Determining the Best Hand in Hold ’Em
When you stay in a Hold ’em hand to the end, you need to show your cards to make a claim for the pot. When you display your cards, the dealing program reads your hand and makes the best five-card hand possible using both, one, or neither of your cards.
For example, if the five cards on the board are the T♦ J♦ Q♦ 4♥ 5♠ and you hold the A♦ K♦, you have a Royal Flush. Similarly, if you hold the A♦ 5♠ and the board reads T♦ J♦ Q♦ 4♥ K♦, you would also have a Royal Flush because your A♦ completes the hand with the four shared diamond cards. If the five cards on board are T♦J♦Q♦K♦A♦, it doesn’t matter what you hold because everyone who is still in the hand at the river has a Royal Flush. And, yes, we’ve seen a Royal Flush on the board, though neither of us was in the game. It happened at a high-only Omaha table at a Knights of Columbus–sponsored charity casino in Maryland in 1994. The odds against a Royal Flush appearing on a five- card board are 649,739 to 1, which is awfully darn impressive.
Hold ’Em Practice Hands
Work through the following three practice hands to form the best five-card hand from the board and the assigned hole cards. Once you’ve determined the best hand you can create using your hole cards, try to figure out the best possible hand you could create using any two hole cards. The first hand appears in Figure 4.4.
Until you read hands automatically, you might find it useful to determine whether you can create a straight flush or flush, then four of a kind, then a full house, and so on until you hit the highest-ranking hand possible with your hole cards. There are only two diamonds on the board, so you can’t have a straight flush or, by defini- tion, a flush. Also, because neither of your hole cards matches any of the cards on the board, you can’t have four of a kind
or a full house. However, you can form an Ace-high straight using the T♥J♦A♣. Is your Ace-high straight the best possible hand? Yes. There needs to be three cards of a suit for a straight flush (or flush) to be possible, so there can be neither a straight flush nor a flush. There are no pairs on the board, so no one can have four of a kind or a full house. You can be tied by anyone else who holds KQ, but in that case you’d split the pot. You also beat anyone with three of a kind or less, so you know you have a winner.
But don’t stop thinking when you identify the best hand! We’ll get into betting strategies in Chapters 8 through 11, but you should pay attention to what the second and third best hands are (and more if your opponents aren’t skilled players). If one of your opponents has AA in the hole and the other has JJ, they each might be convinced that their three of a kind is best; the same could be true of a player who holds AJ, which is the highest pos- sible two-pair hand given this board.
Figure 4.5 contains the second practice hand.
There are three cards of the same suit as your two hole cards on the board, but the board cards don’t combine with your hole cards to create a straight flush; however, you do have a flush. In fact, you have a King-high flush, the second-best possible flush. There are no pairs on the board, so no one can have four of a kind or a full house. You’ve created the best possible hand from your hole cards and the board, so you can now think about what the other players might have. The suited board cards aren’t close enough together to create a straight flush, so you don’t have to worry about that. There are no pairs on board, so no one can have four of a kind or a full house. We know flushes are possible, but you’re only beaten by one other flush: the Ace-high flush, which is the best possible hand. There are a number of possible straights out there (any Five with a Four or any Seven with a Nine), but you beat all of them. One or more players might also have three of a kind or less, but you beat them as well.
Figure 4.6 contains the third practice hand.
It’s a good thing you’re playing online so no one can see you jumping up and down. You flopped a Jack-high straight flush! It’s not the best possible hand, though; if another player has the K♦Q♦ you had in the first two sample hands, you’ll lose a big pot. Please also notice that there are all kinds of straights and flushes possible, not to mention the potential for four Tens or four Jacks. When you flop a huge hand, you want to play it slow, allowing your opponents to make stabs at a pot that is rightfully yours. You run the risk of a player catching the Q♦ or K♦ to make a higher straight flush, but it’s a risk you should be willing to take. Don’t expect to see this type of hand very often. You’ll go through plenty of paired and double-paired boards before you see a hand like the one we just described.