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It seems especially to newer players that what constitutes a winning hand, what the best five cards are, can be confusing. So exactly what hand is the winner and why does it win?

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    The wikipedia articles are very good--I wrote many of them, although they've been edited a lot since. – Lee Daniel Crocker Mar 2 '18 at 18:07
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Each player in a basic game of poker is given five cards to make their hand. There are variants to the game where players receive more than five cards and players have community cards. However it is the best five cards of a player's hand that make their hand.

If the best five cards you have are not better than another player's best five cards you lose the pot. If your five best five cards are the same as another player's best five cards you split the pot.

The hand rankings for five card poker games.

  1. Straight flushes
  2. Four of a kind
  3. Full Houses
  4. Flushes
  5. Straights
  6. Three of a kind
  7. Two pair
  8. Pairs
  9. High cards by rank

Suits all rank the same. In other words no particular flush is better than another particular flush of the same five cards because one is of a particular suit.

Kickers only count when they are part of the best five cards. A better sixth card has no bearing whatsoever in determining a winning hand.

Whatever the poker game is: it is always the best five cards. However there can be variations with community card games as to where those best five cards are.

In Texas Holdem all players have seven cards, the two hole cards in their hand and the five community cards that make up the board. Your best five cards are the best five of any of those seven cards.

With Omaha games your best five cards must consist of two cards in your hand and three cards on the board. It is not the best five cards of the nine cards you hold.

In other variants of poker such as five card draw, Seven card stud etc. Where you posses all your cards the best five cards rule still applies.

There are variants of poker that use other than the five card rule. Texas Holdem and Omaha do not use other than the five card rule.

There is no condition in a five card hand where you can win the pot based on your sixth or seventh card. There are no tie breakers unless your best five cards are better than your opponents best five cards.

When both players have one pair or two pair that tie, kickers determine the best five cards. Only the highest straight wins, not the longest straight. Straights and flushes do not have kickers*.

*The term kicker is slang that describes the next card in the five card hand when a player has one or two pair. Example is AA234, the kicker is the 4. AA345, the kicker is the 5. The five is the key card that determines the best hand, commonly called the kicker.

Examples are almost futile. There are virtually an unlimited number of hands possible. The best five cards of a hand are a simple formula of what the best five cards in your hand are. It is very basic, if your confused it is because you are reading into it more than it entails. There can only be five best cards to make a hand and they either beat, tie your opponents best five cards or are not better than your opponents hand. Any thing beyond five cards is simple never used to determine the outcome.

The hand rankings list above in this post is truncated. To provide a perfectly granulated list would require several more hours of typing, you need to be able to fill in the blanks. (The best five cards)

You simply need to know it is the best five cards, nothing more and nothing less. You should also understand that the five card rule is an abstract rule that only covers certain forms of poker and that there are other forms of poker have nothing to do with the five card rule. There are also variations on the five card rules that one should have a basic understanding of before they play a game.

Here is some reference for you:

Wikipedia list of poker hands

Wikipedia Poker

Book recommendations

Poker for dummies

Poker: How to play poker and other gambling games

Fundamentals of Poker

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Which Poker Hand Wins Calculator

Hands Overview

  1. Straight Flush
  2. Four of a kind
  3. Full house
  4. Flush
  5. Straight
  6. Three of a kind
  7. Two Pair
  8. Pair
  9. High card

Why that order?

The order is based on math / statistics. It is simply harder to make one hand versus another.

Hole cards

The cards in your hand. In hold-em two cards.

Board

Board is the common / shared cards.

Best five cards

Every hand is exactly five cards. Between your hole cards and board make your best hand. You may play the board (in holdem).

Card Rank

Rank is Ace through 2. Ace highest and 2 lowest. Confusing that cards and hands both use the term rank.

Suit

Suit is spade, club, heart, or diamond. They are equal.

Kicker

Kicker is a single card. Kicker only comes into play when the main part of the hand is not five cards and can tie. If the highest kicker ties then you just go to the next highest and so on. Two pair and 4 of a kind hand is 1 kicker. Trips have 2 kickers. Nothing is all kickers.

Nuts

Based on the board you have the best possible hand. In most tournament play you are required to raise on the river if you have the nuts.

Tie / Split

Yes you can have a tie and you split the pot.

Odds

Number of hands to play so get the hand. The :1 counts. So 99:1 is 1 in 100 hands. These odds are based on 5 random cards (not best 5 of 7).

Hands Order

1 Straight Flush

A♠K♠Q♠J♠T♠
Five sequential cards of the same suit.
The highest top card wins.
Odds: 64,974 : 1
Announced: X high straight flush

2 Four of a kind

A♠A♣A♥A⋄K♠
Four cards of the same rank.
The highest for of a kind wins and a 5th card tie breaker.
Odds: 4,164 : 1
Announced: X quads or X four of a kind

3 Full house

A♠A♣A♥K♣K♠
Three cards of the same rank and two card of same rank. Also called a boat. The three determines the high. 88855 beats 44499.
Odds: 693 : 1
Announced: X over Y or X full (where the X the three)

4 Flush

A♠Q♠9♠8♠7♠
Five cards of the same suit. The top card determines the best. A6543 beats KQJ98. Same rules as kicker in comparing flushes.
Odds: 508 : 1
Announced: X high flush

5 Straight


A♠K♣Q♥J♠T♠
Five sequential cards. Ace is both high and low. Ace through 5 is often called a wheel. Ace through 10 is often called Broadway. You cannot wrap on the ace - QKA23 is not a straight.
Odds: 254 : 1
Announced: X high straight

6 Three of a kind


A♠A♣A♥T♣8♠
Three cards of the same rank.
Odds: 46.3 : 1
Announced: X trip or X set or Three of kind X

7 Two Pair


A♠A♣T♥T♣8♠
Two cards of the same rank and two cards of the same rank. If both pair are the same rank then it is four of a kind. The top pair wins. Top pair can tie so in that case the lower pair is the tie breaker. After that kicker rules.
Odds: 20.0 : 1
Announced: X up
Up versus Over is the distinction in announcing two pair versus boat.

8 One Pair


A♠A♣6♥T♣8♠
Two cards of the same rank. After that kicker rules.
Odds: 1.37 : 1
Announced: Pair X or Xs

9 High card

High card. After that kicker rules.
Odds: 0.995 : 1
Announced: X high with an intonation of I hope it holds up

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Very very simple. Pretend you take the community cards, add your own hole cards and play a simple game of "construct the best hand" with it.

If the card combo "rank" is the same (flush vs flush), then you want the highest ranking individual cards (so A instead of K, 7 instead of 6). Similarly, if you happen to have 3 possible pairs AA KK QQ J (7 cards), you would want the highest pairs, so in this case AA KK and a single Q.

It's really a very intuitive concept.

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