When I was just starting in poker, I was sure I know all the rules. It came as a small shock to me when I realized I have been wrong about so many rules. Knowing who wins in poker can be easy if one player has a weak hand, and the other one has a strong hand. But confusion may arise when both players have what seems to be the same hand. Such scenarios that happen quite often is when two players both show the same pair at showdown.
So, who wins if two players have a pair in poker? A person with a higher pair wins the hand. If they both have the same pair, then the winner is the one who has a better five hand card combination. One pair takes two cards, and the rest are the three highest cards possible, also known as kickers or side cards.
Players at the table don’t often check all three kickers. Instead, they look at the highest kicker first, and if someone has a higher kicker there, he is the winner. If the highest kicker is the same for both, then 2nd highest kicker comes into play, then the third. In the case that both players have the same pair and all of the three kickers are of the same rank, then the pot would get split.
Having a better kicker more often in poker is the difference in winrate.
It is what differentiates winners from losing players. Therefore you must stick to playing bigger cards. This is not the case just for when you hit one pair. It also holds for when you hit a straight or a flush or any other hand in poker.
Even in the case when you hit a flush, it matters how high flush you hit. Having higher cards is also helpful in getting bigger straights. You will hit the nuts more often and will win more money.
Let me explain a bit further in what I mean when I say bigger cards are better.
The importance of playing higher cards
Three things that matter in poker the most are position, suitedness, and high cards. Correctly combining all three will give you the best chance to beat your competition. While having a suited hand is essential as it increases the likelihood to hit a flush, the real money is won in small pots, which happens far more often. You will hit a flush only 0.2% of the time by the river. On the other hand, you will get one pair 42% of the time.
It is a common scenario when you are value betting, and an opponent calls your bet, and he holds the same pair as you.
Playing big cards gives you the chance to be on the winning side of those small pots more often.
Which cards are good and qualify as big cards?
It depends a lot on your position and the position of the opponent to be really sure which high cards are good enough.
For the sake of simplicity, all the broadway cards will do a lot better versus opponents who play many hands.
From the image, you can tell that there are many worse Ax, Kx, Qx, Jx, and Tx type of cards, that are worse than our broadway hands. You might think this is all good, but you are maybe still unsure who wins if both you and the opponent have just a pair.
Possible scenarios when both players have exactly one pair
Several different scenarios can happen. I will show you many various examples that are possible, so your doubt will be gone forever. I will be mostly looking at situations where both players have top pair, but of course, the same rules apply for any other pair.
- One person has a higher pair
- Both players have the same pair, but one has a higher first kicker
- Both players have the same pair and the equal highest kicker, but one has a higher 2nd kicker
- Both players have the same pair and the same highest and 2nd highest kicker, but one person has higher 3rd kicker
- Both players have exactly the same pair, and all three kickers are the same rank – pot gets split.
1. Someone has a higher pair
Okay, so we start with a simple one. The person with the higher pair wins, given that nobody else showed a better hand at showdown, of course. In this case, kickers don’t even matter, as higher pair always wins.
2. The same pair but someone has higher highest kicker
This is a widespread scenario in poker. Both players have top pair, and on a dry board, nobody will be willing to fold their top pair. If we hold KQ on 89K23 board, then we win against KJ. Our first kicker is better than the opponent’s first kicker. Our hand is a pair of kings with a Q98 sidecards, while the opponent has a top pair of kings with J98 side cards.
3. The same pair and first kicker, but 2nd kicker is different
Many players would get scared to bet in this situation. But experienced players know that we have a top pair with a very good kicker. The only top pair that is better than our KJ is AK. All other top pair hands are either the same as our hand or worse. In this situation, we hold top pair of kings and have QJ7 side cards. Our opponent holding KT has a pair of kings with QT7 side cards. Therefore our 2nd kicker is higher than his, and we win the pot.
4. The same pair and the same first two kickers, but the 3rd kicker is different
This doesn’t happen as often as the first 3 examples, but it is still common. The board needs to have 2 cards that are higher than our hole card that is not used to form a pair. Let me illustrate it to you. A player with K9 on this board has a pair of kings with QT9 side cards. While opponent holding K7 has a pair of kings with QT7 kickers.
5. The same pair and all kickers are the same
There are 2 most common ways that this will happen:
- Our hole cards are of the same rank as our opponent’s
- The board has many high cards, and therefore our card not used to form a pair has no value (is not part of the best five-card combination). A good example of this is A7 on the AKQ98 board, where our opponent has A2. Both of us have a pair of aces with Q98 sidecards
Who wins if there is a pair on the table
Again the player with the best 5 card combination will win. If one player holds A7 and the other player has KQ, then a pair of twos with AJT kickers wins as it is better than a pair of twos with KQJ kickers. The player that has A7 in his hand has the higher first kicker.
If player one would have A7 and player two has A6, then the pot would get split as player one has pair of twos with AJT kickers, and player two has also pair of twos with AJT kickers. That is the best 5 card combination that any of the two players can have. One pair and all the kickers are the same, so the pot gets split.
If you enjoyed this article, then you might also like
- AK vs. AJ, see how much of a difference in winrate does a better kicker make
- Who wins if both players have a flush
- Who wins if both players have a straight a straight
I showed you many possible examples of a very common scenario, where the best hand on the table is one pair. It is also very common that 2 players will have the same pair at showdown, and now you know exactly in which way all the chips will go. Until next time, good luck at the tables.