No matter which variant of poker you play, the rank of poker hands always stays the same. The hand ranking was determined over a hundred years ago, with each hand’s rank roughly corresponding to the likelihood that a particular hand will occur (unlikely hands are ranked higher), although the exact odds for each hand will vary between different types of poker.
We now offer a Rank of Poker Hands poster (image at right) that can be displayed in your game room to help your newer players learn the hands and the order they rank in. It’s an excellent way to head off questions about what outranks what that can reveal to other players what might be in the newbie’s hand.
The standard rank of poker hands is:
- 1. Five of a kind
- This is technically the highest-ranked hand, although it is only available in games involving wild cards. Five of a kind consists of all four of a particular rank of card, plus a wild card (example: 9-9-9-9-2 in a deuces wild game). Ties are broken by the rank of the cards (five nines beats five eights).
- 2. Royal flush
- This is the highest-ranked traditional poker hand. A royal flush consists of A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit. Competing royal flushes split the pot.
- 3. Straight flush
- A straight flush consists of five cards of the same suit in sequence (example: 4-5-6-7-8♠). Ties are broken by the highest card; competing straight flushes with the same top card split the pot.
- 4. Four of a kind
- Four of a kind consists of all four of a particular rank of card (example: 5-5-5-5-J). Ties are broken by the rank of the cards (four 6s beats four 5s).
- 5. Full house
- A full house consists of three of one rank of card and two of another (example: 7-7-7-3-3). Ties are broken by the rank of the three matching cards (Q-Q-Q-9-9 beats 10-10-10-K-K).
- 6. Flush
- A flush consists of five cards of the same suit, not in any particular order (example: 5-6-9-J-K♦). Ties are broken by the rank of the highest card, then by the next highest if necessary, and so on until the tie is broken.
- 7. Straight
- A straight consists of five cards of any suit in sequence (example: 4♦-5♣-6♣-7♠-8♥). If all cards are the same suit, it becomes a straight flush. Ties are broken by the highest card; competing straights with the same top card split the pot.
- 8. Three of a kind
- Sometimes called trips or a set, three of a kind consists of three cards of the same rank and two non-matched cards (example: 7-7-7-3-A). Ties are broken by the rank of the three matching cards.
- 9. Two pair
- Two pair consists of two matching cards of one rank and two matching cards of another rank, with a fifth unmatching card (example: 7-7-3-3-10). Ties are broken by the higher pair, then the lower pair, then the unmatched card.
- 10. One pair
- A pair with three unmatched cards (example: A-A-5-7-9). Ties are broken by the pair, then the highest unmatched card, then next highest, and so on.
- 11. High card
- Five unmatched cards (example: 4-5-7-9-10). Ties are broken by the highest card, then the next highest, and so on.
All betting games that involve a pot (rather than a casino-style game like Blackjack that pays players out of a bank run by the house) need some way to establish its opening balance. After all, who is going to want to risk some of their money when there’s not something out there as a possible reward? There are two ways by which this is achieved—by ante or by blind bets.
Antes are the traditional way that pots are seeded, going back as far as the origins of poker, if not older. Antes are dead simple—everyone contributes an agreed-upon stake to the pot before the cards are dealt. If someone doesn’t want to play a hand, they just don’t ante and don’t get cards.
Texas Hold’em and Omaha, the two most popular forms of poker played today, tend to use blinds instead of antes. The player to the left of the dealer is designated the small blind and bets first, and the next player to the left follows it up with the big blind. (The terms big blind and small blind are used to refer to both the actual bets and the players that are responsible for posting them.) Both of these players are compelled to make a bet to seed the pot—the big blind makes a bet equal to whatever the game’s minimum bet is, and the small blind bets half of the minimum (rounded, if necessary, to avoid the bet being a fraction of a chip).
Blinds offer the advantage that all but two players are able to get cards for free and decide whether or not to participate in a hand without having to bet. It also prevents the first betting round from being actionless because everyone decided to just check (decline to bet). Also, blinds make the game go much smoother because there are only two players that owe money to the pot, and if one of them fails to bet it’s obvious which one it is—with antes it can be difficult to tell who shorted the pot, especially if everyone splashes the pot. However, there are some drawbacks to blinds: chiefly, what do you do if it’s someone’s turn to post a blind and they aren’t at the table?
