The winner of a round of poker is the player with the best poker hand, or with the last remaining hand. A poker hand in a game of Texas Hold’em consists of five cards, which are any combination of a player’s two hole cards and the five face-up community cards. The best poker hand is based on the following poker hands order, ranking the hands from highest to lowest.
Royal Flush - an unbeatable hand in Texas Hold'em. It is the highest ranking Straight Flush and consists of 10, J, Q, K and A of the same suit.
Straight Flush - five consecutive cards of the same suit, for example 7, 8, 9, 10, J - all in hearts.
Four of a Kind - four cards of the same value (rank), e.g. four Aces or four Jacks.
Full House - three of a kind and a pair. For example, three sevens and a pair of Kings.
Flush - five cards all of the same suit, for example: 3, 7, 9, Q, K - all in hearts.
Straight - five consecutive cards not of the same suit (for example: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
Three of a Kind- three cards of the same rank (e.g. three Queens). Often referred to as trips.
Two Pair - any two cards of a matching rank together with two cards of another matching rank.
One Pair– any two cards of a matching rank together with three unmatched cards.
High Card- when a player hasn't been able to improve his hand by the river, the highest card in his hand will be his best possible holding, for example Ace high or King high.
The order of poker hands, from highest to lowest, should be clear now, but in some games of poker, like Omaha Hi Lo, the list of poker hands is ranked in the opposite order. Before you start playing a game of poker, make sure you have consulted the poker hand chart appropriate for that poker game!
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Posted by Kat Arnsby
Poker as shown in the movies is always ridiculous, right? Nobody in Hollywood knows anything about hands of poker, do they?
Since the release of Casino Royale in 2006, the validity of poker hands in the movies has been a topic of much contention and scorn from poker players.
“Do you know what the odds are of those all hands being dealt?” somebody will always ask. Nobody, including the person asking, ever knows. Why doesn't Hollywood just leave poker alone, or at least represent it faithfully?
Every action in the movies must be of the highest drama, even at the expense of reality. As poker players, is there anything to learn from the ranks of these scenes of movie poker, or it is all just well-scripted nonsense portrayed in order to increase box office revenues? Can we become winning players after watching Texas Hold’em hands in poker played out on the silver screen?
Let’s do some poker hands analysis.
Considering how the characters in poker movies play their hands can be valuable. What is the problem with the way PonyTail plays his King high flush? Why on earth would he check the turn when his stack was 25% of the pot, and then jam the river anyway?
PonyTail made a mistake here. A short stack is not a suitable weapon for clever tactics, it has one move, and it's the trigger move, in the best spot possible, as soon as it arrives; there is a time for slow play, and PonyTail shows us, in Hollywood style, when not to.
The movie-makers have written a moment where the hero makes the absolute optimum play. He waits for his opponent to make the maximum mistake. This is representative of great poker, and true to the legend of Bond.
Le Chiffre seems mildly uncomfortable with making the call, he seems to have that moment of doubt that any player has when asked to put all his money in the middle with less than the best possible hand. He has to call 34million into 87million. Can he get away from it with A6? Is Bond ever bluffing there? If Le Chiffre was going to bet for value and then call anyway, should he have just shipped his entire stack initially, thereby removing Bond's option of any kind of bluff?
This may well be a fake hand of poker, but it can stimulate thought in the same way a real hand can.
Bond performs an epic slow-roll when he does not turn his hand over immediately. This is not good manners from an Englishman, especially when he has three players all-in. As James is a gentleman, this action must be part of Bond's master plan to send Le Chiffre on major life tilt, and thereby eventually destroy him; that's off-the-charts spy stuff.
Mike's 'thought voice' tells us that his “guess is that Teddy's on a flush draw”. This is a very contracted thought process from the poker-shark character. It's hard to blame the movie makers for this omission, as sometimes real TV poker can make it look as if some of the top names in poker just pluck a hand assignment out of their Holdem Holes, when actually, their assessment is the result of running a very detailed process through their finely honed minds.
You should always have your opponent on a range of hands, ie: you should guesstimate what different types of hands they are likely to be holding given the action that has happened. It's really hard at first, but it becomes easier if you commit to doing it, every hand you play. This applies even if you have the absolute nuts, because if you aren't making a list of what your opponent might have, like Mikey, you aren't working out how to get paid.
