Poker is not as simple as having “the winning hand,” even if the winning hand, well, always wins. You need to instantly be able to understand the type of hand you’re holding and the type of hands that you have the potential to make in order to create workable poker strategies and understand your odds of winning at any given time. Here are the six basic types of poker hands that you’ll encounter in the game and how they can be played.
Hand Type #1: The Worthless Hand
We’re talking about low-end connectors, suited or not and other, random hands. They may look like they have some kind of value, but they can’t even beat a bluff most of the time. This would include something like holding 2c3c against a board filled with high-value cards in something close to a sequence.
Hand Type #2: The Slightly Less Worthless Hand
These hands can actually beat a bluff if called into action: a middle pair made with the lesser of your two pocket cards. A case where this comes into play would be your holding something like AhTh with a beard that has KdTd and assorted lower-value cards. You’ll sweat the K but if you’re late and rotation and the action has been flaccid, it’s fair to play this hand.
Hand Type #3: The Top Pair
You make top pair when you’re holding a card that makes the highest-possible pair with the cards that are on the board. An example of this would be holding Kc10c and the board features Kd10d9s8s6d. You might still worry about a higher-end straight, but a pair of kings is pretty darn good.
Hand Type #4: The Overpair
While it may sound like a Japanese cartoon that you wouldn’t want your mom to know you watched, an overpair refers to you holding a pair greater than anything that can be made with the board. Let’s say you’re holding QdQc and he board has Ts5d8h4s7h. You’re in like Flint unless someone happens to be holding a pair — TT or 88 are what you’re most likely to be worried about — that can make a set.
Hand Type #5: Strong Hands That Aren’t Quite The Nuts
You’re holding QdJs and the board gives you KhTh9s8s6h. You’ve made a very, very strong straight, but you could still be felled by a flush.
Hand Type #6: The Nuts Or Just About There
Let’s say you’ve got Ah4h and the board reads Kh10h9s8s6h — you’ve won. The trick is, oftentimes “the nuts” come in hands that you need to play fairly cautiously in the beginning so you can draw. Don’t get yourself in trouble by stretching too far, but if you’re on a strong track to make that flush or (heaven forefend) a straight flush, you should definitely bet a bit harder.
One thing to remember when you play poker is that more hands are lost based on having a “strong pair” than any other play. This is because you rarely get paid off on big hands with one-pair hands where others are aggressively betting into a pot. Don’t make a costly mistake and push with a middling pair when the rest of the table has thrown a lot of action into the mix.