The best possible hand is a royal flush, which is a straight and a flush with the top five cards: ace, king, queen, jack, and ten. When you get these five cards all of one suit, you can’t lose in poker. Most games don’t make distinctions in suit rankings. A royal flush happens once in every 649,739 hands, so it’s a rare happening. Bet with conviction when playing these cards.
A straight flush is any combination of five cards in sequence with the same suit. Getting the 2-3-4-5-6 of clubs is a straight flush, while getting the K-Q-J-10-9 of spades is a straight flush. If two happened in the same pot, the high card would win. This is also rare, about 1 in 72,192 hands or, at a 9 player table, about once every 8,000 pots.
The four of a kind is just that: four of any one card rank. You might have 4 aces, 4 sevens, or 4 twos, but each is a great hand. If two go head-to-head, the high card wins. The odds of getting this combination is one in every 4,164.
This is 3 of one card and 2 of another. If you had the 3 kings and 2 queens, it’s a full house. If you held 3 twos and 2 threes, it’s a full house. The odds of holding this hand is 1 in 694, so somebody at your table is likely to see a full house once every 75 hands or so.
The flush is simply 5 cards of any one suit, but not in sequential order. This excludes the royal flush and straight flush. A typical flush might be the king, jack, eight, five, and three of hearts.
The odds of this happening are 1:508, so a little less likely than the full house. Players should be aware in Texas holdem of the “nut flush”. Holding the nuts simply means holding the strongest possible hand from the cards showing.
The community cards show Q-J-10 and you hold the 9-8, you should be aware that you’re holding a flush which could be beat. If someone else holds a K-9, you lose. If someone holds an ace-king, they have a straight flush and you are really dominated. Since it’s a lot more likely someone holding A-K is likely to be in the pot than someone holding K-9, you must consider the possibility.
The straight is 5 cards in a row, regardless of suit. The straight might be an A-Q-J-10-9 or it might be the A-2-3-4-6, or some combination in between. Remember that the ace can fill out a straight as a high or low card. The odds you’ll get a straight are 1:254, or twice the probability you’ll draw a flush.
The three of a kind is a simply 3 of any one card rank. You might hold 3 aces or 777 or 3 twos. In any cases, triples is a strong hand in Texas holdem. This happens once in every 46.3 hands, meaning some is going to hold three of a kind once every 5 hands at a 9-player table.
Two pair is a two of one card and two of another. You might think this would be rarer than a 3 of a kind, but hold 2 pairs is a 1 in 20 proposition. This happens almost every other hand at a big table. Players with two pairs are urged to bet enough to push out gamblers on a draw, because the longer the hand goes, the more likely someone is going to outdraw your two pair.
Holding one single pair. This is considered a strong starting hand, but a player needs to consider that a higher pair might be on the table. One in every 1.36 hands dealt are going to contain a pair. If you hold a pair of 2’s, that’s not nearly as good as holding a pair of A’s. Even a pair of aces is in a dangerous position if you don’t improve on the hand by getting trips, two pair, or a full house.
The weakest hand in poker is no pair, which is called “high card”. Whatever your highest card is where your hand is ranked. If you have an ace, you would hold aces high. If you held a 7-5-4-3-2, you would have seven high, which is the weakest possible hand in most games of poker. If you were playing either the Omaha or seven-card stud hi/lo game variant, this would be a strong hand.
Otherwise, you’re going to be beaten, which is why holding a 7-2 offsuit is considered the weakest starting hand in Texas holdem. You simply hold no way to improve with flush or straight, so you’re hoping to pair 7s and 2s.
Knowing the hand ranks gives a player a quick signpost for their strength when betting into a pot. A successful poker player needs a detailed knowledge of the hand rankings. When I say you need to know the poker hands, I’m not talking about whether a pair of aces beats a pair of kings.
I’m talking about that mass of card combinations between the best and worst hands. Whenever you hold any set of cards, a gambler needs to know its strength relative to the rest of the possibilities. To do this, card players should study hand ranking charts not much different than what you would study in blackjack.
Several experts have made tables which detail the playable hands in Texas hold’em, Omaha holdem, seven-card stud, razz, and the various hi/lo 8-or-better variants of the games already mentioned. Study these for the game or variant you want to master. That way, you know which hands to play and which to fold.
Even if you decide to play a hunch or make a bluff, you do so with the knowledge that you’re diverging from classic poker strategy. Predicate all you do in poker on a firm understanding of the hand ranks.