Poker Hand Rankings
+ The Best/Worst Starting Hands

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It's a game that almost defies description, yet at the same time is fairly easy to describe!

To really appreciate the huge number of facets it offers to anyone interested in playing games for real money, you'll need to be lined up to the thought that you have a lot to understand, and you'll be spending plenty of time studying, learning, and practicing.

The good news is that once you master the basics and some of the more simpler aspects, you'll be in a good position to play what's often referred to as the ''King Of Card Games''- and hopefully with a good measure of success.

Hold that thought about learning and practicing though - because you'll probably find out fairly quickly that both are going to be important factors in your longer term success.

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves at this early stage though, and we'll focus on the basics. At this point, that obviously means understanding poker hands and hand rankings. Of course, you'll need to have a good understanding of  these,including which hands are better than others, and knowing whether your hand is a strong or weak one.

Oh, and did I mention that along with the complexities of gameplay there are also a wide number of variations in game types?

You've no doubt heard of Texas Holdem (which is the variant we'll be looking at for now), but at some point in future it'll be worth looking at Omaha, Horse, 5 Card Stud, and some of the casino poker variants like  3 Card.

Poker Hand Rankings In Texas Holdem

When you start getting involved in poker, one of the first things you'll notice is that there is a whole ton of written information published already on multiple high quality websites .  For a basic subject such as understanding how do poker hands work you'll be able to find that information published expertly elsewhere. The well known casino gaming and poker operator 888 is a good example, and they've written plenty of articles around different aspects of the game.

So given the basic start of the hand rankings, what's next in line to get your head around?

The answer is in what hands to play and give you great (or reasonable) chances  of winning or making a profit, and those which are likely to end up with you losing (and that you'd be wise to fold early on).

This is taking you into the area of starting hand selection and is critical to understand.  Note here that statistically there are many more starting hands that will not normally be worth playing compared to those that are.

Starting Hand Selection

The best starting hands (and those that will make you a profit in the long term if played correctly) are those that have a positive 'Expected Value'.

This is a term that's given to the number of big bets a player would expect to win playing specific starting hands over a long period of time.

Normally you would be best to play only hands that have a positive expected value, though note that when there are a lesser number of players involved then hands with a negative value can become potential winners. That's because with fewer opponents in a hand the chances of an opponent having a stronger hand become less. Of course, pocket aces are a great example of these types of hands.

When you move up to advanced poker strategy, you'll see that there are times when folding extremely strong hands (even a pair of aces) is the right strategy to follow.

Best Starting Hands To Play

Before we look at some examples of strong starting hands, it's worth stressing that it's not only the cards you've been dealt that may determine if your best option is to fold.  Other factors can also come in to account, such as:

the number of opponents at the table
the amount of chips or cash you're holding relative to that of your opponents
where you are sitting at the table in relation to the dealer
what other players have done before your turn
the general playing style of your opponents

Each of these can be critical factors, and are covered when you move on to studying poker strategies.

Right, let's move on to the good starting hands themselves......

Two aces is the best Hold'em poker hand you can hope to have. It's the best of the best, and it will win you more than any other hand. It's also known as American Airlines, pocket rockets, and bullets.

The second best Hold'em hand is still incredibly strong and it should win you a good chunk of change. Two kings or "cowboys" are only dominated by aces.

Two queens or "ladies" are also a very good hand. Sure, kings and aces will beat you, but you've got the upper hand on jacks and below, and that's a lot of cards.

Ace-king is a strong but tricky hand. It is the strongest of the drawing hands, but the flop needs to work with you to give you a pair of aces or kings for it to really pay off. When it's suited-meaning that the cards are of the same suit-it's slightly stronger than unsuited because you can then also make the nut flush much more easily.

A pair of jacks, 10-handed, will win almost 20 percent of the time. Watch out if the flop shows a queen, king, or ace, but otherwise, you should have smooth sailing.

Ace-queen is the second best drawing hand. When it's suited, it will win about 20 percent of the time.

King-queen is a great drawing hand that is only afraid of an Ace falling on the board, especially when it's suited.

Ace-jack is another great drawing hand. Suited is always better here, but unsuited is still playable.

King-jack is a fine hand to play, especially in later positions. But it can be beaten by any of the hands listed above and should be folded to big raises. Statistically, it will win just under 19 percent of the time when it's suited, but that drops to just 15 percent when it's unsuited.

Ace-ten is still a good hand-you've got the ace and you can make a straight if the miracle J-Q-K falls on the board. But be wary of playing it too strongly, especially unsuited. If all you end up with is a pair of aces, you may be out-kicked.

Making the Most Out of the Best Hands
For more on how to play the best of the best, see ThoughtCo.'s The Top 5 Hold'em Hands and How to Play Them.

...and The Worst Starting Hands?

There are a few here which won't be filling you with confidence if they turn up as starters, thoughdo remember that table situations can mean sometimes that playing on is a reasonable approach even if you hold one.....

Low card + face card or ace unsuited
This is a hand you'll be tempted to play, but remember that the odds are that at least  one of your opponents will have the beating of you. The best option is to fold, dependant on what other action is taking place.

3-6, 4-7, 4-8, 5-8, 5-9, 2-6
All starting hands you're likely to end up losing with. You could of course make a straight, but with enough other opponents staying in they may well have something higher.

Poor starter. There's a chance of a pair of 10s where luck overall could win you the hand.

2-9, 3-9, 4-9
With a pair of 9s likely to end up being the best you can achieve, the odds are that an opponent will have higher.

3-8 , 3-7, 2-7, 2-8
With no straight either possible or highly unlikely, a pair of 7s or 8s is likely to be easily beaten.


If you're new to Texas Holdem, you can consider this basic look at hand rankings and best or worst starting hands to be your starting point for a venture in to the more complex aspects of the game....but always remember that starting hands on their own may be misleading and a good hand or bad hand can still lose or win in the right table situation.