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What are a Few of the Complexities of Poker Hand Rankings?

Table of Contents

Juicy Stakes Poker is a top online poker room.  You can play many different variations of poker in the poker room.  Here at Juicy Stakes Poker Bonuses, we publish a lot of information about poker that every player, from beginner to grizzled veteran, can use and benefit from.  Even a subject as objectively simple as poker hand rankings is not so simple at all!

Every poker player has to know, at the very outset, what all of the poker hands are for the game they are playing, how the best hands can be generated, and, perhaps most important of all, the poker hand rankings.   It’s easy, of course, to find a list of the standard poker hands in their order of strength.  That’s easy.

What isn’t as easy is to know how a good hand can be improved and how often a hand can be won with what, on paper at least, is a poor hand.  Poker on YouTube often leaves out all of the hands that were won with a high card or a pair as the top hand.  Straights, flushes, and full houses are hard to come by, even on YouTube!

How Many Cards Does the Game Use?

One factor that alters players’ perception of the relative strength of hands is the number of cards used in the game.  Some poker hands use five cards and some use seven.  This is just one side of the issue.  We also have to know how the cards are used.  For example, in Texas Hold’em, there are five community cards which means that everyone can use the same five cards and two hole cards which are exclusively for the player who holds them.

With so much overlapping in community cards, you might expect there to be a lot of hands without a clear winner, a split hand.  In fact, almost every hand in Texas Hold’em ends up with one player winning the entire pot!

There are Poker Games without Community Cards

The entire class of stud poker games uses either five cards or seven cards but there are no community cards.  In five card stud, players see two of the five cards each player gets.   In seven card stud we see four of the seven cards each person gets.

The calculation for what an opponent might have hidden is quite different in stud poker than it is in a game with community cards.

Poker cards and chips

How Many Players Can Play a Hand?

In seven card stud poker, each player can get as many as seven cards. No one shares a card with another player. So, the maximum number of players who can play in a seven card stud game is seven. The number is much higher in five card stud as every player works with five cards so as many as ten players can sit down to a five card stud game. In Texas Hold’em, there are five community cards and every player has two hidden hole cards. We subtract 5 from 52 to get 47 which divided by 2 reveals that as many as 23 players can sit down to a Texas Hold’em game! Not ever done, but it could be done.

The Players Who Bet Early Might Have a Problem

This shows that the raw ranking of poker hands is just the start of the deep analysis of the value of the cards you have.  In Texas Hold’em, the value of the two hole cards increases as the betting goes around the table to the blinds.  A hand that the first bettor might fold, and probably should fold, could very easily elicit a raise in late position. 

In other words, the rank of the hands is always the same (in games without wild cards) but the value of the cards you have changes based on the player’s betting position and on the probability that he or she might improve the hand with upcoming cards.

Every Player Has to Consider their Hand and Everyone Else’s Hand

It no longer is enough in poker to think about whether you feel that your hand is good enough to win.  It is equally important to understand what your opponents might have and to determine if they are betting from strength or from weakness.

The raw rank of cards is less relevant here than the perceived strength of an opponent’s hand or in her perception of the strength of your hand.

Does the Hand with the Highest Rank Always Win?

We are so glad you asked that question!  Of course, the highest ranking hand wins most games but there are games that feature a winning highest ranking hand plus a winner of the lowest ranking hand!  These games are generically referred to as high-low games.

It should be clear that in a high-low game with only five cards, it would be nearly impossible for a single player to win both the high and the low hand.  The only way that could happen is if the player had an ace and could use it as the high card in the high hand and as a low ace in the low hand.  This situation is rare indeed.

So, high-low games are always played with seven cards.  Each player can make a high hand using any five of the seven cards and also a low hand using any five of the seven cards.  Obviously, in order to win both the high and the low hands, a player has to use the same card or cards twice!   This turns the concept of poker hand rankings on its head a bit.  A player might bet into a pot trying to win the low hand while the opponents might think that she is trying to win the high hand!

What Happens when We Play with Wild Cards?

Every poker player who has played with friends of a Friday night knows several variations that employ wild cards.  Deuces wild may be the most famous but there are many, many poker variations with wild cards. 

The presence of wild cards sends the entire structure of poker hand values out the window to a large extent.  First of all, in a game with even one wild card, you would almost never hope to win with just a high card and no pair.  Even a pair of aces might not be a strong hand.  Many players would fold a hand with two pair.

In a game like deuces wild, if you are playing with seven cards, it is possible to get seven of a kind!  The game you play has to determine the rank of five of a kind, six of a kind, and seven of a kind in relation to a straight flush and a Royal Flush.

The Importance of Bluffing

Bluffing is a major part of every poker variation.  In short, bluffing involves trying to win a hand by fooling your opponents into thinking that you have a stronger hand than you actually have.  There are many famous YouTube clips of highly skilled professional poker players being bluffed out of a pot by an aggressive opponent who started betting strongly before the flop and continued on through the river and compels a good player to fold.

So, bluffing is a way of upending the normal poker hand rankings.  The rankings don’t change but our perception of them does!

Poker Hand Rankings are Just the Start

As you can see by this short discussion, knowing the poker hand rankings well is the most important aspect of poker for beginners.  Even some experienced players need to keep the rankings in mind as they analyze a hand.  It is easy to be fooled in poker even in a game like Texas Hold’em that has so many community cards.

Poker is a great game because it seems so simple but is a lot more complex than it appears to be on the surface.  Poker requires a lot of study in order to excel at it.  You have to study odds, the mathematics of poker, and also human behavior.  It is just as important to understand your opponents as it is to understand the cards themselves!

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