There are two ways to handle a missed blind. One way is to simply have the dealer collect and post the absent player’s blind from their chip stack, and if they don’t return in time to play the hand they are dealt, muck the hand whenever action comes back to them. Another option is to require them to sit out until the next time the big blind comes back to them. Yet another method is to require the player to post any missed blinds as “dead bets” that effectively serve as an ante and, other than being part of the pot, have no effect on the betting (usually games using this method give the player the option to wait until their turn to post the next big blind to rejoin the game, and in exchange, do not obligate them to pay for the missed blind). Whatever you decide, it’s important to establish the rules for a missed blind in advance to ensure all players are treated equally and fairly.
Shuffling is one of those things that people often learn at a young age, when they first start playing card games. Usually, though, whenever your parents taught you how to shuffle cards, they didn’t teach you the way that the casinos use. And that’s a bad thing—most players shuffle cards in a way that threatens game integrity, by exposing cards while they shuffle or not adequately randomizing the cards. If you host regular card game nights—especially poker nights—learning to shuffle correctly is a valuable skill that will ensure that your games go smoothly.
How to shuffle
The standard casino shuffle consists of the following procedure:
- A wash (for the first hand of the game)
- Three riffle shuffles
- A strip shuffle
- One more riffle shuffle
- The cut
A wash or scramble is typically only used in a casino at the beginning of a game, when the deck of cards is still in the order it was packaged in. In a home game, you should, at the very least, perform a wash at the beginning of the game or whenever the cards have been recently verified. You should consider performing a wash more frequently when playing a game like Crazy Eights that tends to result in the cards ending up in some sort of identifiable pattern. In a game with quick hands and frequent shuffling, like poker, you should skip the wash for most shuffles to avoid bogging down the game.
The riffle shuffle
The riffle shuffle is the element of shuffling that most people are familiar with, and forms the bulk of the actual shuffling procedure. Yet it’s the element of shuffling that most people get wrong. Many people shuffle too dramatically, with exaggerated movements that unnecessarily expose cards.
The number one key to avoiding the exposure of cards is to keep the cards low to the table. The cards should never be more than an inch or so off the table. The intuitive method by which someone squares up, say, a pile of papers is to lift it off the table and tap its edges against the table. Keep yourself from falling into this habit when dealing with cards. It shows off the bottom of the pack to anyone who cares to look, and many of the other cards sticking out at odd angles will expose their indices. Develop the habit of squaring up the pack with your fingers without picking it up off the table.
The riffle shuffle begins by splitting the pack into two. Hold the bottom half of the pack in landscape orientation (long edge parallel to the edge of the table closest to you), keeping it flat against the table and secure with one hand. Then slide the top half of the pack off with your other hand, keeping it close to the other half of the pack, and pulling it in the direction of the long edges of the pack, until you have two half-decks sitting side by side next to each other.
Next, orient the two half-decks in an inverted V (the point of the V pointing away from you). Move the decks toward one another, keeping them square with your index fingers on the short edges of the deck opposite you, your thumbs on the long edges of the deck inside the V, and your other fingers on the long edges of the deck on the outside of the V. Then, perform the actual riffle by arching the corners of the cards closest to one another, bending them between your index fingers, which are moved to rest on top of the deck in the corners of the cards, and your thumbs, which remain in the same position. Gradually release the pressure from your thumbs, which will cause the cards to begin falling off the bottom of the deck, pressed past your thumbs by your index fingers. If the two packs are close enough, their corners should interleave. With practice, the cards will naturally alternate between the two packs, thoroughly intermixing the two packs.
Now, complete the shuffle by rotating the two interleaved packs so that they are parallel to one another (but still intermixed). Push the two packs together until you can square them up into one shuffled pack. Do not perform the “bridge” maneuver, where the entire pack is arched to push the two halves together, as this can unwittingly expose cards.
Perform three riffle shuffles in this manner.
The strip shuffle
The strip shuffle is, on its own, not a very powerful shuffling technique. In combination with the riffle shuffle, however, it helps to further randomize the deck by rearranging blocks of the deck, helping to break up runs of cards that remained together through the three riffles.
The strip shuffle is, essentially, the beginning of a riffle shuffle. Hold the pack in landscape orientation, then pull the top fifth or so of the deck off the top, keeping it close to the remainder of the deck, and set it down next to the pack. Then do the same with the next fifth of the deck, placing it on top of what was the top fifth, and so on, until the entire deck has been gone through in this way.
