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What Is a Royal Flush? All About the Holy Grail of Poker Hands

Dominic Field

Jul 7, 2023

What Is a Royal Flush

Everyone has heard of a royal flush, even if they’ve never sat at a poker table. But what exactly is it? In this guide, we’ll teach you everything there is to know about this extremely rare poker hand. 

What are the odds of making a royal flush? Can it be beaten? Does it vary depending on the form of poker being played? We’ll answer all of these questions and more, before taking a look at some of the most iconic royal flushes in poker history.

But first, let’s make sure we’re clear on what a royal flush actually is…

What Is a Royal Flush in Poker?

A royal flush is the highest-ranking hand in all mainstream forms of poker. Essentially, it is an ace high straight flush. In other words, a five-card hand comprising of the ace, king, queen, jack, and ten of a single suit.

As such, there are only four possible combinations:

  • A K Q J T

  • A K Q J T

  • A K Q J T

  • A K Q J T

So What Is a Straight Flush?

A lot of the time, people differentiate a royal flush from a straight flush in poker hand rankings. But in reality, there is no need to separately categorise royal flushes and straight flushes as the two highest-ranking hands. They are exactly the same, but a royal flush is a specific type of straight flush.

Whenever you have five consecutive cards of the same suit, you have a straight flush. Just like ordinary straights, if you only focus on the high card rather than suits, there are 13 possible straight flush hands. Ace high, king high, queen high, and so on. It just so happens that we also refer to an ace-high straight flush as a royal flush. 

With all poker hands, we use the highest-ranking card to determine which wins. Naturally, a nine-high straight flush would beat a six-high straight flush, for example. So an ace-high straight flush is the best possible holding.

Can You Lose With a Royal Flush?

If you look at the standard poker hand rankings, it’s clear that a royal flush is unbeatable. However, holding one does not guarantee that you’ll win the pot. It all depends on the specific poker game that you’re playing.

Whenever wild cards are involved, for instance, there’s a chance of making five-of-a-kind. This unique combination beats all other poker hands, including a royal flush.

Another rare exception could happen when playing a community card game such as Texas Hold’em or Omaha. It’s uncommon, but certainly possible, to see all five cards on board form a royal flush. In that case, anyone left in the hand would split the pot. You might not lose in that case, but you don’t really win either!

Some games, like Seven Card Stud, assign rankings to suits in order to break ties in certain situations. However, this does not apply to straights, flushes or straight flushes. So in the unlikely event of two players holding a royal flush, the pot would be shared.

How Common Are Royal Flushes?

Royal Flush in PokerAs we’ve already established, hitting a royal flush in poker is rare. The reason why it’s the best possible hand - with the exception of unusual rule variations - is precisely because it’s so hard to achieve. 

But what are the chances of actually making one? Well, the specific answer depends on the form of poker being played. The number of hole cards, plus whether or not community cards are involved, all play a part in determining the probability. 

In Five Card Draw, for example, you could be dealt a pat royal flush. But if not, you still have three more betting rounds in which to draw and hit the hand. But in Five Card Stud, there are no additional opportunities to make the hand. You either get it, or you don't.

In Hold’em, you only receive two hole cards, so it’s impossible to get a royal flush as your starting hand. But you could certainly flop one, or draw to one on the turn and river.

While the many rule variations result in different probabilities, we’re arguing over fractions. Making this coveted hand remains a rare occurrence in all forms of poker.

The Numbers

A simpler way to approach the problem is to just think about the number of possible hands. Without getting into the complex mathematics, there are 2,598,960 permutations when randomly drawing any five cards from a standard deck of 52. 

The order in which you draw the five royal flush cards is irrelevant, but the suits are not. Since there are four specific ways to make it, we are looking at 4 out of 2,598,960 hands, or 1 in 649,739. That’s a probability of 0.000154%.

To put this into some kind of context, imagine playing 100 hands per day, every day for a year. That would work out at an impressive 36,500 hands per year, but still nowhere near 649,739. In fact, you could do this for 17 years straight and still only reach 620,500 hands!

In a game like Seven Card Stud, where you have two extra cards to make the royal flush, your odds understandably improve. But it’s still a massive 30,940 to 1 one against. Continuing the above example, you’d still only see one per year on average.

Royal Flush Bonuses

Since making a royal flush is so difficult, many online gaming sites offer a reward to those lucky poker players who achieve the feat. Each poker room is different in terms of the mechanics of their individual promotions. But in general, should you complete a royal flush - using both of your hole cards in Hold’em or Omaha - you’ll collect a bonus.

The reward is often a simple one-off cash payment to whoever made the qualifying hand. Sometimes, a portion of the fixed bonus is shared out among other players too. But it’s also common to see a royal flush bonus paid from a progressive prize pool. 

