Sailing to Victory: The Role of a Full Boat in Poker Strategy

By David Huber
April 04, 2024

A Full Boat in poker is one of the most powerful hands in terms of poker hand rankings.

Most commonly referred to as a “Full House,” a Full Boat is defined as a five-card poker hand that contains Three-of-a-Kind along with One Pair.

For example, if you have three Tens and two Nines, then you have a Full Boat: Tens over Nines. And vice-versa: if you have three Nines and two Tens, then you have a Full Boat: Nines over Tens.

But why is this hand referred to as a Full Boat (or simply a “Boat”) when playing cards?

We’ll answer that question and talk more about this unique poker hand in this article.

Full boat

What’s A Boat in Poker?

As described above, a “Boat” in poker is synonymous with a “Full House” or “Full Boat” – Three-of-a-Kind plus One Pair.

The term is used exclusively for five card poker hands, and you must have a minimum total of five accessible cards for this hand to become possible.

Due to the probabilities of poker hands being made, a Boat is superior to One Pair, Two Pairs, Three-of-a-Kind, a Straight, and a Flush, as long as all 52 cards in a standard poker deck are being used.

However, some poker variants – namely short deck poker – may value a Full Boat under these other hands, but that depends entirely on how many cards are being used and which cards are automatically discarded before a hand begins.

But generally speaking, you should always think of a Full Boat being MORE valuable and higher ranked than hands like normal Straights, Flushes and Pairs along with Three of a Kind.

After all, you need Three-of-a-Kind just to make part of a Full House in poker.

Why Is a Full House Called a Boat or Full Boat?

Full Boat poker jargon has more to do with physical surroundings than card designs or the actual makeup of a poker hand.

To begin with, a Full Boat is the lowest ranked hand that requires ALL five cards to be utilized in games like 5 Card Stud and 5 Card Draw.

So basically, those hands are “full” – without any room for additional cards to be inserted.

The only time you would discard any holding that makes up a Full Boat is when you can make a superior Four of a Kind hand. This is because Straight Flushes and Royal Flushes cannot be achieved (even when having seven cards to select from) if you can already make a Full House.

But the term, “Boat?” Where does that come in?

A Full House is often referred to as a Full Boat or Boat due to gambling venues that are situated along waterfronts: such as riverboats.

Since players who have historically competed and gambled on poker games while on a riverboat were no longer physically inside a “house,” the Full House poker term transitioned to include the word “boat.”

The jargon eventually stuck, and that’s why today you can routinely hear poker players around the world referring to a Full House as a Boat or a Full Boat.

What Does It Mean to Boat Up?

If a poker player says that he or she has “boated up,” then this means that the player has gained access to a card that completes a Full Boat or Full House.

Following is an example using the popular Texas Hold’em poker variant.



In this example, PLAYER 2 made Two Pairs on the flop and was temporarily ahead of PLAYER 1. However, PLAYER 1 made Three of a Kind on the turn, and both players “boated up” on the river.

So… who wins this hand at showdown?

PLAYER 1 wins this hand at showdown because PLAYER 1 has superior Full House.

PLAYER 1 has a Full Boat: Kings over Queen.
PLAYER 2 has a Full Boat: Queens over Jacks.

Let’s take a look at another example:

PLAYER 1: 2-2
PLAYER 2: 3-3


After the flop, PLAYER 2 is in a great position over PLAYER 1 due to having a superior Full Boat hand.

However, the two aces that appear on the community board during the turn and river phases makes both players’ holdings obsolete (or “counterfeited”).

The board “boated up,” and as a result the two players will tie (chop) this hand if it goes to a showdown. This is because neither player can make a superior hand to what is already showing on the board, a Full House: Sevens over Aces.

Aces and Eights

The infamous Aces and Eights hand typically refers to Two Pair rather than a Full House.

However, the Dead Man’s Hand lingo within the poker world has extended in recent decades to include a Full Boat of AAA88 or AA888.

Nowadays, it is just as “correct” to reference an Aces over Eights (or Eights over Aces) hand as a Dead Man’s Hand as it has always been for the Two Pairs hand.

How Rare is a Full Boat Hand?

The rarity of a Full Boat hand in poker depends on which variant is being played.

If you’re competing in a Five Card Stud game, where players are not allowed to discard or draw, then the poker hand probabilities of any given player achieving a Full House are nearly 700-to-1.

The odds get much better in 5 Card Draw games, and the odds go all the way up to roughly 37-to-1 for the community card Texas Hold’em variant.

Full Boats are dominated by Four of a Kind, Straight Flush, and Royal Flush hands in traditional poker games.

However, a Full House will win over high cards, One Pair, Two Pairs, Three-of-a-Kind, Straight, and Flush hands.

This doesn’t mean that players will always covet a Full Boat hand regardless of the situation.

Let’s take a look at this sample Texas Hold’em hand and use it as an example of when a player might decide to fold a made Full House.

