of goes hand in hand with the last section
about reading the board, but you also need to learn how to
factor in the chances of hitting your draws.
If you have four cards to a straight after the turn there’s
only a few cards left in the deck that can complete your
straight. If your straight draw is open ended, meaning you can
hit a card on either end to complete it, you have eight cards
left in the deck that can help you.
Texas Holdem Hands High Card
A hand of seven, eight, nine, ten will complete with any six
or jack. You’ve seen your two hole cards and four board cards,
so the deck still has 46 unseen cards. Eight of these cards
complete your straight and 38 of them don’t. So the odds of you
completing your straight are 38 to 8. This reduces to 4.75 to 1.
In more simple terms this means that on average if you played
the exact same situation 46 times you’d complete your straight
eight times and miss it 38 times.
Of course the actual deck of remaining cards doesn’t have 46
cards because the other players have cards, but you haven’t seen
them so you have to include them as unseen cards in the deck for
You use the odds in combination with your possible draws to
determine if it’s profitable to bet, raise, check, or fold.
Texas Hold'em High Hands
This can become somewhat complicated when you have multiple
ways to make a hand. Usually each possible draw has a different
chance of winning if you hit it. In the example above you stand
a good chance of winning the hand when you hit your straight,
but if you miss your straight but pair one of your cards on the
river you’ll have a pair, but the odds of it being good are
Learn how to read all of your possible draws and how to
determine the odds of each draw being successful and winning if
you hit it. This will help you win more often playing Texas
Reading Your Opponents Possible Hands
Continuing the discussion from the last two sections, once
you learn all there is to know about your possible hands and
draws and the odds you can start using the same things to
determine what hands your opponents can possibly hold and their
chance of completing hands that may be able to beat your hand.
You’ll need to learn what hands your opponents like to play
and which ones they don’t play if you want to get the best
possible reads, but even if you don’t know anything about your
opponents you can still make educated guesses based on the
board, what you hold, and the betting action throughout the
Remember in an earlier section we mentioned that many good
starting hands have high cards. Other popular starting hands
include pocket pairs and suited hands including an ace. As the
level of competition improves the starting hand possibilities
tend to change. Staring hands with an ace and suited small card
are more likely at the lower levels than at the higher levels of
Look at the list of good starting hands included in the next
section and then compare them with the current board. Which
hands fit with the way your opponent is playing the hand? Don’t
forget that not every player will follow the guidelines listed
Some players, especially at the lower levels, play any ace or
any hand with an ace and any card the same suit as the ace.
At lower levels you’ll often see hands where a player with an
ace and a small off card hit two pair and beat a hand with a
pair of aces and a large second hole card that doesn’t pair up.
This may seem like playing better starting hands doesn’t pay
off, but in the long run the player starting with ace queen is
going to win more hands than the player starting with ace three.
It’s also important to always consider the players in the
blinds. If they get in for free or half a bet they could have
any two cards. Even for a small raise many players won’t fold
anything from the blinds because they’re already invested in the
You need to consider a wide range of things when trying to
guess what your opponents hold, but with practice you can start
narrowing down their possible hands quickly. As you gain more
experience you can get to the point where you’ll often have a
good idea where your opponents stand in a hand. You’ll still be
surprised sometimes because players do all kinds of crazy things
at the holdem table, but the more you know the better you’ll be
in the long run.
Another big part of reading your opponent’s possible hands is
watching them play, even when you aren’t in the hand, and
remembering everything they do. If they have a big pocket pair
do they always raise before the flop? Do they ever bet into a
draw or do they always check and call? Thinking about these
questions and learning the answers to them and others will make
your play more profitable over time.
Best Starting Hands
Here’s a list of the best starting hands in Texas holdem. The
list is roughly listed from best to worst, but hand values
change somewhat based on the level of competition, the makeup of
the game, and your ability to play well after the flop.
Not all of these hands can be played from every position or
in every game. But if a hand isn’t listed here you should avoid
playing it in any Texas holdem game.
Two card hands followed by a small “s” means suited. For
example, K Q s means a king and queen of the same suit.
As you become a long term profitable Texas Holdem player
you’ll find situations where you may be able to play a few hands
profitably that aren’t on the list. You may be able to play 10 9
s or 4 4 from late position profitably in a few games, but don’t
even think about trying it until you’re already a profitable
On the other hand you’ll find many games where hands like K J
and below on the list can’t be played profitably. As a rule of
thumb, while you’re learning how to be a better player, it’s
always better to be tight than loose. So only play the best
hands while learning how to play.
You also need to understand how position relative to the
dealer button changes the value of starting hands and what you
can and can’t play for a profit. We have an entire page
dedicated to position so you should study it to make sure you
completely understand how to use it.
Even experienced Texas holdem players make mistakes when it
comes to reading the board of community cards and trying to
determine what their opponents hold. Once you learn what beats
what, you still have a great deal to learn if you want to be a
Start by making sure you know the ranking of all of the
possible hands, and then learn how to read the board. Use your
hole cards with the board to determine not only the best hand
you can form, but also the best hand your opponents could
The next step is learning the odds of you hitting your hands
and using this information to determine the best way to play the
rest of the hand. Finally, you can start using all of the things
you’ve learned to start making educated guesses about what your
opponents have and are drawing to.
Winning Texas holdem players use all of these things and more
on every hand to give themselves the best chance to win. But
don’t panic if this seems like a lot to take in at once. You
don’t have to learn it all in one sitting. Bookmark or print out
this page and go over it often while you’re learning to be a
practice for free or start at the low levels so you don’t risk
much money while you’re learning.