Texas Hold’em is easily the most popular poker variant worldwide. There are many things to learn about poker, but figuring out hand rankings is the first step on the long journey to becoming a good player.
Knowing which poker hands beat which isn’t all that hard, but beginners often make some mistakes.
Some of the most common ones are not being sure whether a full house beats a flush or if a straight beats three of a kind.
If you consider yourself a Texas Hold’em beginner, and these are some of the questions you want answers to, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, you’ll learn everything there is to know about poker hands’ strength.
You may need to read it a few times, but you’ll never again be confused about what beats what in Hold’em.
How Do You Make Hands In Texas Hold’em?
In Hold’em, all players are dealt two face-down cards to start the hand. After that, five more community cards are dealt across the board for everyone to use.
All players can use all seven available cards to make the best possible five-card hand combination. This means that you can:
- Use two cards from your hand and three community cards
- Combine just one of your hole cards with four cards on the board
- Use only the five community cards
Once it’s time for the showdown, the cards speak. When you turn over your hand, you’ll always play the best five-card hand possible.
There are usually no problems here as the dealer will compare all hands and announce the winner.
But before cards are revealed, the only way to play correctly is if you know all the hand rankings. So, let’s dive into it.
Which Hand Beats Which In Hold’em Poker
Texas Hold’em uses a hand ranking system present in all high poker variations. If you know how to play 5 Card Draw or 7 Card Stud, the good news is you don’t have to learn anything new.
Hand values are exactly the same across all these poker variations.
But if you’re new to poker as a game and Hold’em is the first variation you learned, the following section will help clear any confusion.
Texas Hold’em Hand Rankings
As explained, a Hold’em hand always consists of five cards. You can’t use only four, and you can never use six or seven.
So, the hands’ values have been tailored accordingly:
- Royal flush: the highest possible straight flush containing T J Q K and A of the same suit. This is the strongest possible hand in Texas Hold’em that is guaranteed to win every time.
- Straight flush: five cards of the same suit in a sequence, such as 3s 4s 5s 6s 7s.
- Four of a kind or quads: Four cards of the same rank plus any other card, e.g. Q Q Q Q 2.
- Full house: three of a kind plus a pair, e.g. 9 9 9 5 5.
- Flush: Five cards of the same suit. There are four suits: clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades. If all your five cards are in just one of these suits, you have a flush.
- Straight: Five cards in sequential order, provided they’re not all of the same suit, e.g. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Keep in mind that an ace can help form two straights in Hold’em, namely A 2 3 4 5 and T J Q K A.
- Three of a kind (trips): Three cards of the same rank coupled with any two non-paired cards, e.g. T T T 7 2.
- Two pair: Two cards of the same rank and two more different cards of the same rank, e.g. 9 9 5 5 J.
- One pair: Two cards of the same rank combined with three cards of different values. For example, K K 9 5 2 is a pair of kings.
- A high card: A hand containing five cards of different ranks and suits that don’t make any of the other combinations. For example, a hand like K, J, 7, 5, 2 is referred to as a king-high.
If you ever get confused about which poker hands beat which, you can always refer to this list to find your answer.
Comparing Hands In Hold’em To Determine The Winner
Now you know all the hand rankings, and this will help you figure out most situations. However, things aren’t always so clear-cut.
What happens if two or more players have a hand from the same category? Who wins when everyone has two pairs or a straight?
The best piece of advice to make this distinction is to remember that, in Hold’em, you always start at the top.
For example, it’s clear cut in a pair vs. pair scenario. A pair of aces beats a pair of kings. A pair of tens beats a pair of eights, etc.
In two pair situations, the top pair is the only relevant factor in determining the winner. If one player has K K 2 2 X and the other one has Q Q J J X, the one with the pair of kings wins.
This is sometimes confusing for beginners because the other hand looks stronger, and it would be the case if card values were somehow added. But that’s not the case in Hold’em.
The same rule applies to full houses, where the player with the best three-of-a-kind combination will always win the pot.
In straight and flush scenarios, the winner is determined by comparing the highest card in the combination.