One action that is viral in movie-poker is “string-betting”. This is usually defined as a bet in multiple motions, or “going back and topping up”. It's not allowed in live poker-rooms, and is thankfully impossible in online rooms, but in the movies, it has the effect of adding to the suspense.
The baddy gets to push his chips over the line one at a time, and nobody says anything because he has a team of hairy apes with shot-guns.
This is a great poker scene, showing a bluff from the title character. This can be used to help your real life game, as players will tend towards a loud voice, aggressive movements and general bravado when they are bluffing/have weak holdings. Like an animal in the wild, they are trying to look big and scary because they know they are cornered, and vulnerable.
In opposition, when a player has a strong holding, they may try to look weak, and submissive. They want to encourage you to attack them, because they have a hidden weapon.
You will notice Luke's opponent is offered advice from a big guy standing behind him; this would not be allowed in a real poker room, so don't worry about your opponent's mates helping him call your bluffs! Unless you're already in a chain-gang prison, in which case, you're on your own.
A classic and famous line from a great poker movie is great advice for all players. “You only paid the looking price, lessons are extra.”
You may hear at live tables, or see in the chat box online, that some players are “experts”. They have a compulsion to explain to every other player why they are brilliant and everyone else is rubbish. They know not only the hand rankings, but also the probabilities involved in each hand, as if they were a poker calculator capable of pinpointing the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent.
It is never worth educating the fish. Make sure you are not the guy giving lessons for free at a poker table; it can be tempting to rant when a bad player gets lucky, but the best thing for your long term profit is to smile, tap the table and say “nice hand”.
If you are a new player, and find people's “expert” opinions intimidating at a poker table, remember Rip Torn in the Cincinnati Kid; if these players were really as good as they are claiming, wouldn't they know that lessons should cost extra? Don't be intimidated, it's most likely that these types do not know as much as they sound like they do.
In a poker scene that should not be shown to anyone's mum, this game is representative of the dark side of poker. There are two important and very real lessons to be learned from this movie poker moment.
Firstly, it is not a good idea to play unlicensed games in dark and dingy venues with scary gangsters, because there is just no need; if you want to play, the live and online poker scenes have never been healthier or more accessible.
Never play for more than you can afford. It is unnecessary as a live game can be found for around £20 in most casinos at least once a week, and the low-stakes online games are booming. No modern poker player needs to borrow £250k, from his opponent at the table; whatever your wallet size, there is a non-life threatening game for you somewhere, stay away from the guys with guns!
This scene is movie poker gone mad. There is string betting, speech-play in a multi-way pot and shootings; this is definitely not everyday poker.
What is comparable to real poker is that the two main characters are attempting to antagonise each other, bumping egos and bickering, resorting to the old favourite of “your mum” insults.
In the context of the movie, Johnny getting a bullet through his skull was no doubt inevitable, but did he really need to rub his opponent's face in the muck of his poker loss? This is not classy behaviour at a poker table.
Poker is a “gentleman's game”, and smugly pointing out to one's opponent that you are a much better player than him is not the done thing. It is worth making an effort not to be the guy who is an unbearable winner, not because you'll get shot if you don't, but because nobody wants to attack the “nice guy”, with guns, or with cards.
Never try to make another player feel bad about their skills; either they are worse than you, and you want them to return to the game, or they are better than you and you want to pick their brains.
It may be time for poker enthusiasts to look at movie hands with serious intent, with the aim of extracting the benefit that comes with analysing a 'real' poker hand. The movies have to make tweaks to real life; all movie goers are expected to suspend their disbelief for the length of a movie.
Faithful movie makers will always root their art in truth, so when it comes to poker in the movies, we players should not be so quick to dismiss the poker truths behind the scenes.
It is inarguable that poker hand analysis forces players to think about their own play, and if art truly mirrors life, maybe there is something to be learned from movie poker, even if it is covered head-to-toe in Hollywood glitter.
Kat Arnsby has worked in the UK casino industry for over a decade, starting as a trainee Roulette dealer and graduating to Poker Room Manager. She has played poker online and live for fifteen years and has a passion for introducing new players, believing that there is a poker game for everybody.
