Poker Hand Rankings
The game of poker is, at its heart, based on outplaying your opponent.
Bluffing, bet sizing, and table talking are all weapons in a talented player’s arsenal when waging war on the felt.
The best players can consistently build their chip stack without ever showing down their cards. But even for top professionals and poker superstars, holding a strong hand never hurts.
Leaving aside the more esoteric variants out there, poker hand rankings in games like Hold’em, Omaha, and Stud follow an age-old hierarchy. Moving up the ladder from unconnected, unpaired cards to the elusive, and unbeatable, royal flush, poker hand rankings are designed perfectly to create close competition on seemingly every deal.
Take a look below to review the classic poker hand ranking system:
Broadway straight (A-K-Q-J-10) in same suit
Five consecutive cards (10-9-8-7-6) in same suit
Four of a Kind
Four of same card (J-J-J-J-A)
Three of a kind + one pair (J-J-J-A-A)
Five cards of same suit (3h-7h-10h-Jh-Ah)
Five consecutive unsuited cards (8-7-6-5-4)
Three of a Kind
Three of same card (J-J-J-2-A)
Two pairs of same card (J-J-A-A-2)
One pair of the same card (J-J-4-3-2)
No pair, highest card is rank of hand (A-K-4-3-2)
As you might suspect, these hands increase in difficulty as you climb the ladder, so you’ll be seeing far more high card and one pair hands than you will straight and royal flushes.
And while order offers a broad overview, poker is made even more intricate by the diversification between hands. Using the right combination of community cards and hole cards, you’ll see “dummy” straights lose to the high end, low flushes fall to the nut variety, and various lesser hands decided by the “kicker.”
Speaking of hole cards, the joy of a good poker game comes from attempting to match your two-card private holding with common community cards on the board. Looking down at the picturesque sight of pocket kings before an A-K-5 action flop, or finding your lowly 6-7 turned into a world-beater with a 3-4-5 runout, provides poker with the essential element of suspense.
Great players can overcome missing the board with bluffs and other strategic moves, but they also know how to play every starting hand in the deck effectively.
Knowing which starters to back with bets, and the ones to ditch without a second thought, has become second nature for most experienced players. And indeed, variables like an opponent’s style, relative chip stacks, money on the line, and countless other factors combine to make starting hand guidelines fluid and flexible.
But for beginners, the work of poker theorists David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth – in their 1999 strategy book Hold’em for Advanced Players – offers a clear structure to start from.
Below you’ll find the eight basic starting hand groups postulated by Sklansky and Malmuth, starting at the top with poker’s premium holdings:
A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, A-Ks
10-10, A-Qs, A-Js, K-Qs, A-Ko
9-9, A-10s, K-Js, Q-Js, J-10s, A-Qo
8-8, K-10s, Q-10s, J-9s, 10-9s, 9-8s, A-Jo, K-Qo
7-7, A-9s, A-8s, A-7s, A-6s, A-5s, A-4s, A-3s, A-2s, Q-9s, 10-8s, 9-7s, 8-7s, 7-6s, K-Jo, Q-Jo, J-10o
6-6, 5-5, K-9s, J-8s, 8-6s, 7-5s, 5-4s, A-10o, K-10o, Q-10o
4-4, 3-3, 2-2, K-8s, K-7s, K-6s, K-5s, K-4s, K-3s, K-2s, Q-8s, 10-7s, 6-4s, 5-3s, 4-3s, J-9o, 10-9o, 9-8o
J-7s, 9-6s, 8-5s, 7-4s, 4-2s, 3-2s, A-9o, K-9o, Q-9o, J-8o, 10-8o, 8-7o, 7-6o, 6-5o 5-4o
When reading this chart, the “s” designates suited hands, while the “o” refers to offsuit cards.
As you can see, starting hands stratify naturally based on combined strength, so pocket aces are better than pocket kings, which beats pocket queens, and so on.
But as you move into the middle of the chart, subtle variations based on suited-ness and the “gap” concept (7-6 is a one-gap hand, 7-5 is a two-gapper, etc.) cause interesting shifts. That’s why K-J offsuit is actually quite a bit worse than Q-J suited, even though king-high technically beats queen-high.
And you may notice many “garbage” hands like the infamous 7-2 and other unconnected wide-gappers like 10-3 and the like dropped from the chart altogether. These hands can be played, of course, but they’re mostly used with the intention of outplaying an opponent – not outranking their final hand.
In the game of poker, evaluating hand strength requires as much instinct and feel as it does ironclad rankings, but this chart is a great foundation to build from.