Basic poker uses a standard deck of playing cards. The deck consists of 52 total cards, broken into four suits: clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades. Each suit has 13 cards, ranked in order of precedence, consisting of an Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2. Many decks have Jokers as well, but they are not generally used except in wild-card variants.
Ace through Jack are known as “face cards” because they usually depict a figure with a face. Some say the Joker is also a face card, but since it is a card that is little used, it hardly matters. In some games, the Ace is of lower value than the 2, or can go high and/or low.
The simplest form of traditional poker has a hand of five cards. It is called simply 5 card draw poker. Back in the day, this was known as California poker, though you don’t hear that term much anymore. There are literally hundreds of different kinds of poker games, some of them employing less cards, many of them (like Texas Hold Em) employing more. Players try to get the best poker hand possible, starting with what they are dealt and then through either discard and draw, or by other means such as the common cards available to all in Texas Hold Em.
In some games, wild cards are used, making it easier to achieve certain hands. However, experienced players and pros tend not to like wild card games. This is because wild cards drastically change the probabilities in a game, and probabilities are what good players use to assess where they are at during play, what they should do and the chance of winning.
The poker hands described below are ranked in order of precedence as found in most poker games, from best to worst. The top listed, the Royal Flush, the ultimate hand and one which is rarely seen because of the extremely low probability of having the right cards in the right sequence. Some players go for years before getting one. It is the best poker hand that can be achieved in standard forms of the game. The weakest hand (other than simply having the highest card shown) is One Pair. Keep in mind that in some variants — like Hi-Lo — low ranking hands can also win or tie.
For the purpose of this introduction, we will discuss the standard hand ranking that is used throughout the world, and the chance of getting certain hands based on a five card hand. The probability percentage shows the likelihood of being dealt such a hand from a well-shuffled deck in standard five card poker. The chances of getting a particular hand are approximations, to keep them more memorable. The actual chance of getting a Royal Flush is 1 in 649,740 — but who wants to try and remember that? Understand that the probabilities of certain combinations coming up in the various poker variant games depends on several factors, from hand size to number of players, whether the deck is ‘fresh” or not and how many cards have already been discarded or are unshuffled, etc..
Hands are ranked here in order of precedence, from the best poker hands at the top to the worst at the bottom. NOTE: In the case of ties by type, the highest card determines the winner. For instance, if two players had Flushes, one with a high card of a Queen and the other with a high card of a 10, the “Queen high” Flush would win.
• Royal Flush – The Best of the Best Poker Hands!
This is the best possible hand in standard five-card Poker. The Royal Flush consists of an Ace, King, Queen, Jack and 10, all of the same suit. Chance: 1 in 650,000 poker hands. Yes, odds are you’ll be at it a while before you get one!
• Straight Flush
The Straight Flush is any combination of cards that are in sequence and of the same suit. So, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7 of Diamonds would be a straight flush. Chance: 1 in 65,000 poker hands. Rare enough to be a big deal!
• Four of a Kind
If your hand contains four cards of the same value (e.g.: 4, 4, 4, 4), you’ve got Four of a Kind. Chance: 1 in 4000 poker hands. A powerhouse hand in five-card poker and rarely seen.
• Full House
A hand consisting of Three of a Kind and a Pair is a Full House (e.g.: 9, 9, 9 and King, King). Chance: 1 in 3700 poker hands. Another powerhouse hand and a near-sure winner.
When you’ve got five cards of the same suit, but not in sequence (e.g.: 2, 5, 9, Jack and Ace of spades), you’ve got a Flush. Chance: 1 in 500 poker hands. Odds are you’ll win with this one, particularly if the top of the flush is a face card.
If you’ve got five cards in sequence not from the same suit (e.g.: 7 of hearts, 8 of clubs, 9 of clubs, 10 of diamonds and Jack of spades), you’ve got a Straight. Chance: 1 in 250 poker hands. The most frequently seen of the difficult-to-get winning hands.
• Three of a Kind
If you’ve got any three cards of the same value (e.g.: Queen, Queen, Queen), you’ve got Three of a Kind. Chance: 1 in 50 poker hands. Frequently the big winner in draw poker.
• Two Pair
When you’ve got two separate pairs (e.g.: 4, 4, Jack, Jack), you’ve got Two Pair. Chance: 1 in 20 poker hands. Two pairs come up often enough that if you’ve only got one, you’d better think about it!
If your hand contains two cards of the same value (e.g.: 8, 8), you have a Pair. Chance: 1 in 2. Given that pairs come up half the time, if you don’t have a high pair you should consider folding most of the time.
Should a poker hand have none of the above, it is considered a “junk,” “nothing” or “garbage” hand. It has no value and no chance of winning at all — unless everyone else has “nothing” as well. In this case, the hand with highest card or cards wins. The hand is described as being “King-high,” for instance, if one has a King. If nobody else has a King, this is the winning hand (such as it is). If more than one person has the same high card, then the the next highest card between the two decides the winner. For instance, someone had a King-Jack and someone else had a King-10, the “King-high Jack” hand is the winner. And so on.
• Wild Cards
This article would be remiss if brief coverage was not given to wild cards. Games with wild cards can change the types of poker hands possible, blowing the normal “best poker hands” away! Wild cards make it possible to have things like “Five of a Kind” and radically improve the chances of getting Pairs, Straights and Flushes. Frequently, the 2 card is chosen (“deuces wild”), but any card or cards can be designated this way. A fairly common poker variant is to have the Ace be high and low, meaning it can be “better” (higher) in value than the King (as normal), and simultaneously lower than 2. If you want to see a professional-level player blanche, try suggesting more than one wild card!