After completing the strip shuffle, do one more riffle shuffle, and then you’re ready for the cut. After that, it’s time to deal!
- How to shuffle multiple decks of cards
- HowToShuffle.com, a site with more in-depth shuffling information and videos
Slapjack is a classic children’s game for two to eight players. It’s one of the rare games whose main game mechanic is named in its title—you pretty much slap jacks, and that’s the game. This card-spotting-and-slapping mechanic shows up in a few other games, such as Egyptian Ratscrew. Those games probably inherited it from Slapjack, however.
Object of Slapjack
The object of Slapjack is to collect all of the cards in play by slapping jacks as they appear.
The usual game of Slapjack uses one standard 52-card deck. A second deck can easily be added for a longer game or to expand the game to more players. It doesn’t matter much if the backs are different. Because Slapjack can be boisterous enough that it’s bad on a deck of cards, using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards is highly recommended. They’re durable enough to handle even the most excitable players.
Shuffle and deal the entire deck out, starting with the player to the left of the dealer and continuing clockwise, as evenly as it will go. Some players may receive more cards than others, which is okay. Each player squares their cards up into a neat stack. Players may not look at their cards at any time.
The player to the left of the dealer goes first. They begin by flipping one card face up from their stack and playing it to the center of the table. Since the player would have an advantage if they turned the card up the normal way, since they would glimpse the card before anyone else, Slapjack convention is to grab the card from the far side and flip it up away from oneself. The next player to the left does the same, flipping a card face up and adding to the central pile. Cards played out of turn remain on the pile, and are considered dead cards. Any effect their rank would have on game play is ignored. The player who played them must play again when it becomes their turn. This, in essence, charges them a fee of one card for playing out of turn.
When a jack appears atop the central pile, the first player to slap the jack wins the entire pile of cards. If multiple players slap the jack, the player whose hand is on the bottom, skin in direct contact with the jack, wins the pile. The winner takes the entire pile and places it face down at the bottom of their stack. If a player slaps a card other than a jack, they pay one card, face down, to the player who played the erroneously-slapped card to the pile.
Players who run out of cards are eliminated for the time being. So long as there are two active players in the game, they may slap a jack and winning the pile as per usual. This is called slapping in to the game. This privilege is revoked if the player makes a false slap, permanently shutting them out of the game. If a jack appears and a player fails to slap it, they are also permanently shut out of the game.
Game play continues until one of the final two players is eliminated from the game. The other player will have all of the cards, winning the game.
Many sets of higher-end playing cards, including Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, include two decks of cards—a red deck and a blue deck. But most card games require the use of only one 52-card deck. So why offer two decks?
The answer is simple—it makes your game more efficient! While you are using one deck to deal a hand, the next player to deal can be shuffling the other deck. That way, when the hand concludes, the next hand can be dealt immediately, without having to wait for a shuffle. The backs of the cards are in contrasting colors in case cards from the two decks get intermingled; it is obvious when a deck is incorrect.
When playing poker and other betting games that use similar betting mechanics, it’s very important to follow proper etiquette. In games where money is on the line, etiquette is often not just there to be polite, but to help smooth the game and keep everyone on the same page.
One piece of poker etiquette that can trip up new players is where to put their bet. Novice players often assume that they should add their bet directly to the pot, simply adding it to the pile of chips. This is called splashing the pot and is considered poor form. The reason for why this is frowned upon is simple—when all the chips are amassed in one giant pool, it’s impossible to determine who has contributed and how much. That makes it difficult to determine who has called which raises and who still owes money to remain in the game.
The game flows much better if everyone avoids splashing the pot. Instead, simply place your bet in front of you. In casinos, the table will often have a betting line printed on the felt around the center of the table; anything placed inside the line is considered a bet. If no betting line is present, simply place your bet far enough in front of you that it is distinct from your other chips. When all bets have been settled and the betting round has concluded, it is the dealer’s responsibility to collect each player’s bet and combine them with the pot, thereby clearing the table for the start of the next round of betting (or the showdown).
If you notice players splashing the pot in your home game, you might consider explaining to them why it’s a bad idea. You’ll be glad you did the next time you have a complicated betting round with two or three players raising.