You can’t play a game unless you know how to score. In basketball you get one, two, or three points depending on your shot and the situation. In American football you usually score three or six points but sometimes two and one. In poker, there are no points to be scored but there is always a pot to be won. It can be won in two ways by having the best hand if there is a showdown, or by bluffing the best hand out of the pot and inducing a fold.
So in order to score (win pots) you need to understand poker hand rankings and what beats what. In poker a hand is comprised of five cards. For ease of understanding let’s start with the worst kind of hands and work our way to the best.
Many times a hand will be ranked just by the high card in the holding. The Ace is the high card in the deck, followed by the King, the Queen, the Jack, and all the numbered cards in order 10 down to 2. In a high card hand, say King-10-8-6-2. The hand would be called King high. If an opponent also has a high card hand and it’s topped by a Queen or less the King high would scoop the pot. If both players held a King and nothing else, the tie would be broken by the kickers (the next highest cards). If both hands are identical they split the pot.
It is fairly common to have at least a pair in the holding. This is also called two of a kind. If the hand was King-King-10-8-6, a player would have a pair of kings. A player with just a pair of queens or worse would lose. If both players had a pair of kings, again the kickers would come into play to break the tie.
It’s important to remember as we go up the scale, any hand type one rank above beats a hand below it no matter the cards in the hand. For example a pair of twos will always beat just Ace high because a pair is higher than no pair.
The next hand up the rankings is three of kind. Instead of a pair, a player would have three of the same card. Here it could be King-King- King- 10- 8. As there are some games were cards are community cards and are shared by all the players, like Texas Hold’em, it is possible to have the same three of a kind and kickers also come into play to break ties. Again, three of kind 2-2-2 will beat a pair of Aces as three of a kind is higher in the rankings.
Above three of a kind is a straight. A straight is when a player has five consecutive cards. An example is: King-Queen- Jack- 10- 9. Having two, three or four consecutive cards is irrelevant and usually those holding are just ranked by their high card. A straight must have all five cards in order. If two players have straights, the straight that starts with the higher card wins. Since an Ace can play on either side of the straight, Ace-2- 3- 4-5 or Ace-King- Queen- Jack- 10. The first straight would be ranked five high and the Ace, for that hand, would rank as the lowest card in the deck and that player would lose to straights starting from a six or higher.
One hand higher is a flush. A flush beats all straights, just as all straights beat all three of a kinds and so on. A flush is when all five cards are of the same suit (all diamonds, all spades, all clubs, or all hearts). Ties are broken, again, by the high card in the holding. And just like straights, all five cards must be in play or else it isn’t a flush.
Above a flush is a Full House. That’s when you hold three of kind plus a pair. A hand would look like this: King-King-King-two-two. Here ties are broken by the higher three of kind. If they are tied, then the ties is broken by the higher pair.
Above a Full House is a four of a kind. Obviously, that means having four of the same card in your hand. Ties are broken by the fifth card. So King-King-King-King-10 would beat King-King-King-King-9. Again, this only comes into play when the game of poker uses community cards like Omaha.
A straight flush is five consecutive cards (a straight) all of the same suit (a flush). The highest straight flush is a royal flush, when the player has A-K-Q-J-10 all of the same suit. Straight flushes and four of kinds are very rare.
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