What Beats What In Poker

Learn what hands beat others in poker from high card to royal straight flush. You’ll never hesitate with poker hand rankings anymore!

Poker is a game where players wager over who has the best hand. It’s pretty important to know what beats what in poker – otherwise you are going to have a bad time! Once you play enough, you’ll soon memorize poker hand rankings – but everyone has to start somewhere.

How to Beat These Poker Hands

This article covers the standard poker hand rankings are true for most forms of poker that use five-card hands. However, most people nowadays are playing Texas Hold’em, and so unless otherwise stated, we’re talking about Texas Hold’em hands.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to Texas Hold’em hands is that you must make the best hand you can by choosing five cards from the seven available (your two hole cards plus the five community cards).

You need to:

  • Work out the best five card hand for each player
  • Use the following guide to work out which is the winning hand

If no hand beats the other(s), then it’s a chopped (shared) pot.

What Beats a High Card

A high card is literally that – the highest card you have among your best five cards when you can’t make any other poker hands. It is the weakest poker hand there is.

The best possible high card hand is Ace high, and in Hold’em the lowest is Nine high. Nine high is the lowest because it’s impossible to make a lower high card hand in Hold’em without making some other poker hand.

For example, if the board runs out 237J9 and your hole cards are AT, then the best five-card hand you can make is AJT97 – Ace high.

You will beat your opponent who has KQ. The best five-card hand he can make is KQJ97 – King high.

If you both have the same high card, then you would look at the next highest card that one player has in their best five cards.

For example, in the above example, if your opponent had AQ instead, he would beat your AT because his best five cards are AQJ97 – beating your AJT97.

What beats a high card hand in poker? A higher card, or a pair or better.

The hands that beat a high card are:

  1. One pair
  2. Two pair
  3. Three of a kind
  4. Straight
  5. Flush
  6. Full House
  7. Four of a kind
  8. Straight Flush
  9. Royal Flush

Despite the high card being bottom of the poker hand order, it’s actually less likely than making a pair or two pair. The odds of making a high card-only hand are around 5-to-1, or 17%.

What Beats a Pair

One pair is two cards of the same value – no more, no less. They can both be in your hole cards (aka a pocket pair), one in your hole cards and one on the board, or both on the board. None of these types of pairs is better than any other. A pair is a pair and all that matters is the value of the cards.

An overpair is a type of pair where your pocket pair is higher than any card on the board.

  • Example board: 237J9
  • Player one: 2A
  • Best five-card hand: 22AJ9
  • Player two: J5
  • Best five-card hand: JJ975
  • Player three: KK
  • Best five-card hand: KKJ97

Player one has a pair of twos (the worst possible pair), player two has a pair of Jacks, while player three has a pair of Kings – an overpair, as they are higher than any card on the board. Player three wins and player two has the next best hand.

In the case of two or more players having the same pair, kickers come into play. A kicker is the highest card you have in your best five cards that your opponent doesn’t have.

For example, if player three had J4 (instead of KK) then the best five cards he could make would be JJ974. Player two would beat him as he has a Five in his best five cards (JJ975) and player three only has a Four.

What beats a one-pair hand in poker? A higher pair, a better kicker, or two pair or better.

The hands that beat a pair are:

  1. Two pair
  2. Three of a kind
  3. Straight
  4. Flush
  5. Full House
  6. Four of a kind
  7. Straight Flush
  8. Royal Flush

What Beats Two Pair

Two pair is where you have a pair of cards of a matching value, and another pair of cards of a different matching value. In other words, you have two different pairs.

The important thing is the highest pair. So AA223 beats KKQQ3, even though the second has a higher “average” pair.

The second pair only comes into play if the highest pair each can make is the same. Whoever has the higher second pair will win.

If both players have the same two pairs, then the fifth card is the kicker – who has the higher fifth card in their best five-card hand will win.

What beats a two pair hand in poker? A higher two pair, a better kicker, or three of a kind or better.

