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Poker Hands Explained

By: Staff Writer

The famous card game of Poker is pretty much synonymous with gambling. It’s seen by many as the end-all-be-all gambling game, but it also has a place in live casinos. From live dealer games like 3-Card Poker to the famous 21+3 side bet in live blackjack, knowing how poker hands work can be useful to a live casino fan.

With that in mind, here’s a complete rundown of how poker hands are made and ranked. Knowing this information will help you develop your skills as an online gambler, whether you play poker online or not.

What Are Poker Hands?

The game of poker is all about assembling cards into certain combinations, as per the game’s rules. There are multiple ways in which cards can be combined in poker. For example, cards of the same value can form various hands. Having multiple cards of the same value (but different suit) is one type of poker hand. Otherwise, cards may be combined based on their suit or in ascending order of value. We’ll get to the details below.

The gist makes a lot of sense – the harder a certain hand is to get, the stronger it is. In live casino poker games, this usually translates into bigger payouts. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that the rules on how to make poker hands depend on the game and its rules.

How Are Poker Hands Made?

Different types of poker have different rules and different gameplay. The simplest can be found in 5-card poker variants, such as Caribbean Stud Poker. In this game, the player is dealt 5 cards and uses them to form regular hands. The dealer (or other players, in non-casino poker variants) receives their own set of 5 cards. Then, the two hands are compared and the stronger one wins.

If you’re then wondering how Three Card Poker works – it’s much the same. However, the hands are limited to three cards only, which means some poker hands are impossible to make.

Lastly, there is also the popular Texas Hold’em variant. In games following Hold’em rules, each player only receives 2 cards. These two are combined with 5 so-called community cards to make Texas Hold’em hands. Community cards are incrementally revealed at the center of the table. Essentially, all players at the table use these same 5 cards but have another 2 cards reserved for themselves.

In live Casino Hold’em, players compare their 2-card hands against the dealer instead of other players. As one might expect, the dealer also only receives 2 cards to be combined with community cards.

How Are Poker Hands Ranked?

We’ve delayed long enough, so it’s time to discuss the poker hands order. Below, we’ll list what the poker hands are best to worst. We’ll explain what it takes to form all poker hands and how poker hands rank.

Importantly, all poker hand types also have degrees of strength, so to speak. Essentially, if two or more players have the same hand (or the player and dealer in live dealer casino poker), the hand with cards of higher value wins.

The hands are listed here in descending order of strength. Each hand is weaker than the ones listed above and stronger than the ones listed below.

Poker Hand Rankings

  • Straight Flush. This is the strongest poker hand by most table rules. It contains five sequential cards, all of the same suit. For example, a hand of Jack, 10, 9, 8, and 7 of Hearts would be a Straight Flush. Straight Flush hands are often distinguished by the highest card in the sequence. For instance, the above example would be a ‘jack-high straight flush.’ A straight flush containing Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and 10 is the strongest possible poker hand.
  • Four of a Kind. Also known as quads, this hand contains four cards of the same value. Seeing how poker is usually played with one deck, this also means they’re all of different suits. For example, a 9 of Hearts, 9 of Spades, 9 of Clubs, and a 9 of Diamonds. The fifth card is often called the ‘kicker’ and is used to determine the winner in variants with more than one deck.
  • Full House. Essentially, this hand combines a pair and a three-of-a-kind. It’s formed by a pair of cards of the same value, and three cards of a different (but identical to eachother) value. For example, two Aces and three 7s is a Full House. Full House hands are ranked first by the value of the triplet, and then by the value of the pair. For example, a 7/7/7/5/5 hand is stronger than 5/5/5/7/7, which is, in turn, stronger than 5/5/5/3/3.
  • Flush. This hand contains five cards of the same suit which are not in sequential order. For example, a King, 10, 7, 9, and 3 of Spades are a Flush. Flush hands are ranked based on the highest card first, then the second-highest, then the third-highest, and so on.
  • Straight. This hand contains five cards in sequential order which are not of the same suit. For example, 10 of Spades, 9 of Clubs, 8 of Hearts, 7 of Spades, and 6 of Diamonds is a Straight. Straights are also ranked by their highest card.
  • Three of a Kind. As the name implies, this hand requires three cards of the same value (but different suits.) The remaining two cards (‘kickers’) are used to compare two Three of a Kind hands. For example, if two players in a Hold’em game have triplets of Queens, the one with the highest kicker wins. If the higher kickers are the same value, the stronger of the two lower kickers are used.
  • Two Pair. This hand contains two cards of one value, two cards of another value, and a kicker. For example, two Jacks and two 8s are a two-pair hand. Two pair hands are ranked by the higher-value pair, then the lower-value pair, and then the kicker.
  • Pair. This hand contains two cards of the same value, while the other cards don’t form any other type of poker hand. Pairs are ranked by the value of the pair, and then the three kickers in descending order.
  • High Card. Otherwise known as ‘nothing.’ If the cards don’t form any of the above combinations, the hand with the highest-value card wins. Again, these are compared starting with the highest card and in descending order.

Final Notes

Before we finish, we should note a few things. Firstly, some online poker variants have different rules surrounding the Ace. Sometimes it’s used strictly as the strongest-value card, sometimes as the lowest, and sometimes both. Be sure to carefully read the rules about this before you play casino poker online. This rule can severely affect your casino poker strategy.

Secondly, all card suits are identical in terms of strength. If the player and dealer have hands of the same value but different suits, the round results in a ‘push’, or tie.

That’s all you need to know about how poker hands work in live casino poker. If you’d like to start playing today, here’s an article on how to choose the best poker table.

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