The Nuts

[BB] “A good exercise for beginners to develop card sense is to figure out what the nuts are when you see the flop, and see if they change on the turn and the river. For example, what’s the nuts on a K♦8♠5♣ flop?”, Benny the Book quizzed his son, Joey the Juvenile.

[JJ] “That’s a totally dry flop. No pair and no flush or straight possible, so the answer must be three of a kind”, Joey responded after a moment’s thought.

[BB] “Right, specifically three Kings. What if the 7♣ hits on the turn?”

[JJ] “Now a straight is possible.”

[BB] “Correct again. A 9-high straight. And let’s try two different river cards, first the 8♥.”

[JJ] “That paired the board, so a full house is possible. No, wait… four Eights.”

[BB] “And what if the river is the 6♣ instead?”

[JJ] “9-high Straight flush!”

[BB] “Okay, this is already too easy for you. In another minute, you’ll realize that it comes down to just five simple rules:

  1. If three cards to a straight flush are on the board (e.g., 8♦7♦4♦), then a straight flush is the nuts (the highest one if more than one are possible).
  2. Otherwise, if the board is paired or more, then a four of a kind is the nuts (the higher denomination if two pairs or a full house are on the board).
  3. Otherwise, if the board has three of one suit, then an Ace-high flush is the nuts (add the highest missing two cards of the flush suit to the board).
  4. Otherwise, if three cards to a straight are on the board, then a straight is the nuts (the highest one if more than one are possible).
  5. Otherwise, three of a kind is the nuts (three of the highest card on the board).”1

[BB] “The two cards you hold can prevent certain nut possibilities; for example, you could hold a card that blocks the straight flush, or you could hold a card that blocks quads.”

[BB] “One oddity is that if you have a full house, it’s never the nuts if you have a pocket pair. It’s the nuts only if the board’s highest denomination is paired, and you have one of those and one of the highest other denomination on the board and no straight flush is possible. E.g., TT on T8842 board and KT on a KTT84 board are not the nuts, while KT on a KKT84 board is the nuts. Although the Ten in the second hand makes quads impossible, KK still wins (although the player with the KK doesn’t know quads are impossible).”

[BB] “On the river, the five cards on the table can only be the nuts if they form a royal flush, four of a kind with the nut kicker, or a royal straight with no flush possible.”


  1. The weakest hand that can be the nuts is QQ on a Q8732 board with no flush possible. Three Kings and three Queens are the only sets that can be the nuts as any other three of a kind makes a straight possible.

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