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Rules of split pots and kickers

All poker played on our website (except for Badugi) is considered a "five-card" game, in that a poker hand is the best five cards you can put together. In Hold'em, for example, you must make your best five-card hand using any combination of community cards (displayed on the board or table) and hole cards (the cards you actually are holding). In Badugi, players make the best four-card hand.

Some hands (like three of a kind) still need five cards to qualify as a complete hand. To fill out the hand, the best remaining unpaired cards are played as "kickers", in which higher ranking kickers beat lower ranking kickers. If both players play the exact same five-card hand, the hand is a tie and the pot is split.

Here are a couple of examples that should illustrate the concept more clearly:

  • You: J7
  • Him: J6
  • Board: J552A
  • Your Hand: JJ55A
  • His Hand: JJ55A

You each play the jack in your hand and the J55A from the board, which results in you both having two pair, jacks and fives. You each are playing only one hole card (the jack), and four board cards. You each have an ace kicker from the board, and this results in a split pot. Your 7 does not come into play at all, as it cannot help improve your best FIVE-CARD hand (it would be a sixth card).

If, however we had:

  • You: J7
  • Him: J6
  • Board: J5524
  • Your Hand: JJ557
  • His Hand: JJ556

Here, you each would play your hole card kickers, because they are better than the 4 on the river. Now the 4 on the river does not actually factor into play, and your two pair "outkicks" your opponent's two pair by virtue of your better card (kicker).

Whether the pot is split or won outright comes down to whether your hole card actually plays; whether it is better than any other card on the board that could make a better hand than your kicker.

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