Poker has many game variants, but most use the same ranking system.
In most popular games like Texas Hold’em poker, a standard poker hand order chart is used to determine who wins at showdowns.
Often referred to as a poker cheat sheet, in reality it simply outlines the game's rules for determining a winning hand.
Knowing poker rankings won't give you an edge, but lacking a fundamental knowledge about hand strength will put you at a substantial disadvantage.
Poker Hands Rankings
These poker hand rankings are based upon the probability of each occurring, with the rarest holdings having the highest value.
In a few games the probabilities and rankings differ, but for most variants, including Texas Hold’em, winning poker hands are determined in this order:
1. Royal Flush: The best hand in poker, although it doesn’t occur very often. Still one of the most iconic images in the game, it’s the highest possible straight flush consisting of A, K, Q, J and 10 of the same suit.
2. Straight Flush: Technically a Royal Flush is just the best possible straight flush, which is a hand that is both a straight and a flush.
3. Four-of-a Kind: Also known as ‘quads’, this is a hand made up of four cards of the same value, plus one extra card.
4. Full House: Often referred to as a ‘boat’, a full house poker hand consists of three-of-a-kind plus a pair.
5. Flush: A flush is a hand where all five cards are the same suit.
6. Straight: A straight is made up of five cards of consecutive value, but not the same suit.
7. Three-of-a-kind: Three cards of the same value plus two non-matching extra cards. This hand is known as ‘trips’ if the board is paired, or a ‘set’ if the the player holds a pocket pair.
8. Two-pair: A hand that includes two pairs plus one extra card.
9. One-pair: A hand that includes two cards of the same value, plus three other non-matching extra cards.
10. High Card: When you have five non-matching cards that do not make a flush or a straight, the hand with the highest-valued single card wins.
What is a Poker Hand?
A poker hand is made up of five cards. Once all the board cards have been dealt, Texas Hold’em players construct their best hand using any combination of the five board cards and their own two hole cards. The two remaining unused cards are disregarded.
Playing the Board
Some poker variants, such as Omaha, obligate players to use (some of) their hole cards to build their five-card poker hand, but with Texas Hold’em hands there is no such requirement.
It is therefore possible for the best five cards in a hand to be the board cards, in which case any players still left in the pot after the final round of betting would tie and split the pot equally amongst themselves.
What if more than one player has the same strength hand?
In poker, it's possible for multiple players to hold hands of equal strength.
When such a situation arises with a hand that uses all five cards, like a flush, straight, or full house, and the card values are identical for these players, the pot is split equally among them.
However, certain poker hands do not utilise all five cards, such as pairs, two pairs, three-of-a-kind, and four-of-a-kind. In these cases, when players in the hand have the same value pair, two pairs, three-of-a-kind, or four-of-a-kind, the winner is determined by the player with the highest value extra card, commonly known as the 'kicker'.
For instance, if two players have the same two pairs, the player with the highest fifth card wins the pot. If they happen to have the same value kicker, they would 'split the pot', sharing the winnings equally. The kicker plays a crucial role in breaking ties and determining the ultimate winner when players have hands of equal rank.
The only purpose of suits in poker is to make flushes. There is no hierarchy among the suits; they all hold equal rank, and in the case of a tie, they are not considered in determining the winning poker hand.
Which starting hands to play and when?
So, what is the best hand in poker to start with?
That’s easy, probably everyone already knows that AA is the best Texas Hold’em starting hand, but what are the other good poker hands to be dealt?
All of the hands in this list of the best poker hands are premium starters and are often winning poker hands that can be opened with (make a bet) from almost any position.
But there is much more to learn about which other hands to play and when. There is no simple method or Texas Hold’em cheat sheet to avoid the hard study and effort that the world’s best players employ to become champions and masters of the game.
Like any sport or pastime, you get out of poker what you put into it. Only a very small number of players are naturally gifted, the majority need to study to understand and improve at playing poker.
To ensure a smoother introduction to the game and when to open with good poker hands, here are a few crucial things you should be aware of.
This refers to the position of players at the poker table relative to the dealer (button). Poker is a turn-based game, with the action moving in a clockwise direction around the table after each hand.
Each player takes it in turn to be 'the dealer' and at most home games this means they actually have to deal out the cards around the table, but online and in most UK casino poker rooms this is done by the house.