PLAYER 1: 3-3
PLAYER 2: x-x
PLAYER 3: x-x

Let’s assume the pot was raised, then re-raised preflop by Player 2 and Player 3 respectively, and that the board cards are as follows on the river.


Player 1 “boated up” on the flop and proceeded in the hand all the way to the river. However, Player 1’s Full House failed to improve after the great flop, and the Threes over Aces Full Boat is now susceptible to being defeated at showdown by any player who holds a sole Ace or King.

It’s situations like these in which Player 1 might begrudgingly find a fold on the river when facing one or more river bets.

The best possible Full Boat hand is AAAKK, or Aces over Kings. On the flip side of that coin, the very worst Full House hand is 22233, or Twos over Threes.

What’s The Most Famous Full Boat Hand Ever Played?

There are a lot of great entries for famous Full Boat hands that have been played in the era of televised poker.

And while “fame” is something that can be argued, it’s hard to not think of the Boat over Boat hand that Mike McDermott and Teddy KGB played near the beginning of the poker-themed movie Rounders.

In the scene, Mike and Teddy are playing heads-up No Limit Texas Hold’em with Mike acting as the dealer in this particular hand while Teddy holds the button position.

Holding Ace-Nine, Mike is absolutely thrilled when he peels off a turn card that gives him a Full House.

Mike: Ac-9c
Teddy: x-x


Assuming Teddy is on a Spade Flush draw, Mike is hoping to win all of Teddy’s chips on the river if a Spade is dealt.

Right on cue, the Three of Spades is dealt on the river, and Mike is ready to pounce.


Teddy leads out with a substantial bet on the river, then Mike tells the audience:

I want him to think that I’m pondering a call, but all I’m really thinking about is Vegas and the f—ing Mirage.

The outcome of the hand is part of modern day poker lore.

Mike shoves all-in against what he assumed is a flush hand.

However, Teddy calmly calls the all-in bet, and reveals that he is holding the Ace of Diamonds and the Ace of Hearts.

Mike: Ac-9c
Teddy: Ad-Ah


Teddy’s Full Boat of Aces over Nines defeats Mike’s Nines over Aces, and Mike gets stacked: realizing he is now busto.

Full Boat Confusion in Omaha Hands

Omaha poker is unique in that it gives each player four hole cards. However, players MUST use precisely two hole cards and THREE community board cards to complete their best possible five card hand at showdown.

This can be extremely confusing for new Omaha players who have played a lot of Texas Hold’em, as Hold’em doesn’t require players to use one or both hole cards at showdown.

Let’s take a look at a sample Omaha hand in which a winning Full Boat might be confusing to a Texas Hold’em player.

PLAYER 1: Ah-8h-8c-Kh
PLAYER 2: Ts-Td-6s-6d

COMMUNITY BOARD CARDS:  7s-7h-7c-7d-2h

In Texas Hold’em, any player holding an Ace as a hole card would be guaranteed to win or chop the pot, and would be obliged to bet, raise, or re-raise on the river due to having the best possible hand: Four of a Kind: Sevens with an Ace kicker.

But this is not the case in Omaha games. Remember, players can only use a MAXIMUM of three community cards to make their best possible five card hand at showdown.

So only 3 of the Sevens that have been dealt as community cards can be used at showdown.

So in Omaha, Player 1 will LOSE the above hand once the cards are turned over.

PLAYER 1: Full Boat — Sevens over Eights
PLAYER 2: Full Boat — Sevens over Tens

In other words, the fact that Four-of-a-Kind is showing on the community board does not mean that a Four-of-a-Kind hand is possible.

Actually the truth is quite the contrary; a Four-of-a-Kind hand is impossible in Omaha if Four-of-a-Kind is showing on the community board.

However, there are other scenarios in Omaha where you can “sail to victory” with a Full Boat hand.

PLAYER 1: Ac-Kh-9h-9c


In this specific situation, Player 1 has the “nuts” — which means Player 1 has the best possible hand.

Player 1’s Full House: Aces over Kings cannot be defeated by any other hand in this scenario, which means that Player 1 will be obliged to bet, raise, or re-raise on the river when facing action.

If you’re new to Omaha, it might take a little time to get used to the unique rules of the game.

But as long as you remember that exactly TWO hole cards and THREE community cards must be used to complete every single hand at showdown, you should be okay when playing Omaha.

Having Three-of-a-Kind (or worse, Four-of-a-Kind) as hole cards in Omaha means that you’ll usually be folding before any meaningful amount of money gets placed into the pot.

How to Win Big with a Full Boat

Although Mike was defeated in a key hand against Teddy at the beginning of Rounders, Mike’s reasoning was sound.

Having a Full House means you no longer have to worry about an opponent’s Straight or Flush in terms of hand strength (unless a Straight Flush or Royal Flush is possible).

Making a boat against strong Straight and Flush hands is a great way to win big with a Full House.

Best of luck at the tables!



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David Huber poker author
Written By.

David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for close to two decades: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as “dhubermex” online, David’s poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.

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