Texas Holdem Hands - What Are the Best Hands?
If you're a beginning poker player and want to learn not only which hands beat which hands, but how to read the board and possible hands while playing Texas holdem, you've found the best page available to help.
While it's important to understand how each hand ranks in comparison to others hands it's equally important to understand how to read the board of community cards, how to read possible draws, and how to read what hands your opponents may be holding. Each of these subjects is covered below.
New players should make sure to read each section in order below. But if you already know how to play poker and are familiar with the rank of poker hands you can skip to the sections following the hand rankings section. But it's never a bad idea to refresh your knowledge and it only takes a couple minutes to read the extra sections.
Texas Holdem Hand Rankings
The following list is ranked from highest five card hand to lowest five card hand. Start reading from the top down and the first hand you find that a player holds is the winning hand. See how to break ties below the hand rankings.
Remember that you always make your best five card hand out of the two hole cards and five community cards. You can use both of your hole cards and three community cards, one hole card and four community cards, or just the five community cards, but you always use exactly five cards to make a hand.
- Royal Flush
A royal flush consists of an ace, king, queen, jack, and ten of all the same suit. In other words, an ace high straight that's also a flush is a royal flush. An example of a royal flush is the ace of clubs, king of clubs, queen of clubs, jack of clubs, and ten of clubs.
- Straight Flush
A straight flush is a straight and a flush that isn't ace high. Straight flushes can be anywhere from king high down to five high. Two examples of straight flushes are king of spades, queen of spades, jack of spades, ten of spades, and nine of spades or the five of hearts, four of hearts, three of hearts, two of hearts, and ace of hearts. In the case of the second example, the ace is counted as a one, or the lowest card in the deck. So if a straight using an ace as a one is in a tie the ace is always used as a low card for tie purposes, not high.
- Four of a Kind
A four of a kind includes all four cards of the same rank in the deck. The fifth card doesn't matter. An example of four of a kind is eight of spades, eight of hearts, eight of clubs, and eight of diamonds.
- Full House
A full house consists of three of a kind and two of a kind. An example of a full house is the jack of clubs, jack of diamonds, jack of spades, seven of hearts, and seven of spades.
A flush has all five cards the same suit. The rank of the cards doesn't matter as long as all five cards are the same suit. Any five hearts is a flush or any five clubs, etc.
A straight has five cards in sequential order. The suits don't matter in a straight.
- Three if a Kind
Three of a kind consists of three cards of the same rank. Example of three of a kind hands include a hand with three jacks or a hand with three sevens. Other names for three of a kind include trips or a set. When the word set is used it usually means a hand with a pocket pair and one matching card on the board making three of a kind.
- Two Pair
Two pair consists of two different pairs of matching ranks. Two sixes and two eights is an example of a two pair hand.
- One Pair
One pair is simply two cards of the same rank. Two nines or two aces are examples of a pair.
- High Card
A high card hand is one that doesn't have any of the hands listed above. The highest ranked card is designated as the high card for the hand. If the highest card you have is a king you have a king high hand.
How to Break Ties
When two or more hands are tied for the highest hand one of two things must happen. The first thing is you must decide if one hand is actually higher than the other / s based on a few simple rules that we cover next.
Moving from the top of the hand rankings above down, in a Texas holdem game it's impossible for more than one player to have a royal flush unless the royal flush has all five cards on the board. If all five cards on the board are used in this way by every player remaining in the hand, all of the players tie.
It's possible for two players to have straight flushes. In the case of two or more straight flushes, straights, or flushes, the player with the highest card in her straight or flush has the highest hand. If one player has a queen high straight and another has a nine high straight, the player with the queen high straight wins.
In the event of two or more players holding a full house, the player with the highest three of a kind has the better hand. If two or more players hold two pair hands, the player with the highest pair wins. If each player has the same high pair the player with the highest second pair wins.
When two or more players have the same high hand of a pair, or three of a kind, or something similar, the rest of each player's hand is considered.
Two players each have a pair of aces for their high hand. Player A has A A K J 5 and player B has A A J 7 4. Player A wins the hand because her next highest card after the tied pair of aces is a king and player B only has a jack. In the event the third card is the same you then compare the fourth card.
If two or more hands have the exact same five card hand then the pot is split between the winning hands. The suits all have the same rank as far as value is concerned. Hearts is not worth more or less than spades, etc.
How to Read the Board
When you start playing Texas holdem it's important to learn how to read the board not only to determine what you hold but also what your opponent could possibly have. This is important because you don't want to be caught by surprise when you think you have the best hand and commit a large amount of money to the pot when another player actually has a better hand.
You start the hand with the ace of clubs and the jack of clubs and the flop has the queen of clubs, nine of clubs, and ace of diamonds. This looks like a good flop for you because you have a pair of aces and a chance to hit an ace high flush. The turn is the two of clubs, completing the best possible flush. The river is the queen of hearts.
While you still have the best possible flush, when the board paired on the river it means you no longer have the best possible hand. Whenever the board pairs it means there's a possibility that one of your opponents may have a full house.
In the example we just used a player starting the hand with an ace and queen would have hit the full house on the river. The same is true for a player starting with pocket nines.
Most of the time in Texas holdem you'll still have the best hand with a flush in these situations, but you always need to know what the best possible hand is before deciding how much to risk in the pot.
Other hands to watch out for include possible straights and boards that have a high likelihood of having two pair.
Good starting hands often have two high cards, so any flop that holds two or three high cards has a chance to create pairs or straight possibilities for your opponents who hold high card starting hands.
Even flops with middle and smaller cards may offer straight possibilities, especially in unraised pots. In an unraised pot the blinds get to see the flop for free or a half bet, so even on a flop with lower cards they may have hit two pair or a straight draw.