The hands that beat a two pair are:

  1. Three of a kind
  2. Straight
  3. Flush
  4. Full House
  5. Four of a kind
  6. Straight Flush
  7. Royal Flush

Counterfeiting

One thing to watch out for with two pair hands is “counterfeiting”. This happens when you make a pair, only for two higher pairs to come on the board. You can only play your best five-card hand, so the fact you have made three pairs is irrelevant. Three pair is not a legal Hold’em hand!

  • Board: 26677
  • Player one: 55
  • Best five-card hand: 77665
  • Player two: 93
  • Best five-card hand: 77669

Here the second player is losing until the river pairs the board, giving them the same two pair but a better kicker. The first player’s pair of fives has been counterfeited.

What Beats a Three of a Kind

Three of a kind is three cards of the same value.

Not all three of a kind hands are made equally. A set is where one of the community cards is the same value as the pocket pair in your hand – a sneaky hand that cannot be outkicked.

Trips is where there is a pair on the board that matches one of the cards in your hand – a difficult hand to get action with, and one with the risk of being outkicked.

It is impossible for one player to have a set and another to have trips – or for two players to have the same set.

  • Board: JKA27
  • Player one: KK
  • Best five-card hand: KKKAJ
  • Player two: AA
  • Best five-card hand: AAAKJ

Player one has a set of Kings, but player two wins with a set of Aces. This is known as set-over-set, and is a very rare occurrence. The probability of two players flopping a set is only about 1% – and that’s assuming both players have been dealt pocket pairs. It’s the definition of a cooler and not worth worrying about – if you flop a set, you should be trying to get all the money in!

  • Board: JAAK7
  • Player one: A9
  • Best five-card hand: AAAK9
  • Player two: AQ
  • Best five-cards: AAAKQ

Both players have trips, but player two wins because they have a Queen kicker and player one only has a Nine. Unlike set-over-set, this is something you need to take into account, especially if you are facing aggression.

What beats three of a kind? Higher value three-of-a-kinds, a better kicker (for trips), or a straight or better.

The hands that beat a three of a kind are:

  1. Straight
  2. Flush
  3. Full House
  4. Four of a kind
  5. Straight Flush
  6. Royal Flush

What Beats a Straight

A straight is five sequential cards that aren’t all the same suit. Aces can be high (e.g. TJQKA) or low (e.g. A2345) – but you can’t wrap around with an Ace in the middle.

A higher straight beats a lower straight – whoever has the highest card as part of their straight wins. Beware of holding the bottom of the straight (aka the idiot end) as there will always be a higher possible straight out there. This is especially true when there are four cards to the straight on the board.

  • Board: KQJT3
  • Player one: A2
  • Best five-card hand: TJQKA
  • Player two: A3
  • Best five-card hand: TJQKA
  • Player three: 9T              
  • Best five-card hand: 9TJQK

Here players one and two will share the pot – the fact player two has also made a pair is irrelevant. Player three has the worst hand despite using both their hole cards.

What beats a straight? Higher straights, or a flush or better.

The hands that beat a straight are:

  1. Flush
  2. Full House
  3. Four of a kind
  4. Straight Flush
  5. Royal Flush

What Beats a Flush

A flush is five cards of the same suit that aren’t sequential, e.g. AKQ72 or 97643.

Whoever has the higher card in their flush will win. An Ace-high flush is the best possible flush (aka the nut flush) – but if the Ace is already on the board, then holding the King becomes the nut flush.

  • Board: A723K
  • Player one: QJ
  • Best five-card hand: AKQ72
  • Player two: 89
  • Best five-card hand: AK987

Player one wins, as they have a Queen in their flush. Player two uses both their cards but neither is higher than any card in player one’s best five-card hand – and so they lose.

What beats a flush? A higher flush, or a full house or better.

The hands that beat a flush are:

  1. Full House
  2. Four of a kind
  3. Straight Flush
  4. Royal Flush

What Beats a Full House

A full house is a five-card hand that contains a pair of cards of one matching rank and three cards of a different matching rank – e.g. AAAKK. It’s a pair plus three of a kind, and is also known as a boat. You can’t make a full house unless the board has a pair on it.