One such example is the All-In or Fold Jackpot at Natural8. That particular promotion only requires Hold’em players to make the best possible straight flush combination in order to win. Although Omaha players have to make a royal flush to qualify for their share of the jackpot.

How To Play a Royal Flush

How To Play a Royal FlushAs with every situation in poker, calculating the right play in any given spot depends on the exact circumstances. But as a general rule, since a royal flush is the most valuable hand, you’re going to want to play it slow. You need your opponents to catch up.

In Hold’em or Omaha, you obviously cannot make one without at least three suited cards on the board. Even in Seven Card Stud, the chances are that several of your upcards will expose the threat of the royal flush. Your opponents are naturally going to be wary, particularly if you hit it early in the hand. 

As such, getting paid will always be tough. Ideally, you’ll have an opponent make a set or two pair, completing a full house as the hand progresses. That way, they won’t fear ordinary straights and flushes and you might get paid off. 

But without this extremely fortunate set of circumstances, your best bet is to check-call until the river. Allow others to try and make a hand, or just hope that they try to bluff at the pot.

Famous Royal Flushes

Thanks to television broadcasts, we're much more exposed to live poker events than ever before. There have been several high profile hands involving a royal flush in live tournaments over the years. Let’s take a look at some of the most notable.

Chris Moneymaker vs Jason Mercier

This hand took place at the NAPT Venetian $25,000 Bounty Shootout, way back in April 2010. The action begins with Jason Mercier holding pocket kings and making a pot-sized pre-flop raise. Matt Glanz calls, before Chris Moneymaker elects to 3-bet, raising a little under 2.5x.

Understandably, Mercier doesn’t hang around and quickly shoves. Glantz folds, before Moneymaker makes a surprisingly fast call, tabling A K. Upon realising how much trouble he’s in, the 2003 WSOP Main Event winner gets up and leaves the table, unable to watch.

However, the T 3 J flop brings the first twist in a rollercoaster ride of a hand. With a flush draw, gutshot royal draw, and three aces to hit, Moneymaker is now roughly a 2-to-1 favourite. The turn brings the 8. This makes no difference to either player’s hand but does flip the odds in Mercier’s favour, also approximately 2 to 1. 

You know what happens next, though. The river delivers the Q to complete a royal flush, causing Moneymaker to exclaim “if you’re gonna win, that’s how you win”. Mercier can only grimace in frustration.

Bryn Kenney vs Erik Seidel

Flashback to the 2018 PCA $100,000 Super High Roller event and a hand between Bryn Kenney and poker legend Erik Seidel. This particular royal flush is notable due to the high stakes as much as anything else.

The 1988 WSOP Main Event runner-up kicks things off in the hand, opening with a raise to 45,000 under the gun. He finds a call from Ivan Luca, before Kenney shoves over the top for his entire stack of 446,000. Seidel makes the call with A Q, with everyone else getting out of the way. However, Kenney has him dominated with A K.

There are no bad beats here, despite the flop of J 9 T offering Seidel some hope. The Q on the turn completes a royal flush for Kenney, who looks stunned, laughs and simply says “unreal”. Seidel remains staring quizzically at the board, trying to figure out what outs he might have. But sadly for him, this hand is over.

Justin Phillips vs Motoyuki Mabuchi

This most incredible of hands took place at the 2008 WSOP Main Event. We’d describe it as a one-in-a-billion event, but even that doesn’t do it justice. The real odds of this happening are actually around 2.7 billion to 1 against!

Things begin in a relatively sensible fashion. Mabuchi raises to a little under 3x the big blind with two black aces in the hole. Phillips calls and we go to the flop heads up. The A Q 9 flop is an absolute dream for the Japanese player and he knows it, electing to play it slow and allow his opponent to catch up.

After both men check the flop, the turn card brings the T. He doesn’t know it, but Mabuchi is now in big trouble. Phillips holds K J and had flopped a straight draw, which has now come in. Nevertheless, the Asian fires a roughly pot-sized bet and Phillips, now holding the nuts, elects to just call. But here’s where things get really spicy.

The river brings the A to give Mabuchi quad aces, a monster hand. He makes a small, probing bet and when Phillips raises, he cannot wait to get all-in, excitedly shoving his stack, splashing chips everywhere. But, of course, that same river card completes a royal flush for his opponent, who snap calls. Cue pandemonium at the table as everyone realises what just happened.

Conclusion

Congratulations, you are now a fully-fledged expert in royal flushes! All that remains is for you to hit the felt and try to make one for yourself. And if you’re lucky enough to experience the buzz of hitting the best possible hand, you’ll now know exactly what to do.

Be sure to check out the All-In or Fold tables at Natural8, where you can hit the Jackpot when making a straight or royal flush!