In order to understand this article, it is mandatory to be familiar with the basics rules of poker. The vocabulary of this article is simple, but must be fully understood as such terms are used in all our poker articles. You must also know all the poker combinations and their rankings.
Introduction: How do we measure the strength of a hand ?
In Poker, when you have to make a decision (being either to fold, bet, raise or check), multiple factors are to be taken into account. The first one is the strength of your hand. For that, we'll start by defining what the strength of a given hand is. You simply have to evaluate how your hand ranks among every other poker hands at the moment. You can also consider it the other way around: how many hands could beat yours? If the answer is just a few, your hand is close to the best possible hand, which makes decisions easier.
To take an extreme example, let's say you're holding , and the board is
Your opponent decides to bet. Here, the decision is simple: you have to raise. Your hand cannot be beaten and you have no reason to keep the pot small as you're going home with it.
But let's say you hold on the same board, and your opponent bets. It is more difficult to make a decision since higher straights ( , ) and flushes (two spades) have you beat, which represent quite a big number of hands.
How many combinations of cards are there before the flop? You need to know that, on an initial two-cards draw, you receive one of the 1326 possible hands (52 cards * 5½). Therefore, when you are holding two cards, a particular opponent can have any of the other 1225 possible combinations (50*49/2, since he cannot have the cards you have). Once you get to the flop, there are 1081 combinations left. 1035 on the turn, and 990 on the river. However, before the flop, the best hand will always be .
If you are dealt pocket aces, you'll be even against the other aces combination , and you'll be ahead against each of the other 1224 combinations. On the flop, the turn and the river, the strength of your hand depends on the board.
For the sake of simplicity, we'll always assume that you are holding for the following examples.
Evaluating the strength of your hand on the flop
- Consider the flop . The best hands for this flop are pocket jacks (, and ). are now beaten by 36 combinations : 9 different three-of-a-kind with jacks, seven or threes; 27 double pairs (7-3 double pairs being composed by 9 combinations: , , , , , , , and , the same goes for J-7 and J-3).
- Now, consider the flop . The best hands are now the 16 combinations of . are still beaten by the three of a kind and two pairs combinations, to which you can add 8 and 16 , which amounts to 60 hands. The best three of kind possibility () is now, on this board, beaten by 32 combinations (16 combinations of and 16 of ).
- Finally, let's consider the monocolor flop (all cards are hearts). The best hands are now be the nine combinations of (Ace of hearts and any other heart card). are still beaten by the 36 combinations of trips and two pairs we mentioned earlier, to which we can add, if your hand doesn't include the , 45 combinations of hands that hit the flush on the flop, which represents 81 hands. If we consider that we have one of the three combinations, you are only facing 36 fidderent flushes since your opponent cannot have the ace of hearts. Those three combinations are therefore beaten by 72 possible hands. The best three-of-a-kind (Kings) is now beaten by 45 hands.
Unless you hit three of a kind with pocket aces on a flop that does not allow any flush or straight draw, is no longer the best possible hand. You are beaten by at least 36 three-of-a-kind or two pairs combinations. The worst flops for your hand are monocolor flops allowing the opponent to draw for a straight, and, obviously, to hit a flush if it is not the case already.
Evaluate the strength of your hand on the turn
- Let's say the board is: . stay ahead. But now, the turn adds 27 combinations which have hit a second pair with that , as well as three combinations of pocket deuces that just made three of a kind. Those hands all beat . There are now 66 possible hands better than .
- What about a board ? The best possible hand is now . This turn adds 76 combinations of having three of kind with a 7. That being said, now beats . The 18 and are now 12 full houses combinations. are now beaten by 95 hands.
- Now, even worse: . The best possible hands are the 16 combinations of . are now beaten by 12 combinations of three-of-akind, 54 double pairs and 16 straights. That is a total of 82 different hands. The best three-of-a-kind , is beaten by 16 combinations.
- Finally, consider the following board : . The best hands are now the nine combinations of ( + one heart). The three combinations of are now beaten by 111 hands (66 from the first board of this section + 45 flushes) whereas are now beaten by 102 hands. When you have aces, the worst turns on a flop are therefore a , , , , and which add 88 or 79 combinations (depending on whether you have or not) beating your .
From the turn, there are not a lot of boards where is the best hand : only the boards which give you a flush or straight draw and boards which give you three of a kind without any possible flush or straight draw. For the other situations, your hand is beaten by at least 66 hands composed of three of a kind and double pairs combinations. Of course, the last cards you want to see are those who give your opponent a straight or flush draw.
Evaluate the strength of your hand on the river
Imagine a board. That is the board you want to see when you didn't improve you hand. The only hands beating yours are three of a kind and double pairs. There are 15 ways of getting three of a kind and 90 for double pairs, meaning that 105 possible hands now beat your aces. Since there's only 990 possible hands on the river, are not in the top 10% anymore.
Consider the board is now . If you don't have the in your hand , there are now 675 hands beating your pocket aces. That's 70% of all possible hands!
The strength of your hand relies strongly on the board. If you're holding three of a kind with on , you do have the best possible hand. If it's on a board like , you'll be beaten by 494 combinations.
Keep in mind
The river is the moment where an overpair riverstreetoverpair ( on , your pair is higher than the highest card on the board, here the queen) is the worst. Overpairs are now in the top 10% of hands even if the board doesn't allow for flushes or straights
On boards with flushes and straight possibilities, you're facing a 70% chance of being behind your opponent.
This article was made as an effort to draw your attention on your hand's strength at any given time. You must take the board's texture into consideration (are there any flush or straight possibilities? Is there a pair on the board? Is the best possible hand three of kind? etc.) to evaluate the strength of your hand. This quality is fundamental for any poker player who wants to play seriously.
To sum things up: is the best hand preflop.
- On the flop, unless you hit three of a kind, are not the best anymore. There are at least 36 better combinations.
- The strength of an overpair decreases as the hand goes.
At the showdown, three aces can be beaten by more than 400 hands.
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