Quickly identifying and knowing the relative value of certain poker hands is a key poker skill.

As much as we'd want it to be, winning a poker game isn't always about having the best hand. In fact, the winning hand is frequently quite a few steps down from being the nuts. Learning how to identify a hand's potential and how it stacks up to your competition is one of the best things you can do to improve your game immediately. We're going to break down the six types of poker hands, going from first to worst and help you understand why each one works (or doesn't.)

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Hand Type #1: The Nuts (Or Something Very, Very Close)

You're holding Ad6d and the board drops with KdQd8dJd7d. The fact is that you've  won, but you've had to make some good decisions right off the bat that help you get there. An ace with a relatively weak kicker isn't going to be the sort of hand that you start off playing aggressively before the flop. Hands like this aren't as common as you want, them to be so don't get yourself in any trouble by stretching too far immediately.


Hand Type #2: Strong Hands That Aren't Quite There

Similar to the nuts, these are hands that generally are built from unpaired cards, but they're usually not suited either. Let's say you've got QsJd and the board offers up KhTh9d8d6h. You've got a very playable straight, but there's also the chance that you could be felled by a flush that someone else has built from those three hearts.


Hand Type #3: The Overpair

This is a hand that is very commonly overplayed because it's immediately attractive. With an overpair, you're holding a pair that's greater than anything that can be made with the board. For example you've got KdKc and the board reads Th5s8d4s7h. Your pair is going to win unless someone's made a set from the undercards.


Hand Type 4: Top Pair

Top pair is the hand that you make when you're holding a card that ends up making the highest-possible pair with the cards that hit the felt. In a case like this, you're holding Ks10s and the board features Kd9c8h5s6d. You are going to have to worry about a straight with a board that loaded with near-sequential cards, but having a pair of kings offers you some options in how you want to approach the play, particularly if you've got position on your side.


Hand Type 5: A Hand That's Not Quite Worthless

If you've got a middle pair that's been made with the lesser of your two cards, you might stand a chance to take down a player who's bluffing, but this isn't a hand you extend yourself too far with.  You might be able to do something with this when you've got AhTh and a board that features KdTd with a smattering of lower-value cards, with players who aren't acting like the King has helped them all. Remember – be conservative though, even if it "looks good."


Hand Type 6: The Worthless Hand

You've got a couple of low-end connectors that seem like you could make a hand with them, but the reality is, you can't beat a bluff with the value of them on their own. An example of this would be holding 3s4s with a board that's loaded with higher-value cards closer to one another. If you can make the low straight, you should assume that someone else can make the better one.


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Spend a little bit of time thinking about how any hand can be built out from the initial cards you’ve been dealt when you play poker and you’ll soon find yourself able to picture what others might be putting together from the board.