Other boards that make full houses are ones with two pair or three of a kind on them – these are a lot easier to make a full house on, so there is much more possibility of being beat.

Full houses are ranked by the three of a kind. The pair only comes into play if both players have the same three of a kind. There are no kickers as a full house is a five-card hand.

  • Board: 89TAA
  • Player one: TT
  • Best five-card hand: TTTAA
  • Player two: TA
  • Best five-card hand: AAATT

Player one has made Tens over Aces (or Tens full), while player two has made Aces over Tens (aka Aces full). Player one wins, as they have made the “bigger boat”.

  • Board: 88TAA
  • Player one: T T
  • Best five card hand: TTTAA
  • Player two: A2
  • Best five card hand: AAA88

Here player one has flopped Tens-over-Eights, which becomes Tens-over-Aces by the river. But the second Ace gives the player two Aces-over-Eights – and this is the winning hand. As you can see, double-paired boards like this are very dangerous. Player one’s hand went from the near-nuts on the flop to a mere bluff-catcher on the river. Poker is a cruel game!

Full houses can only be beaten by “bigger boats”, or four of a kind or better.

The hands that beat a full house are:

  1. Four of a kind
  2. Straight flush
  3. Royal Flush

This leads to an interesting situation where Aces over Nines (e.g. AAA99) is a less vulnerable hand than Aces over Kings (AAAKK) because with the former it’s much less likely your opponent can make a straight flush.

This isn’t really something you should be worried about though!

What Beats Four of a Kind

Four of a kind is four cards of the same rank. It’s also known as quads. The board has to have a pair on it. If the board is double-paired (or has a full house on it) there is the possibility of quads over quads, although that is a very rare event.

Unlike with trips, if you make four of a kind using only one of your hole cards (with three on the board), then you don’t need to worry about someone else making the same hand with a better kicker – as there are no other cards of that value in the deck. However, if the board has the four of a kind on it, then whoever has the best kicker will win. 

  • Board: KKTAA
  • Player one: KK
  • Best five-card hand: KKKKA
  • Player two: AA
  • Best five-card hand: AAAAK

Here player one has made quad Kings – only to be beaten by player two’s quad Aces. This is the ultimate bad beat.

Because this is so rare, many casinos and some online poker sites will pay out what’s known as a Bad Beat Jackpot when someone loses with quads (usually they have to play both hole cards though) – often to everyone at the table! These jackpots are progressive and can build up to massive amounts much bigger than the pot itself. The largest-ever was over a million dollars.

What beats Four of a kind? Bigger quads, or a straight flush.

The hands that beat a four of a kind are:

  1. Straight Flush
  2. Royal Flush

What Beats a Straight Flush

A straight flush is five cards in sequence that are all the same suit – e.g. A2345. It’s both a straight and a flush.

The very best straight flush is called a royal flush and is usually treated as being a separate hand category.

It is possible to have a straight flush and get beaten by a bigger straight flush. As with straights, if you hold the bottom/idiot end, there is a chance someone has a better straight than you.

How likely this is, mostly depends on the board. If you’re using both hole cards to make the bottom end of a straight flush and there are three cards that can be used in a straight flush on the board, then there is only one possible combination of hole cards that can beat you.

If there are four (or five) to the straight flush on the board, then it becomes more likely your opponent could have you beat, because they only need one card – meaning there are 44 combinations of hole cards that beat you.

  • Board: 34578
  • Player one: A2
  • Best five-card hand: A2345
  • Player two: 62
  • Best five-card hand: 45678

Here player one has an Ace-to-Five straight flush (also known as the Steel Wheel). But it’s not the nuts! Player two has 6 and makes a higher straight flush. Player two doesn’t need to worry about someone making a higher straight flush as only 96 can do this – and player two has the only 6 in the deck.

What beats a straight flush? Only higher straight flushes, including the best possible hand in poker, the royal flush.

What Beats a Royal Flush

A royal flush is the best possible straight flush – Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and Ten of the same suit – e.g TJQKA.

