The Best Poker Nuts Strategy | How to Play Poker

Let’s spend a minute talking about nuts.

No, we’re not going to talk about a common poker table snack, nor are we going to talk about how crazy some players act. Instead, we’re going to talk about poker nuts.

If you’re just starting out in poker, the first essential skill you’re going to learn is how to figure out poker nuts. It’s a vital part of your basic poker strategy and what you’re going to have to learn how to do by reflex when you’re playing in poker games.

What are the “Poker Nuts?” Or just the “Nuts”. Simply put, it is the best poker hand possible you can make from the cards that are currently on the board – the community cards. Figuring this one out may seem confusing at first, but it’s an important and essential skill one must develop if they want to succeed in poker.  

Learning how to make the most of your poker hand is not one of the easiest things that you’re going to learn. But, as long as you know the value of each individual hand, you’re going to be in the best possible position to learn. If you don’t already know the value/rank of hands, take a moment to read up on the Texas hold’em poker basics – we’re not going to cover that today.

Basic Information About The Nuts

As we sit down to talk about your poker hand, it’s probably a good idea to cover some of the not-so-basic issues when it comes to poker nuts. These are the bits that go beyond knowing poker rules and values and into the heart of the game.

The biggest thing you need to know is that your ideal poker hand is going to be in flux as long as new cards are being revealed, the flop, the turn and the river. You might think that one particular hand is the poker nuts when the flop comes out, only to learn something totally different when you see the river.

What does this mean practically? It means that your assessment of the board and of your poker strategy needs to change whenever you get new data. You need to be able to look ahead a little bit and figure out not what the poker nuts are right now, but what they might be when the next card comes out.

To a degree, this is a matter of making assumptions. You want to think a couple of cards ahead, with card possibilities getting cut away until every card is dealt. Only then can you actually understand what the best hands that are possible.

It’s also a good idea to get attached to the best possible poker hand. Assume that any given player in your poker game actually has that hand – you need to think about what all of the top best possible hands could be. You need to know where everyone (who is still in the hand) stands and what poker hand they could possibly have at any given time. Knowing the starting poker ranges that players might use is a prerequisite and gives you a tremendous advantage knowing what poker hands are possible.

The more people playing, the more likely it is that someone is sitting on the nuts. If it’s you, you’re in great position. If not, you need think about what the nuts could be, as well as the next likely candidates, as well as possible holdings of your opponents. Knowing the nuts and poker ranges of opponents can have a huge impact on how you bet.

The strangest thing you’re going to discover in Texas Hold’em poker tournaments is that having the nuts usually isn’t exclusive. If there is four of a kind out on the board, up to four people could have the ace high nut. This means that even sitting with the poker nuts doesn’t mean you can’t still get tied up.

The last thing you need to keep in mind is that your hole cards are going to factor into your calculations. If you’re looking at the poker nuts, pay attention to what’s in your hand. If you have the cards that makes the nuts a reality, congratulations – the best hand is yours. Once you figure that out, you can start to discount certain possibilities from play.

Poker Practice

Do you remember the basic rules you’ll need to follow in Texas Hold’em poker tournaments? Let’s have a little refresher.

Every player in hold’em poker tournament or cash game starts with two cards, called hole cards. If you’re looking at the poker nuts at this point, the player who has the best two cards is the player who’s got the nuts. That means in the initial deal, a pair of aces is always going to be the nuts. Fairly easy.

poker nuts - pre-flop

What this tells you, at least in practice, is that you’re not sitting with the strongest hand at the deal unless you have pocket aces. If you have pocket aces, congratulations – no one can match you quite yet, unless of course they too have aces. Otherwise, you need to be at least a little cautious.

The next step in any Texas Hold’em game is the flop. The flop is the first set of community cards. Once the flop comes out, you have to start recalculating the nuts, and you have to do so with some exceptionally complete information.

How do you do this?

Most poker players start running down a list of possible hands, starting with what’s up top. Ruling out high hands generally helps you to keep your expectations lower when it comes to actual nut calculation.

As with most other things in poker tournaments, there are some shortcuts to your poker practice here. You can actually eliminate a number of hands all at once if you can identify their basic component parts on the board.

