Kickers in poker hand rankings
As you might have noticed, many of the hands that can be formed in the common poker variants like Texas Holdem include side cards or kickers. In case 2 or more players have the same poker hand, such as a pair of aces, their kickers come into play for deciding which player will win the pot. The higher the kicker you have, the better.
Example in a three-way pot in Texas Holdem
Player 1 hole cards: A♥ K♥
Player 2 hole cards: A♣ T♣
Player 3 hole cards: A♠ 7♥
The board: A♦ Q♥ 2♠ 4♣ 6♥
In this case, all 3 players have one pair, a pair of Aces to be exact, but their final poker hands have different kickers: Player 1 has a pair of Aces with a King kicker, also known as top-top for top pair with top kicker. Player 2 and 3 have the same kicker, Queen, since that’s the highest kicker card available to them, and in this case the next best kicker is used to define their relative ranking. Therefore player 2 has a pair of Aces with Queen kicker and Ten as the second kicker and Player 3 has a pair of Aces with Queen kicker with Seven as the second kicker, meaning Player 2 has Player 3 beat and Player 1 has both players 2 and 3 beat. This means that Player 1 wins the pot if the hand goes to showdown.
Evaluating the Strength of Starting Hands
If we had to name a single area of poker that has the greatest impact on your edge at the poker table, it would be the proper selection of starting hands. Choosing proper starting hands is simply too important to neglect if you want to win at poker, and almost all great players base their edge on a solid preflop game. It forms the basis for any poker variant, and is especially important in games played with community cards, such as Texas Holdem and Omaha Hi.
In case of Holdem, there are a total of 169 starting hands consisting of 13 pocket pairs, 78 suited hands and 78 unsuited hands. Although there are 3 further cards community cards that might be seen on the flop and possibly 2 more cards on the turn and river, your starting hand does play a major role in determining our odds of winning the hand in showdown.
Let’s dive deeper into possibilities of hole cards you might be dealt when playing. Starting hands in Texas Holdem can be divided into following categories:
Pocket pairs will be dealt to you about 6% of the time when you play a hand of poker. Pocket pairs look great, and the bigger they are, the better. As the name implies, hands from 22 to AA go into this category. They can be further divided into premiums also known as monsters (AA, KK and QQ), high pairs (JJ and TT), middle pairs (99-66) and small pairs also known as baby pairs (55-22).
Broadway in poker means a card that can form the highest straight in poker, meaning cards with rank of Ten or higher. A Broadway starting hand is any hand with two of these, for example KQ or QJ.
Connectors are hands with potential to make straights, for example JT or 65. Suited connectors are connected cards with the same suit, meaning they have potential for both straights and flushes.
Simply two cards with the same suit. Suited cards with an Ace are favoured by many players, since they often get a decent flop to continue to later streets and if you happen to make the flush, you’ll have the best flush unless the board is paired or possibility for a straight flush is out there.
Two cards that have a gap between them, such as 86 or J9. Gappers can also form straights and once they do, the straight might not be so obvious to see on the board for other players. Suited gappers are obviously better than offsuit gappers, since they have more potential for flushes.
Now that we know how to categorize the different starting hands, how do we choose which ones we play? To make optimal decisions, many factors have to be taken into account, and the topic of which hands to enter the pot with would be way too large to cover here – there are multiple charts on which hands to play for each position, stack depth, the actions other players have taken before you and other factors that need to be considered.
Instead, a few rough rules of thumb can be used as a general guideline:
Big pocket pairs should be played from all positions
You can expect to win at showdown relatively often with these hands without improving into a set or a better hand.
Big broadway cards are playable from most positions
Hands such as AK, AQ and KQ often make top pair with a good kicker, and against one opponent you chances to win the pot in showdown are quite good.
Big suited hands and pocket pairs are playable from most positions
Suited Aces like A5s, ATs, pocket pairs like 99-22 and suited connectors like QJs can make a lot of strong hands after the flop. Smaller pocket pairs are sort of binary hands which makes them easy to play after the flop, as you will either make a set on the flop and keep building the pot, or not improve facing many overcards (then you have an easy fold!). With big suited hands you can flop Flush draws and make Flushes.
Other hands that look somewhat good, such as T9o, Q9o, 58s are usually not playable
If you’re just starting out with poker, it might be better not to play with these hands at all (unless you’re in the big blind and nobody has raised before you). Playing these hands can lead to tricky spots where it’s hard to figure out where you stand in the hand.
Other hands that look like trash, should be thrown away almost always
Trash hands like 95o, T2s, 84o need to improve significantly to win at showdown, and you don’t want to rely just on making a miracle after the flop. The safest route is to throw away these hands.
If you follow these rules of thumb, you’re on your way to play sound poker!
Poker Hand Rankings FAQ
How many poker hands are there?
In Holdem there are 1326 possible combinations of starting hands, and once we take into account that there are multiple combinations of hands with same preflop value such as Q♠ J♠ and Q♥ J♥, the actual number is 169 different starting hands.
What are good poker hands to play?
There are many good hands you want to play depending on your position and other factors, but you should be folding most of your starting hands – especially those that look like trash, for example 83 offsuit and 94 offsuit. Check out our Top 10 Starting Hands for No Limit Texas Holdem covering the strongest starting hands, as they will form the majority of your winnings.
Which suit is the best in poker?
All the suits are simply of the same value in poker, and none is better than the other. If two or more players have the same poker hand at showdown but in different suits, they simply split the pot.
Not sure what beats what in poker?
High card such as Ace high is beaten by one pair, which is beaten by Two Pair. Three of a kind beats Two Pair, and Straights beats Three of a Kind. Straight is beaten by a Flush, which loses to Full House. Full House can be beaten by Four of a Kind, which in turn can be beaten by a Straight Flush. Finally, as you can guess by now, Straight Flush is beaten by the Royal Flush.
Flush vs Straight – who wins?
Flush beats a straight. Getting a flush is harder than getting a straight in terms of probabilities, which is why a flush is considered the higher ranked hand.
Both players have Two Pair – who wins?
The player with the better higher pair has the winning hand, when two or more players have Two Pair. In case players share the higher pair, the better lower pair determines the winner, and if they have the exact same two pair, the player with the higher kicker wins.
What about three pair, how does that rank?
Three pair is simply not a poker hand, since you would need 6 cards to form three pair and poker hands consist of only 5 cards. Consider the following example: You have JT and the board runs out K-K-J-T-2. In this case your hand is not three pair, but two pair: Kings and Jacks with Ten as a kicker.
Full House vs Full House, who wins?
The player with the highest three of a kind wins. Example: You have KK and your opponent has A5, and the board is K-A-5-5-7. Both of you have a Full House, but since your hand is Kings full of Fives and your opponent has Fives full of Aces, you have the best three of kind and hence the winning hand.
Straight vs straight, who wins?
The player with the highest straight wins. Consider this example: You are in a 3-way pot on the river with the board reading Q-J-T-5-4. You have AK, player 2 has K9 and player 3 has 89. Everyone has a straight, but you have the winning hand since your straight is the highest.