Comparing Poker Hand Strengths – Determining What Happens
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What happens when two or more players have the same poker hand? How do you determine who wins? This page will guide you through all the poker hands and show you how to determine the winner, or when to declare a tie. This article assumes you already know about how poker hands are ranked. If you don’t, please read our poker hand ranking page before going any further.
A “kicker” is often used to determine the winning poker hand. For example, let’s say two players both have a pair of aces. Play one has A-A-K-8-3 and player two has A-A-j-3-2. The kicker is the highest card excluding the pair of aces. In other words, the kicker for player one is a king, and for player two it’s a jack. Since a king is better than a jack, player one has the best hand even if both players made a pair of aces. If the kicker also was tied, then you compare the next higest card. For example, if player one has A-A-K-4-2 and player two has A-A-K-5-4, you can take out the aces and kings from both hands. You are left with comparing a 4-2 with a 5-4. Player two has the highest card (a five) thus has the best hand. This is how you use kicker cards to determine the winning hand.
Since all suits are equal, all royal flushes are equal. The probability of seeing two royal flushes played on the same hand are likely comparable to the probability of getting struck by lightning so don’t expect to encounter this situation!
If there are two straight flushes, the one with the higher top card is the best. The suit of the flush does not count in determining the wining hand as all suits are considered equal. If two flushes are ranked in the same sequence, then it’s a tie.
Four of a Kind
If two people have fours of a kind, the player with the higher ranking set of four cards has the winning hand. Thus, the player with four jacks has a better hand than the player with four tens. Kickers are not used so the fifth card is irrelevant.
A hand with three cards of the same rank and two cards of another rank. An example is A-A-A-2-2 (called Aces full of 2s). If two players have full houses, the one with the higher ranking three cards is the winner. For example, tens full of 3s (10-10-10-3-3) beats fours full of Aces (4-4-4-A-A). Someone will always have the better Full House hand and kickers are not used.
If two players have flushes, the highest card determines which is the winning poker hand. If the highest cards are equal then the second highest card is used to determine the winner, and so one. In other words, use the kickers to determine the winner. For example: 2-4-5-8-9 all in spades beats 2-3-5-6-7 all in clubs because you compare the highest card (9 vs 7). All suits are equal.
Best Flush Example:
10-3-8-K-A (suited) beats 9-4-J-Q-K (suited) – Highest card is A vs K.
Q-10-9-5-2 (suited) beats Q-10-3-6-5 (suited) – since the two top cards are the same in both hands, the third card determiens the winner. In this example, 9 beats 6.
When comparing two straights, the one with the highest ranking top card is better. An Ace can ONLY count high or low in a straight. For example, A-2-3-4-5 does not beat 10-J-Q-K-A. Also, Q-K-A-2-3 does not count as a straight because the ace doesn’t count as either the low card or the high card. A tie can occur when two players make the exact same straight based on the card ranks, and card suit is irrelevent. Unless of course it results in a straight flush explained earlier.
Best Straight Example
2-3-4-5-6 beats A-2-3-4-5
10-J-Q-K-A beats 9-10-J-Q-K
4-5-6-7-8 ties 4-5-6-7-8
Three of a kind
The highest three of a kind when comparing two hands is ranked better. For example the hand 8-8-8-3-2 beats 5-5-5-A-Q. Unless wild cards are used, a tie cannot occur. Someone will always have the better Three of a Kind hand.
If both players have two pairs, the hand with the highest pair has the winning poker hand and the smaller pair is irrelevant. For example, Q-Q-5-5-3 beats 10-10-7-7-A because the queens beat the tens. If the higher pairs are the same then the smaller pair is used to determine the higher ranking hand. Q-Q-10-10-4 would beat Q-Q-9-9-K. If both pairs are the same then kicker cards are compared.
Best Two Pair Example
A-A-3-3-5 beats K-K-J-J-9
K-K-3-3-5 beats K-K-2-2-A
K-K-3-3-5 beats K-K-3-3-2
The higher pair determines the best hand. If two players have the same pair then the highest card is used. If this card is the same, then the second highest card is compared and finally the third if it comes down to it.
Best Pair Hand
8-8-3-2-5 wins over 5-5-A-K-J
10-10-A-2-5 wins over 10-10-K-Q-10
J-J-K-10-5 wins over J-J-K-9-8
If two players have none of the hands above, then the highest card wins. If the highest cards are the same then the second highest are compared and so on. Use the kicker rules.
Best High Card Example
A-8-3-2-5 beats K-Q-J-10-3
A-K-3-2-5 beats A-Q-J-9-5