How to Play Two Pairs

Posted by David Cowell on November 12, 2010 at 4:59 BST

Conventional wisdom decrees that if you hit two pairs on the flop, you bet out to take the pot there and then and prevent anybody picking up a stronger hand with the late community cards – but there are some circumstances in which you may have to show a little caution.

In the low stakes games, you may regularly witness social players taking a chance on connecting with the late community cards to steal a pot, but it is not such a common event when playing at higher levels – where going to showdown with the second best hand may be an expensive option. However, when selecting how large a bet to make, you may what to consider some of the other possibilities.

Imagine the example where you are dealt Queen and Jack of spades in late position, and there are three other players in the hand when the flop hits the board. The flop shows Qc Jh and 9c giving you two pairs, but also allowing other players to complete a straight (with KT or T8). Potentially, there is also the chance that one of your opponents may have caught a set or is holding two clubs in their hand, and is calculating their odds of making the flush. Your dilemma here is that you could be holding the top hand but you could be also holding the worst – so, how do you find out?

The post flop betting will give you the biggest clue, as each player will be conscious of the potential for both the straight and flush draws. Even if a player has made a set, they are going to be cautious of all the hands that could beat them, and one would normally expect a modest bet to “test the water” or even a check from a passive player.  If you are holding two pairs, you might feel that the odds of your own hand still being the winner after showdown look pretty remote, but a quick look at the odds of players actually making better hands – and those for you to complete the full house – may encourage you to try to get to the river economically, and then act with more information available to you.

The odds of another player having already completed their straight are very high. With three other players in the hand, the calculation for each player to have KT is [(8/47)*(4/47)] = 0.0144 (or 1.44%). Multiple this figure by three (for the number of players) and the double it (for the potential that one of the three holds T8) and the result is that there is only a 8.64% chance (just under 12/1) that another player has already made their straight. If they have, one would expect them to make a major bet to take the pot now, and eliminate the potential for their hand being turned over by the flush or a better straight.

This should discourage any player holding a ten in their hand from chasing their open ended straight (a 34% chance) and any player with two clubs going for their flush (a 39% chance) unless you are playing on a very loose table. Your own chances of completing a full house are even flimsier at 17%, and faced with a big bet, the recommended option is to fold. However, if there are no bets on the table when it is your turn to act, you should prevent anybody from getting a free card by raising by half the pot and gauging the reaction.

What you are aiming to do is create the impression that you have a sufficiently high number of outs to make you the favourite to win. If you can bring the table down to just one opponent, you have placed that player in a position of negative expected value without risking too many of your own chips. Unless they have made a set (in which case, they will give their hand away by making a bigger bet after the turn), you are now favourite to win the hand and may well take more from the pot than you would have by trying to bet out your two pairs after the flop.