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Big pairs on the flop are quite common. Start with two honor cards in the hole; on the flop, you are likely to pair up about one out of three times. Big pairs are always attractive. How should you play them? Is a raise the best play when you flop top pair? Would you ever fold a big pair on the turn? The answer, of course – it depends. Let’s examine two such cases, both very similar but not identical.

In both cases, you are dealt K-Q offsuit in the hole and raise from middle position, hoping to thin the field and force out opponents holding A-rag hands. Three opponents call to see the flop with you.

The flop is Q-8-2 rainbow. Your hand has improved to top pair (Q-Q) on the board, with a high kicker. An early-position comes out betting; you raise his bet, hoping to thin the field so as to better protect your hand. The Button and early-position bettor call your raise to see the turn.

The turn is an Ace; the early-position comes out betting. Did he just catch a pair of Aces? That would shatter your Q-Q. Having previously evaluated him (along with the other opponents at this table), you glance at your notes. You have dubbed him a tight player, not likely to bluff his hand; so, you give him credit for having been lucky, catching top pair – A-A – on the turn.

Your beautiful pair of red Queens is now a poor second-best with just two outs. The chance of catching a third Queen for trips, is very poor. With just two outs, calling his raise would certainly be chasing. (And, we all know chasers are losers!) The wise decision here, is to fold your cards, and save your chips for another hand – hopefully, a less dangerous one.

Let’s slightly (but significantly) modify this situation. Again, you see the flop with K-Q in the hole, and catch a pair of Queens with a King kicker. And, again the early-position opens the betting when an Ace falls on the turn. Checking your notes, the early-position is a very aggressive player and has shown himself to be deceptive on previous occasions.

At first thought you believe a call, or even a re-raise (a three-bet), would be appropriate. But you know he is very aggressive and would likely re-raise you, making it a four-bet. Even knowing this about him, it is quite possible he does have an Ace in the hole, and his pair of Aces would be way in the lead over your Q-Q.

On the other hand, since you know he is a deceptive player, he could be bluffing by representing a pair of Aces. That certainly is quite possible. You look for any tells. Nope; none that you can see. That’s no surprise. After all, he is an experienced player, and would avoid offering a tell that might give his opponent some valuable information.

But, you can’t see yourself folding your Q-Q – considering he is aggressive and often deceptive. Could he be bluffing, hoping to get you to muck your hand? Without question, that is a strong possibility. “Perhaps I should call along – and hope for the best,” you deliberate. “What if I raised? That would be one way to get valuable information.

Think again: With only two outs, the card odds are about 12-to-1 against you. The pot odds are considerably lower. So, in the final analysis, you fold your hand – and save some valuable chips. Had the pot been bigger, or if there were several others calling his bet to ensure high implied pot odds, a call would have been a reasonable investment.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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