Poker answers on how to handle pairs

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You are playing in a $4-$8 limit hold’em game with 1/2 Kill. (Probably the most popular poker game enjoyed by recreational players in casinos).

Question No. 1: When does a pair of Queens on the flop lose its value?

In a middle position at a full table, you have been dealt Queen-Jack diamonds in the hole. There are no raises. You call the Big Blind and get to see the flop: Ad-Qc-5s. Now you have a pair of Queens – second-best pair on the board, with a possible draw to an Ace-high straight and diamond flush. An early-position player bets out. Do you call, raise, or fold? Your answer should be: “It depends…” Now read on.

Players love Aces and Kings in the hole, often playing them even with only a small kicker. In this case, the key question is: Did an opponent flop A-A? If so, your flopped pair of Queens is most likely “dead in the water.” With eight opponents in the game, the probability someone started with an Ace in the hole is almost 80% or about four out of five times.

Then, should an opponent make a pair of Aces on the flop, the odds are over 10-1 against catching the set you need on the Turn or River. The implied pot odds would have to be well above that to even consider staying in that hand. Let’s go on.

Suppose an early-position comes out betting on the flop. Then it’s folded to you. Decision time! Ask yourself: “What kind of player is he?” Having wisely focused on the game up to this point, you have noted this player is rather tight. That information strongly suggests you muck your hand, and save some chips.

On the other hand, if that player is aggressive and deceptive, it is likely he is trying to force you out by representing a pair of Aces. In that case, a call is the right decision – provided no one will raise after your bet. Pause a moment; look to your left for tells. Is an opponent gathering a bunch of chips, preparing to make a raise? If not, proceed to call the early-position’s bet. Unless your hand improves, play cautiously the rest of the way. Your Q-Q has lost most of the value it would have had if the Ace had not fallen on the flop.

Question No. 2: When does pocket Queens lose its value?

It’s a similar situation as above except you have been dealt Q-Q in the hole – pocket Queens. How does this make a difference?

First of all, your pocket Queens is most likely the best hand before the flop. (At a full table of nine players, odds that someone has pocket Aces or Kings are about 14-1 against.) You would like to keep your Q-Q in the lead throughout the entire hand. Preflop, you are about an 80% favorite over each opponent with smaller holecards, including pairs; and about 70% over opponents with one holecard higher than a Queen.

If, say four opponents with smaller holecards stay to see the flop, then your approximate win probability (80% x 80% x 80% x 80%) drops to about 40%. In that case, you are most likely to be outdrawn and lose the pot. That’s why the skilled player takes steps to thin the playing field. Ideally he would like to play this hand against two or three – not four or more – opponents. This situation calls for you to bet out, or raise if an early-position bets before you.

In addition, highly skilled players will reinforce their bet/raise by using the Esther-Bluff tactic. Here again, your pocket Queens loses most of its preflop value if an Ace (or King) falls on the board.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Email: [email protected].

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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