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Hand rankings[edit]

The most fundamental of poker concern the hand rankings, because the hand rankings determine the winner. While betting is extremely important to the game, players are wagering on whether they have won, therefore a complete understanding of hand rankings must come first. These hand rankings do not apply to games played "low", such as lowball or razz; see the section on "low hands" below.

The cards are ranked thus, from low to high: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace. An ace is the highest card, but it can also function as the lowest in completing a straight. The two is usually called a "deuce", and the three is sometimes called a "trey". Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace are often abbreviated T, J, Q, K, and A, respectively, so that each card name has a single number or letter associated with it. This is commonly used in describing hands, for example, A-2-3-4-5 is a hand with an ace, a two ("deuce"), a three, a four, and a five — not necessarily in that order, but presenting them in that order makes it clear that the hand is a straight. A hand may also be written, say, A-A-x-x-x, where "x" means any other card that does not form a better hand.

Ranks from lowest to highest
Rank name Also called Cards needed Example Names for example
High card No pair, nothing (Anything) A-x-x-x-x Ace high
Pair Two cards of same rank A-A-x-x-x Aces; pair of aces
Two pair Two pairs A-A-K-K-x Aces up; aces and kings; aces over kings
Three of a kind Trips, a set Three cards of same rank A-A-A-x-x Three aces; set of aces
Straight Five cards in sequence 10-J-Q-K-A Ace-high straight
Flush All five cards same suit A♣ 10♣ 7♣ 6♣ 4♣ Ace-high flush
Full house Boat, full boat Three of a kind plus a pair A-A-A-K-K Aces full; aces full of kings
Four of a kind Quads Four cards of same rank A-A-A-A-x Quad aces; four aces
Straight flush Five cards forming straight and a flush 210♠ J♠ Q♠ K♠ A♠ Ace-high straight flush (Also called a Royal Flush)

A-2-3-4-5 is considered a five-high straight, and it is called a wheel or bicycle; this is the only time an ace plays as a low card. An ace-high straight flush is called a royal flush and it cannot be beaten. The only time it ties is when all 5 cards to the royal flush, i.e. A♥ K♥ Q♥ J♥ 10♥, are on the community board. Higher cards always beat lower cards, for example, a pair of aces beats a pair of kings, and a flush with a king beats a flush whose highest card is a Queen. If two players have the same pair, a kicker is used to break the tie if possible (more about them soon). When two players have two pair, the highest pairs are considered, for example, aces up always beats kings up, no matter the other pairs. If, for example, two players both have aces up, then the higher of the smaller pairs wins: aces over kings beats aces over queens. If, for example, both players have aces over kings, then the kicker card is considered. Kickers also come into play when more than one player has the same three or four of a kind (possible only in community card games or wildcard games). If players have the same straight, flush, full house, or straight flush, it is always a tie and the players split the pot. There is no suit superiority or trump suit; a spade flush with A-10-9-6-4 does not beat a club flush with the same values.

A kicker is any card that you hold in your hand that does not make part of it, that is, an otherwise useless card. A hand can have more than one kicker; A pair for instance has three kickers and a three-of-a-kind has two, and they are considered in rank order highest-first. When two players hold the same pair, two pair, three of a kind, or four of a kind, the highest kicker wins, for example, A-A-K-x-x beats A-A-Q-x-x, A-A-K-Q-x beats A-A-K-J-x, and A-A-K-Q-J beats A-A-K-Q-T. A kicker can be higher than the rest of the hand, for example, K-K-A-x-x beats K-K-J-x-x, so an ace usually makes the best kicker. If the first kicker ties and there is a second or third, they are compared in rank order; A-A-K-J-x loses to A-A-K-Q-x. If the hands are totally equivalent, the pot is split.

Low hands[edit]

Some games have a high-low split, and some games such as lowball or razz are played low-only. In a high-low split game, typically a low hand must not have any cards ranked higher than eight and no cards must be paired, or it does not count as a low hand. In low-only games, any cards can be used. Many forms of poker do not use low hands, so you need not concern yourself with these until you intend to play games that do.

There are three common ways of ranking low hands, ace-to-five low, ace-to-six low, and deuce-to-seven low, named after the best possible hands in the respective systems. In all systems, paired cards are bad and cannot be used to beat any hand that does not have a pair. Likewise, a pair beats three of a kind, three of a kind beats a full house, and a full house beats four of a kind. The most common hand ranking system for low hands is ace-to-five, used almost universally in high-low split games and very common in other games. This means A-2-3-4-5 (called a wheel or bicycle, just as it is as a high hand) is the best possible low hand, and the ace is the lowest card. For a high-low split game, it also forms a high hand: a five-high straight. In order to avoid confusion, we will discuss only ace-to-five low at the moment.

When pairs and any other "bad" hands are not present, then the winner is the one whose highest card is lowest. For this reason, a low hand is usually described highest card first, to make it easier to tell which is lower. In ace-to-five, 8-4-3-2-A loses to 7-6-5-4-3 because the highest card in the first hand (eight) is higher than the highest card in the second hand (seven), even though all the other cards in the second hand are lower. If the highest cards are the same, then the next-highest cards are considered, and so on: 8-7-6-3-A loses to 8-7-5-4-2 because the second hand goes lower first.

In ace-to-six low, straights and flushes count for high (that is, they're bad), and the best possible hand is A-2-3-4-6 unsuited, since it's the lowest possible card combination that avoids pairing, straights, and flushes. Deuce-to-seven is identical except the ace is the highest card, so the best possible hand is 2-3-4-5-7 unsuited. Therefore, in deuce-to-seven low, the hand that would make the worst possible high hand in traditional poker is the best possible low hand, and vice versa: a royal flush is the worst possible hand.