One of the best ways to practice reading the board is by dealing out hands at home and figuring out every possible hand. Then start dealing pocket cards for multiple players and play each one independently in your mind. This way you see many different pocket cards in combination with the board cards.
If you're still struggling to see all of the possibilities and hands ask a more experienced player to work with you as you practice to point out things you may be missing.
How to Read Draws
Reading draws kind of goes hand in hand with the last section about reading the board, but you also need to learn how to factor in the chances of hitting your draws.
If you have four cards to a straight after the turn there's only a few cards left in the deck that can complete your straight. If your straight draw is open ended, meaning you can hit a card on either end to complete it, you have eight cards left in the deck that can help you.
A hand of seven, eight, nine, ten will complete with any six or jack. You've seen your two hole cards and four board cards, so the deck still has 46 unseen cards. Eight of these cards complete your straight and 38 of them don't. So the odds of you completing your straight are 38 to 8. This reduces to 4.75 to 1.
In more simple terms this means that on average if you played the exact same situation 46 times you'd complete your straight eight times and miss it 38 times.
Of course the actual deck of remaining cards doesn't have 46 cards because the other players have cards, but you haven't seen them so you have to include them as unseen cards in the deck for your calculations.
This can become somewhat complicated when you have multiple ways to make a hand. Usually each possible draw has a different chance of winning if you hit it. In the example above you stand a good chance of winning the hand when you hit your straight, but if you miss your straight but pair one of your cards on the river you'll have a pair, but the odds of it being good are slim.
Learn how to read all of your possible draws and how to determine the odds of each draw being successful and winning if you hit it. This will help you win more often playing Texas holdem.
Reading Your Opponents Possible Hands
Continuing the discussion from the last two sections, once you learn all there is to know about your possible hands and draws and the odds you can start using the same things to determine what hands your opponents can possibly hold and their chance of completing hands that may be able to beat your hand.
You'll need to learn what hands your opponents like to play and which ones they don't play if you want to get the best possible reads, but even if you don't know anything about your opponents you can still make educated guesses based on the board, what you hold, and the betting action throughout the hand.
Remember in an earlier section we mentioned that many good starting hands have high cards. Other popular starting hands include pocket pairs and suited hands including an ace. As the level of competition improves the starting hand possibilities tend to change. Staring hands with an ace and suited small card are more likely at the lower levels than at the higher levels of competition.
Look at the list of good starting hands included in the next section and then compare them with the current board. Which hands fit with the way your opponent is playing the hand? Don't forget that not every player will follow the guidelines listed below.
Some players, especially at the lower levels, play any ace or any hand with an ace and any card the same suit as the ace.
At lower levels you'll often see hands where a player with an ace and a small off card hit two pair and beat a hand with a pair of aces and a large second hole card that doesn't pair up. This may seem like playing better starting hands doesn't pay off, but in the long run the player starting with ace queen is going to win more hands than the player starting with ace three.
It's also important to always consider the players in the blinds. If they get in for free or half a bet they could have any two cards. Even for a small raise many players won't fold anything from the blinds because they're already invested in the pot.
You need to consider a wide range of things when trying to guess what your opponents hold, but with practice you can start narrowing down their possible hands quickly. As you gain more experience you can get to the point where you'll often have a good idea where your opponents stand in a hand. You'll still be surprised sometimes because players do all kinds of crazy things at the holdem table, but the more you know the better you'll be in the long run.
Another big part of reading your opponent's possible hands is watching them play, even when you aren't in the hand, and remembering everything they do. If they have a big pocket pair do they always raise before the flop? Do they ever bet into a draw or do they always check and call? Thinking about these questions and learning the answers to them and others will make your play more profitable over time.
Best Starting Hands
Here's a list of the best starting hands in Texas holdem. The list is roughly listed from best to worst, but hand values change somewhat based on the level of competition, the makeup of the game, and your ability to play well after the flop.
Not all of these hands can be played from every position or in every game. But if a hand isn't listed here you should avoid playing it in any Texas holdem game.
Two card hands followed by a small "s" means suited. For example, K Q s means a king and queen of the same suit.
As you become a long term profitable Texas Holdem player you'll find situations where you may be able to play a few hands profitably that aren't on the list. You may be able to play 10 9 s or 4 4 from late position profitably in a few games, but don't even think about trying it until you're already a profitable player.
On the other hand you'll find many games where hands like K J and below on the list can't be played profitably. As a rule of thumb, while you're learning how to be a better player, it's always better to be tight than loose. So only play the best hands while learning how to play.
You also need to understand how position relative to the dealer button changes the value of starting hands and what you can and can't play for a profit. We have an entire page dedicated to position so you should study it to make sure you completely understand how to use it.
Even experienced Texas holdem players make mistakes when it comes to reading the board of community cards and trying to determine what their opponents hold. Once you learn what beats what, you still have a great deal to learn if you want to be a winning player.
Start by making sure you know the ranking of all of the possible hands, and then learn how to read the board. Use your hole cards with the board to determine not only the best hand you can form, but also the best hand your opponents could possibly have.
The next step is learning the odds of you hitting your hands and using this information to determine the best way to play the rest of the hand. Finally, you can start using all of the things you've learned to start making educated guesses about what your opponents have and are drawing to.
Winning Texas holdem players use all of these things and more on every hand to give themselves the best chance to win. But don't panic if this seems like a lot to take in at once. You don't have to learn it all in one sitting. Bookmark or print out this page and go over it often while you're learning to be a better player.
Then get started playing and practicing. You can play and practice for free or start at the low levels so you don't risk much money while you're learning.