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Posted by Barry Carter
The first thing you learn in Texas Hold’em is the poker hand rankings. That one lesson about which poker hands to play probably turns you from a big losing player, into a small losing player (That’s not a joke, it’s a huge first step in becoming a winner).
Hand selection seems like quite a basic skill, but just like poker takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master, so too is hand selection a lot more complicated than it first appears. It’s not just about the strength of your hand from the poker hand chart; poker hand playability is a very important subject to understand.
Knowing what poker hands to play is fundamental part of poker strategy and it is exceptionally important to know things like Pocket Fives is considered a weaker hand than Ace-King, even though technically it is ‘ahead’ of it before the flop. The poker hand rankings are limited, however, in that they are entirely in a vacuum. They do not take into account the complexities of poker, in particular post-flop play.
When we discuss poker hand playability, we are talking about how well a hand will play after the flop. This does not mean it’s relative strength against a random hand (Pocket Aces are still the favourite against any random hand after the flop, as they are before the flop), this means both how easy will your decisions be against different board textures on the flop, as well as how likely are you to be ‘dominated’.
A fundamental question you should always ask on every street is “where do I stand in this hand?” Once you understand poker hand playability, this question becomes easy to answer.
We all know from the poker hand charts that Pocket Aces beats both Ace-Queen OffSuit and Six-Seven Suited. Which of those two hands would you prefer to have if you were forced to play against the Bullets?
A novice might still say Ace-Queen OffSuit, because in a vacuum it is still stronger than Six-Seven Suited. However, in this scenario Ace-Queen OffSuit is dominated and Six-Seven Suited is not.
When you are dominated, not only are you losing, but you have very little chance of catching up and outdrawing your opponent. Normally hitting an Ace is a good thing for Ace-Queen, but in this example there is only one Ace left and hitting it would give your opponent trips. Your only hope is to hit two Queens, which is very unlikely.
The most common scenario where you are dominated is usually when you both hold an Ace, but your opponent has a better kicker. So for example your opponent has Ace-King but you have Ace-Six.
Small Aces are the ultimate ‘trap hand’. They look enticing because we all know a pair of Aces is strong, but they are the sorts of hand where if you get too much action, you are almost certainly behind.
Ask yourself, what are you hoping to hit with a hand like Ace-Six Offsuit? If you hit your Ace, you often will run into a stronger Ace and you are crushed. If you hit your Six, you often find yourself up against higher pairs and once again you are in a world of hurt.
When you are aware of the concept of dominated hands, it will prevent you from repeatedly finding yourself in second best hand scenarios.
To go back to the first example, Six-Seven Suited, while being very weak preflop, will rarely be dominated on the flop. While you are never really looking to make a one-pair hand with a holding like this, there are several realistic ways you can hope to win the hand – by making two-pair, a straight or a flush.
So if, for example, you have Six-Seven of Hearts and the flop comes AH 5S 9H, you know that you will likely be up against a big pair if you get action, but you still have a good reason to call a bet, because you could hit a heart for a flush or an eight for a straight. If you had Ace-Six Offsuit, when you get a lot of action you are likely up against a better Ace, but if you are winning your opponent will probably just fold because the Ace is a scare card, so you only win a small pot.
Another big benefit of hands that are not dominated is that your decision making process becomes a lot easier. In the example above, you know exactly where you stand in the hand when you have the suited connector. You either hit your draw, or you almost certainly have the worst hand. If, however, you have the Ace-Six Offsuit, you really have no idea if your hand is best and will often find yourself making expensive folds or calls.
One great example of a very playable hand is the small pocket pair. The plan with a small pair is to get to see the flop cheaply, so this is not a hand you want to go to war with, because when the pots get big, it’s a coin flip at best and in most cases you are crushed. However, if you can get in cheap, it’s both an easy and profitable hand to play.
That’s because with a small pocket pair, the goal is to make a set on the flop. This is a very profitable scenario because a hand like a set of fours is both very strong and very well disguised. Sets are the hardest hand to see coming and you can win very big pots when you play them well. They are also very playable because when you see the flop, it’s literally a case of ‘pump it or dump it’. If you hit a set, you are ready to play for your whole stack. When you miss the flop, it’s an easy and cheap fold. There is rarely a tricky middle ground situation like there is when we hit second pair or weak top pair type hands.