If the cards all come out without having a pair, three, or four of a kind, you’ve eliminated not only the four of a kind but also the possibility of a full house. If you’re not looking at least three cards that are of the same suit on the table, you’re not going to see a flush as the nuts either. Once you make that elimination, you can also take Royal Flushes and Straight Flushes off the table.

Once you get rid of all of these big hands, you can start making calculations of cards that are a little easier to beat. You’ll be able to look at sets and straights, both of which are more common and have more potential to be built as more cards come out on the table.

Checking for your straights can be a little tough because you can see multiple straights building off of multiple groupings of cards. Your goal isn’t to look for just any straight, though – you want to start by looking at the highest possible card.

If you’re looking for poker practice, this is a good spot. Look at the highest card on the table, and then figure out if you could build a straight with it. If there are gaps of more than two between it and the next lowest card, you’re definitely not dealing with the highest possible straight.

Let’s think about what happens if there are two or less gaps, though. If there are two gaps, you know exactly what kind of straight can be the nut. If there is only one gap, you know that the straight can be exactly one card higher than the card that’s on the highest on the table. Either way, you have a fairly good chance of knowing what the best possible straight could end up being.

We can look at some easy examples here to help this make a little more sense. When the cards on the table are a nine, ten, and a jack, you know that the highest a straight could go would be a nine to a king (two spots higher than the jack).

If you’ve got an eight, a ten, and a jack, there are two spots to fill, so the best you’re looking at is the queen on top of the jack. If it’s a six, seven, eight, nine, jack, the empty spot tells you that the jack’s going to be your highest card.

Let’s say that you look at your cards and figure out that you can’t get a straight from the highest card. Repeat that step with the next card down. You’re going to keep doing this until you figure out a way to make a straight or figure out that you can’t make one at all. This is honestly one of the most important bits of poker practice you can get, so keep working on it.

Once you’ve eliminated straights, all you can do is assume that a three of a kind is the best hand. This is going to be the nuts because there’s always a possibility that someone else is holding two of the other three suits of that card – unless, of course, you’re the one is sitting in that position!

So, what’s the short version? Start checking for pairs, then three, then suits, then straights. If you can get through all of that, you’ll be able to identify the poker nuts and get yourself in a good position to start playing. If you’re looking at multiple possible nuts, though, it’s never a bad move to stop and think about which one could be the highest.

There are a few shortcuts here, as well. If there are four of a kind on the board, an ace is automatically the nut. If there are three of the kind on a board, then a four of the kind is automatically the nut. Kickers aren’t going to matter when that’s the case, because there’s only one version of that card left and only one player can possibly have it.

If there are a pair of pairs of the board, you know that there’s still a possibility of four of a kind being the nut because someone could have a pocket pair – unless, again, if you have one of those cards. If you have one of those cards, you’re going to start looking for the highest full house – and that’s going to come off of the highest card that is already on the board.

This is actually a pretty difficult one to work with because your eye is automatically going to go to the pairs, but that isn’t necessarily right. If you’ve got two sixes, two jacks, and a queen on the board, the best full house is three queens and two jacks. Always remember to build your nuts off of the best card on the table, not just the best card that already has a pair.

Final Thoughts

The only way to learn this skill is to practice, so get started. Don’t go out to tournaments until you know how to read the board. Instead, grab a deck of cards and start dealing. Keep trying to find the nuts until you know at least the top three hands of any given board.

Once you get to the point where you know all the best hands, you’ll be ready to move past the novice stage. You might not have all of your strategy together yet, but you won’t be embarrassed quite as easily. Once you know the poker nuts, you know where you stand, you know where your opponents might stand, and you can really start playing poker. See you at the WSOP!

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Poker Nuts – FAQs

Q: What are the nuts in poker?

A: When you have the nuts, it means you have the best hand possible.

Q: Why is the best hand called the nuts in poker?

A: It stems from when players would bet their horse and wagon. Someone would have to place the nuts from the wheels of the wagon so they couldn’t flee the game.

Q: Can you check the nuts in poker?

A: You can check the nuts unless you’re last to act on the river. If you check the nuts when you’re last to act on the river, you might get a penalty in a poker tournament because it will be seen as potential collusion.

Q: What does nut flush mean in poker?

A: The nut flush means you have the best flush possible, which is usually an ace-high flush but it can also be a straight flush.

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