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How to Determine the Winning Poker Hand

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One of the essential things you'll need to learn when starting out playing poker is how to determine the winning poker hand.

It seems like a simple thing to see which poker hand wins but there are a surprising number of scenarios where, for the beginner poker player at least, it's not always that clear.

The first step for any poker player is to memorize or print out the official poker hand rankings.

Once you know that a flush beats a straight and three of a kind beats two pair, you're off to a good start.

Once you've got the proper order of poker hands memorized you'll need to practice reading the board and figuring out which 5-card poker hand is your best from any combination of your hole cards and the community cards.

From there you'll then need to determine which of those 5-card poker hands wins the pot.

3 Golden Rules for Your Best Poker Hand

The majority of poker hands are fairly easy to determine a winner from. If one player has a flush and no one else has a flush or better, it doesn't take much thought to figure out which hand is the winner.

Which hand wins?

It's once things get a little bit more complicated that people start to get confused.

First, you want to remember these rules of poker hands:

  • You must make the best hand possible using exactly five cards
  • All five cards are used in deciding the strength of the hand
  • No cards outside of the best five have any bearing on the strength of the hand

If you're playing Texas Hold'em poker players are allowed to use any combination of cards from their hand and/or the board cards to make their best poker hand.

This means if the absolute best five-card hand a player can make is by using the five cards on the board, then that is his or her final hand (this is known as playing the board).

A player can also use one or two of his or her hole cards in compiling their best 5-card hand.

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Which Poker Hand Wins: Examples

Here's a quick rundown of a couple common areas of confusion and how to determine the winning poker hand in some specific scenarios:

Eg. 1 Two Players (or More) Have a Flush

If more than one player has a flush you award the pot to the player with the highest-value flush card. This includes all five cards. For example:

Player 1:    

Player 2:    

Board:          

Player 1's Best Hand is:          

Player 2's Best Hand is:          

Even though Player 2 has more high flush cards than Player 1, the Ace is the highest flush card so Player 1 takes the pot.

Eg 2. Another flush example where the board has most of the flush cards:

Player 1:    

Player 2:    

Board:          

In this scenario Player 1 wins the pot. The reason is that when you look at all five cards Player 1 has the higher flush:

Player 1:          

Player 2:          

All the cards are the same until the final fifth card. Since 7 is higher than 6, Player 1 wins the entire pot.

If instead of the 2 on the board that card was the T, both players would have the same flush (playing the board) and the pot would be split.

Eg. 3 Two Players Have Two Pairs

When two players have two pairs, it can sometimes be confusing for people to know which poker hand wins. Take this example:

Board:          

Player 1:    

Player 2:    

In this scenario Player 1 wins the entire pot. Two pair is always ranked by the value of the highest pair first and only if that pair is the same for both players do you rank by the second pair.

If both of two pairs are identical it will be the kicker that will decide the winner (the highest-value fifth card is the kicker).

In this scenario because the two paired on the river, Player 1 has two pair - A A 2 2 with the kicker K.

Player 2 has the lower two pair - K K Q Q with the kicker 3. Aces are higher than kings so Player 1 wins the entire pot.

Which Poker Hand Wins?

Board:          

Player 1:    

Player 2:    

Take a second to figure it out. This is a very bad beat as once the river falls both players now have four of a kind with nines.

Only Player 1, who up until this point had nothing special, has the highest kicker with an ace.

Even though Player 2 flopped a full house - K K K 9 9 - once the fourth nine fell he was now playing four-of-a-kind nines with a king kicker.

Player 1 wins the whole pot.

Try the Which Hand Wins Calculator!

Don't worry - you're not the only one who can get a bit confused trying to determine the winning poker hand!

It's such a common problem, in fact, we built the ultimate tool for beginner players to figure out winning hands in all scenarios.

It's called the Which Hand Wins Calculator and it's pretty simple to use. Just enter in your hole cards, your opponent(s)' hole cards, the cards on the board, click "Which Hand Wins" and every player's hand will be ranked from first to worst!

Try out the Which Poker Hand Wins Calculator here!

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The Omaha Rule

The rules in determining the best hand in Omaha are exactly the same as in Texas Hold'em with one additional rule:

  • Every player must make the best five-card hand using exactly two cards from his hand (you're dealt four cards in Omaha) and three cards from the board.

This means that if there are four hearts on the board and you only have one in your hand you do not have a flush. You must always use exactly two cards from your hand.

More on Texas Holdem Poker rules: Texas Holdem Poker Rules

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