Just a quick note to remind you that the premium hands we know from the hand rankings chart are still the best hands to win a lot of money with. When inexperienced players first learn about the value of speculative hands like small pairs and suited connectors, they often overvalue them and forget that Aces, Kings, Queens and Ace-King are still the best hole cards to be dealt.
When you are dealt hands like this, you can adapt the above lessons to avoid trapping yourself. The ideal situation is to find yourself in big pots against the hands you dominate, rather than having your opponent show up with an unlikely set or flush.
You achieve this by making the pots big before the flop, by raising and reraising when you have a strong preflop holding. When you do this, most of the time you eliminate the speculative hands like small pairs and suited connectors from your opponent’s range. This means you can proceed on ‘wet’ flops with much more confidence.
When you get cute by just limping or calling with a hand like Pocket Aces, you invite your opponents to come along for the ride with all manner of holdings, and you have no idea where you are in the pot.
Another important concept to grasp is that some hands are very playable when you are in position (ie. The last to act post flop), while almost impossible to play when you are first to act.
This is because when you are in position, you have ‘last action’. This means your opponent has already given you a signal of the strength of their hand, and you can close the action to the next street by calling or checking.
When you have position a hand like Ace-Six actually isn’t anywhere near as bad, because you can play it for ‘pot control’ meaning you often can get to showdown by calling three bets or less. If, however, you were first to act and you bet with it, you could easily be reraised and face a very expensive decision.
Suited connectors are a classic hand that play very well in position, and terrible out of position. When you flop a draw, you want to see the turn and river cards as cheaply as possible, so you can fold if you miss. This is much easier to do when you are last to act, because if the betting gets heavy you can cut your losses and exit the hand.
One final interesting note about poker hand playability is that a hands value and playability changes depending on the number of people who see the flop. To put it simply, the more players in the pot, the more likely it is that someone has flopped something big.
In multi-way pots, premium one-pair type hands decrease in value significantly. Pocket Aces beats a random single opponent 88% of the time, but when you face two random opponents it is only 76% and when you get to six random opponents you become the underdog, winning just 44% of the time. This is another example of why you should thin the field by raising with hands like this, and simultaneously exercise a lot of caution when you are in family pots.
Hands like suited connectors and small pairs, however, actually go up in value the more players there are at the table. This makes them much more playable when several players have entered the pot than if you were facing just one opponent.
It’s not that you somehow will hit your hand more often magically when more players are in the pot. Speculative hands become more playable in multi-way pots because on the occasions you do hit your hand, you stand to win much much more.
This is because there is more money available to win. If there are four opponents in a standard $100NL pot, if you hit your hand there is a maximum of $400 to win instead of $100 if you were heads-up. If you do hit your set/flush/straight, you most likely will dominate all four opponents, whereas if you got all your money in with Aces, the chances are at least one of the four other players would beat you.
Secondly, the more players in the pot, the more likely it is that at least one player has hit a second best hand that will pay you all the way. One heads-up opponent will miss the flop a lot when you do hit a monster and fold quite quickly, but in a multi-way pot you have a much better chance of getting paid off.
Recognising the playability of a poker hand is a skill in itself, one which you will constantly have to adapt as the game evolves and you move up stakes. Some hands are more playable against nits than maniacs. Some hands play better against weak opponents and some play better against strong players. Some hands play well at low stakes but not high stakes. I highly recommend you check out some free poker calculators like PokerStove to improve this part of your skillset.
Poker hand rankings themselves are absolute. Aces will always beat Kings in a vacuum. Poker hand playability, however, is much more fluid and situational. Recognising when a hand plays well in some situations and when it risks being dominated is a skill that will separate you from most of the field, and also make your decision making process a lot less stressful.
Barry Carter is the editor of PokerStrategy.com and the co-author of The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2. He has been working in the poker industry for almost ten years as a writer but is still primarily a poker player at heart. Barry has spent the last five years working alongside renowned mental game coach Jared Tendler, which is why is why you will often see a lot of unique perspectives from the world of psychology in his writing.
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