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How to play non pairs in live poker

July 12, 2011 3:00 AM by George Epstein

Most starting hands are two unpaired cards. The chance of being dealt a pair in the hole is one out of 17. The odds are 16-1 against you.

If you improve on the flop, it’s more likely to make a pair with one of your hole cards. How often will that happen?

• Only one-third of the time will you pair up on the flop.

• Most often your hand will NOT improve.

These facts have significant consequences.

Most starting hands are drawing hands.

Drawing hands must improve to have a reasonable shot at the pot. Preflop, the only "made hands" (that could win without further improvement) are A-A, K-K, and Q-Q. Any other hand you might stay to see the flop is a drawing hand.

In a limit game, drawing hands are best played multi-way, with three or more opponents staying to see the flop. This gives you a chance to get high enough implied pot odds to justify investing in an "unmade" hand. And you prefer no raises preflop – so you make the least investment to see the flop.

You are hoping to pair up on the flop. If not, your hand may not be worthy of further investment and is best folded unless you hold two over cards to the board, giving you six possible outs.

Raising Preflop with a Non-Pair.

The odds are 2-1 against you improving on the flop – so why invest any more chips than necessary?! Raising preflop makes your pot odds even less attractive. What’s more, raising is likely to force out opponents with weak or marginal hands who might otherwise stay and contribute to the pot.


There are exceptions to most rules. For example: With K-Q in the hole and in a middle position, if there is one, perhaps two limpers to you, a raise can serve to force out the opponents behind you, gaining position over your remaining opponents.

Likely, one or both blinds and the limper(s) will call. Most important, your raise might force out Ace-rag hands. Then, if an ace falls on the board along with a king or queen, there’s a better chance your pair will hold up.

When you’re in a

late position with a non-suited premium drawing hand such as A-K, A-Q or A-J, a raise after several opponents have called preflop, is a value bet. Those who have already invested one bet, will almost certainly call your raise. That builds the pot you hope to win.


It also earns respect (fear?) from your opponents, who will likely check to you on the flop. Then you have the option to bet or check to receive a free card on the turn – your choice.

Depending on the flop, you might even consider betting without improving.

Remember, your opponents really don’t know why you raised. So it’s feasible to bluff at the pot. Knowing your opponents’ traits can help and, of course, always use the Esther Bluff with the Richard B Reverse Tell as your tactics if you decide to bluff.

Another Exception.

With three or more opponents seeing the flop with you, if you don’t pair up, then it is highly likely one or more of your opponents did. But, if you hold two over cards to the board, then you can assume you have six outs.

If you connect on the turn or the river, you may have the best hand. Use the 4-2 Rule to estimate the card odds: 6 x 4 = 24. Rounding to 25%, the card odds are 75% divided by 25% = 3-1 against you. If the pot contains more than three big bets, you would be wise to call for a positive expectation.

Of course, if you are in the big blind and there are no raises preflop, no matter how weak your hand, it pays to see the flop for "free." You never know what magic the poker gods have in store for you.

There are lots of things to consider when you start with a non-pair.

(For comments or questions, George "The Engineer" can be reached at

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