It is the best hand in most forms of poker (also the rarest), including Texas Hold’em. In Texas Hold’em, if one player has a royal flush no other player will be able to match or beat them – unless of course, the royal flush is on the board.

There are some forms of poker where a royal flush can be matched or beaten. In non-community-card games, such as Five Card Draw or Five Card Stud, it’s possible for two players to make royals of different suits. In this case, the pot is chopped.

In wild-card poker (e.g. where Jokers are used to represent any card), it becomes possible to make five of a kind. This is harder to make than a royal flush and so usually ranks higher.

One other form of poker where the royal flush can be beaten is Lowball poker. Let’s take a quick look.

How to Beat Lowball Poker Hands

Lowball poker turns the regular poker hand rankings on their head! A pair beat two pairs, two pairs beat three of a kind, and so on. A high card hand is the best possible hand – except in this case it is a low card hand. There are three main ways of ordering the winning poker hands in lowball games:

  • Ace-to-Five
  • Deuce-to-Seven
  • Ace-to-Six

For example, California Lowball uses the Ace-to-Five system. Aces are considered low, straights and flushes are ignored and a Joker is added to the deck as a wild card. What would be considered an Ace-to-Five straight in regular poker (aka the Wheel) is the best possible hand – e.g. 5432A.

Kansas City Lowball uses the Deuce-to-Seven ranking system. Aces are high, and straights and flushes are possible. This means the royal flush is the worst possible hand, and Seven low – five unsuited, unpaired, non-sequential cards, Seven and lower, e.g. 75432 – is the best possible hand type.

How to Beat Short Deck Hands

Short Deck, also known as Six Plus Hold’em, is a variant of Texas Hold’em where the cards lower than Six are removed from the deck.

This leads to more action, as players are more likely to make strong hands. However, it also changes the probabilities of making each type of hand.

The most common change in the Short Deck poker hand rankings is that a flush now beats a full house.

However, technically it is harder to make three of a kind than a straight. So some games will rank three of a kind higher.

And some games will just use regular Texas Hold’em hand rankings. It’s always best to double-check the house rules before you start playing Short Deck – and it’s even more important to check you’re not playing Short Deck if you intended to play regular Hold’em!

What Hand Beats What In Poker: FAQ

Answers to common questions about what poker hands beat what poker hands.

What happens when more than one player has the same hands?

If more than one player has exactly the same hand, the pot is split between them.

In Hold’em, it’s not possible for two players to have the same flush. They can have the same straight or full houses, but as these use all five cards the pot will always be split.

With pairs, two pairs, trips and quads, the players can have the same hand but one player may have a stronger kicker. A kicker is a card one player has in their five best cards that is higher than the other player has in their five best cards.

Can you still win without forming a hand?

In Texas Hold’em, a hand is formed of the best five-card combination you can make from your two hole cards and the five community cards. Even if you haven’t made a pair, you still have a hand – a high card hand. If your opponent only has a high card hand too, then you can win if you have a higher card among your best five cards.

What is a full house hand and how can you beat it?

A full house hand is a five-card hand made up of three of a kind (three cards of the same value) and a pair (two cards of the same value).

A full house is a very strong hand that can only be beaten by a higher full house (determined by the ranking of the three of a kind), four of a kind, a straight flush, or a royal flush.  

Is it possible to beat a Royal Flush hand in poker?

In regular poker games, it’s impossible to beat a royal flush hand as it is the very best hand you can make.

If you are playing wildcard poker then five of a kind beats it, and in Lowball poker, it is a very weak hand (depending on the type of Lowball ranking used, it can be the weakest possible hand).

How is lowball poker different from regular poker?

Lowball poker games are different from regular poker in that the goal is to make the weakest possible hand. There are a few different ways of arranging the poker hand rankings in Lowball variants – Ace-to-Five and Deuce-to-Seven being the most common.

One of the first things any player needs to do is learn what beats what in poker. At first, you’ll need to refer to a poker hand ranking chart, but soon it will become second nature. You won’t be a winning player unless you know the poker winning hands!