In a nine-handed game, the names of the positions on the poker table are:
- Button (BTN): the player in the dealer position is referred to as being 'on the button' and gets to act last on all betting rounds
- Cut Off (CO): the player seated to the right of the player on the BTN
- Hijack (HJ): the player seated to the right of the CO, two seats to the right of the BTN
- Lojack (LJ): the player seated to the right of the HJ, three seats to the right of the BTN
- Under The Gun+2 (UTG+2): the player seated to the right of the LJ and three seats to the left of the BB
- Under The Gun+1 (UTG+1): the player seated two seats to the left of the BB
- Under The Gun (UTG): the player seated to the left of the BB and the first to make a betting decision pre-flop
- Big Blind (BB): the player seated two to the left of the BTN and the first to make a betting decision post-flop
- Small Blind (SB): the player seated to the left of the BTN and the second to make a betting decision post-flop
The small and big blinds are forced bets that players must make before each hand starts, creating the initial pot that players will be competing for in the hand. The small blind amount is half the size of the big blind.
After the small blind and big blind are posted, the other players at the table (starting with UTG) must then decide whether to call (match) the big blind, raise (increase) the bet, or fold (discard their hand). The action proceeds clockwise around the table until all players have made their decisions.
In any poker hand, a player is said to be in position on another player if they act after that player.
Blinds and Antes
The two players to the left of the dealer have to post obligatory bets before any cards have been dealt.
These are called blinds, with the player to the immediate left of the dealer posting what is known as the 'small blind' while the next player to the left posting the 'big blind', which is double the size of the small blind.
Some games also have antes, which are posted by all players and are much smaller than the blinds. The blinds and antes ensure there is already something in the pot to play for as soon as the hand begins.
Importance of Position
Position at the poker table plays an important role in decision-making.
If you are in early position and are first to make a betting decision, you have to be mindful of the fact that everyone else at the table gets to decide after you, which makes you vulnerable to raises.
The later your position on the table relative to the button, the fewer players there are to act after you to make a betting decision, meaning fewer opportunities for your opponents to make a raise.
In earlier positions, when you are one of the first players to act, you have to be more selective about which hands to open the pot with than you do when you are in one of the later positions.
For example, while raising with A2 suited in late position might be a good idea, it’s not such a great decision to make if you are one of the first players to act, as it’s a marginal hand that should often fold to a re-raise... and there’s lots of players left to act who can decide to do just that.
Stack sizes are also an important consideration when it comes to making your opening move.
Unless it’s the first hand of a session, players will likely have varying chip stack sizes, which are best described in terms of how many big blinds (bb) worth they have. It is important to be aware of the sizes of the stacks of all other players at the table, as it will guide your betting decisions.
For example, you might want to open in late position in order to see a flop with a speculative hand like 98 suited.
However, if there is a very short-stacked player still to act behind you, it may not be a good spot for seeing a flop, as there is a high chance the short stack player will make an all-in bet (jam) in response to your initial raise. This would force you to either call or fold, which might not be the best choices for your particular hand.
When you have a small stack, your options become limited and you’re often looking for spots to shove all your remaining chips into the middle.
Small pocket pairs might be good hands to jam with on a short stack, but position is still important. Pocket threes for example, might be a great hand to shove with on a 15bb stack on the button, but from early position not so much, as you are more likely to run into a higher pocket pair when so many players are still to act.
The range of starting hands you should decide to open a pot with is based on your position at the table and your stack size.
In early positions these ranges are quite tight, consisting mainly of the best suited starting hands on the grid and pairs, but as your position moves around the table, opening ranges become much wider. Hands that would be automatic folds in early position can be good candidates to raise with from the later spots on the table.
Note also that starting hands with two cards of the same suit have greater equity than those with unsuited cards. Some suited hands will be good to play from certain positions, while their unsuited counterparts might not.
While bet sizing post-flop can be extremely varied, pre-flop is much more straightforward.
You should probably just use one pre-flop opening bet size, as you may be giving away info about the strength of your hand if you choose varying sizes.
However, if you have a shorter stack (under 20bb) you may wish to deviate and simply open with the minimum size permitted, to preserve your remaining chips in situations when you may have to fold to a re-raise.
Poker Hands FAQs
Jonathan has over 20 years experience working in the gambling industry, specialising in online poker management and live poker operations. He has created and managed several live poker tours, including the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour, the Eureka Poker Tour, Estrellas Poker Tour, UK & Ireland Poker Tour and the Patrik Antonius Poker Challenge.