- 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 beats 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
- Ah 9h 7h 5h 2h beats Kh Qh 9h 7h 5h
Finally, in the event that both players only have a high-card hand (no pair), the one with the highest card wins.
Of course, this only applies if there are no better combinations available on the board.
Resolving A Tie: The Role Of Kicker In Poker
Every now and again, it will happen that two players have the exact same hand. For example, they could both have two pairs, kings and tens.
With players new to poker, this will often create a lot of confusion.
That said, the rules of Hold’em are very clear on how these situations are resolved.
Kickers are compared, and whoever has the higher kicker wins.
For those unfamiliar with the poker lingo, kickers are those dangling cards in your hand that aren’t a part of any combinations. For example:
- In a hand K K 7 7 J, the jack is the kicker card
- If you have A A A 9 5, both 9 and 5 are “kickers”
So, in our kings and tens scenario, players would compare their fifth card. If one player had K K T T 7 and the other held K K T T Q, the pot goes to the player holding the queen.
Keep in mind that this rule only applies if a player’s hole card is higher than the available community cards. Remember, you always get to play the five best cards on the showdown.
Here’s a couple of scenarios with the same starting hands but different boards to clarify this further.
Player A has 9 8, and player B has 9 7. By the river, the board read 9 9 5 2 4. In this case, Player A wins because their kicker plays.
The best possible hand for Player A is 9 9 9 8 5, while the best hand for Player B is 9 9 9 7 5. The eight beats the seven, so Player A wins the pot.
Both players have the same starting hands as before 9 8 vs. 9 7, but this time the community board read 9 9 A J 2. In this scenario, the hand is a tie, and players will split the pot.
This is because both players have the exact same best five-card hand: 9 9 9 A J. Since both the 8 and the 7 are lower than the ace and the jack, they’re disregarded.
It may still seem a bit confusing, but you’ll get the hang of it as you play more.
Just try to keep two important rules in mind when figuring out which poker hands beat which:
- The best possible five-card hand always plays
- Always check at the top and work your way down
Once you learn all the hand rankings and memorize these important rules, you’ll no longer have any problems figuring out who wins at the showdown.
Holding The Nuts – When You Know You Can’t Lose
Unlike in some other poker variants, you’ll often find yourself in spots in Texas Hold’em where you know you have the best possible hand.
This is known as “the nuts” and it’s one of the best feelings you can have at the table.
This is possible because the game combines your hidden “hole” cards and community cards. Hence, there is plenty of information to work with.
For example, if you have Ah 5h and the board reads 9h 7h 2c 6c Qh, you have an ace-high flush and the best possible hand. There is no way for any other player to beat you.
Albeit simple, this is another concept that beginners are sometimes confused about and will play their hand cautiously, even in spots where they can’t lose.
If you’re new to poker, I’d suggest you take your time reading the board and thinking about hands when making your decisions.
After you gather some experience, you’ll become much better at this, and it’ll become almost second nature.
What To Do With This Information
Obviously, you need to know which hands beat which to play the game. But why is this information so crucial if you know the dealer will always ensure the pot goes to the rightful owner?
The thing is, everything you do at the Hold’em table revolves around this concept.
You’ll be making your decisions based on the strength of your hand and the perceived strength of your opponent’s holdings.
If you know a full house beats a flush, you’ll be less inclined to chase your flush draws on a paired board.
When you have a top pair with a weak kicker, you’ll know your hand is susceptible, and you need to proceed with caution.
For someone who’s been playing poker for any serious length of time, this information may seem trivial and redundant, but it’s far from it.
The fact is, I still come across people who haven’t mastered the basics and aren’t quite sure what to do with their hands. Yet, they decide to jump into the action and play for real money.
It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s not something you’d ever want – even in a friendly game where you’re playing for pennies.
At the lowest of stakes, it may only cause you some embarrassment but in any serious game, not being sure about which poker hands beat which can be a very costly mistake.
It goes without saying that you can’t even begin to learn any more complex strategies before you master these basics.
Hand rankings are at the heart of all poker concepts, from the simplest ones to the ones used by those at the highest of stakes.