When you’re beginning to learn poker — whether that’s online poker or poker at a real casino — one of the first things you’re taught is that the game has a very clear ranking of poker hands. Simply put, some hands are weaker or stronger than others. But as a new player, you may be wondering what hands beat what in poker, and you may even question whether certain hands are actually ranked correctly.
This is often the case when it comes to three of a kind versus two pair, with new players often assuming that two pair should be more valuable because it requires four cards in total. But this isn’t the case. Here’s a detailed look at these specific poker hands, what they are, why they each have a particular ranking, and why one is considered stronger than the other.
The Difference Between a Three of a Kind and a Two Pair
Three of a kind and two pair are placed in specific positions in the poker hand rankings. But first, it’s important to know exactly what each hand is.
What Is Three of a Kind in Poker?
Three of a kind is any hand that has three of the same rank of card in any of the four suits. Here are a few examples of different hands that all qualify as three of a kind:
- J♣ J♥ J♠ 10♦ 9♦.
- 10♣ 10♦ 10♥ 9♠ 4♥.
- 2♦ 2♥ 2♠ 5♠ 3♣.
There are 858 unique combinations that qualify as a three of a kind. This hand and its ranking is the same in both community and draw poker games, but they may appear differently in each of these different types of poker games.
In a community poker game such as Texas hold’em, a player may have 10♣ 10♦, with the flop revealing 10♥ to complete their three of a kind. This is referred to as a set because you’re holding a pair. You can also make the three-of-a-kind Texas hold’em combination with one card in your hand and two community cards. This is known as trips. A set is considered to be more valuable in Texas hold’em poker hands because your opponents are less likely to realize that you’re holding a pair. In a regular draw game, you have to draw three of the same cards.
What Is a Two Pair in Poker?
Simply put, two pair in poker is two pairs of matching value cards of any of the four suits in a player’s hand. Here are a few examples of different hands that all count as two pair:
- A♣ A♥ Q♦ Q♠ 2♣.
- 10♣ 10♠ 9♣, 9♠ 5♥.
- 5♣ 5♥ 4♦ 4♠ A♠.
As with three of a kind, there are also 858 unique combinations that can make two pair. This poker hand has the same ranking in both community and draw poker games.
How Do Poker Hand Rankings Work?
Before diving into the differences between three of a kind and two pair, it’s important to understand how the ranking of poker hands works. Basically, the value of each hand is determined by how likely you are to receive it in any poker variant. The more common the hand, the less value it has. If that’s what you prefer to play, bear in mind that the value of poker hands in video poker may differ slightly, so be sure to check how hands are ranked in your favorite version of video poker.
Poker Hand Ranked From Weakest To Strongest, With Odds
Here’s a ranking list of the different hands in a game of poker and your odds of landing them, ordered from weakest to strongest hands. (Note that the values may change depending on which version of poker you’re playing, but the ranking will stay the same).
- Pair: +136.
- Two pair: +2,003.
- Three of a kind: +4,632.
- Straight: +25,380.
- Flush: +50,880.
- Full house: +69,316.
- Four of a kind: +416,400.
- Straight flush: +7,219,233.
- Royal flush: +64,973,900.
While understanding the odds of getting a specific hand is important, it’s also vital to know the strength of your starting hand so that you can decide whether you should fold or take a chance on getting a winning combination.
Does Three of a Kind Beat Two Pair?
For anyone who is wondering if three of a kind is better than two pair, the above list shows that it does. The main reason that three of a kind beats two pair is because it is mathematically more difficult to make three of a kind than it is to make two pair. Basically, even though two pair requires more cards to make a winning combination, it’s actually just more than twice as hard to get three of the same value card in a hand. If you look at the listed odds as percentages, your odds of making two pair are +2,005, while your odds of making three of a kind are significantly slimmer at +4,639.
Here’s a more detailed look at the poker math, so you can see how likely you are to draw either of these hands when you play poker with a standard deck of cards.
The Math Behind Drawing Two Pairs in Poker
A standard 52-card deck of playing cards will give you 858 distinct ways to make two pair. And, when you consider the four suits in different combinations, you can draw a single two-pair hand (like two pair of 10s and 6s, for example) in 144 different ways. So, if you multiply the 858 distinct poker hands by the 144 different ways to make up a single two-pair hand, you get 123,552 possible ways to make two pair.
The Math Behind Drawing Three of a Kind in Poker Games
There are also 858 distinct ways to make three of a kind when playing with a standard deck of cards. However, there are only 64 possible ways to make a specific three of a kind hand (like a QQQ68 combination, for instance). So, when you multiply the possible suit combinations by the number of distinct three of a kind hands that are possible, you get 54,912 possible ways to make this hand. Keep in mind that the two extra cards must be unpaired for the combination to be considered three of a kind. If the extra two cards are paired, your hand actually ranks as a full house.
Even though these specific values may once again change depending on which version of poker you play, ultimately, it’s still harder to make three of a kind than two pair, which is why it’s considered a stronger hand.
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