Two-pair can be a strong poker hand. But there are several different types of two pairs, not all of which are equal. In this article, you’ll learn everything there is to know about this particular holding. We’ll discuss the definition, the relative hand strengths, and the most effective strategies for playing two pairs.
Playing a Two-Pair Hand – The Basics
Before we proceed any further, let’s make sure we fully understand what two-pair means. The definition is fairly clear from the name, but like all poker hands, you must use five cards. The spare fifth card is called the kicker.
Let’s say your hand is A(Spade)-A(Diamond)-Q(Club)-Q(Diamond)-J(Spade). In this case, you have two pairs, namely Aces and Queens, with a Jack kicker.
Which Two-Pair Is Better?
If two players both have two pairs, you take the highest-ranking pair to break the tie. So if Player A has Kings and Fours against the Jacks and Tens of Player B, it’s the Kings that will come out on top.
If both players have an equally high pair, you then use the second pair to break the tie. So Jacks and Fives beats Jacks and Threes, for example. Finally, if the two pairs are the same, then the kicker plays. Naturally, if the hands are identical down to the kicker, then it would result in a split pot.
- In a game of Texas Hold’em, where all of the five community cards have been dealt, there’s a 23.50% chance you’ll end up with two pairs.
- There are 858 ways to make two pairs, with 123,552 combinations if you consider specific suits.
- If you randomly draw any five cards from a standard 52-card deck, there’s a 4.75% chance of making a two-pair hand. That’s around 20-to-1 against.
How Strong is a Two-Pair Hand?
Okay, that’s the basics out of the way. Let’s now talk about this hand in a little more detail.
A two-pair hand is the third weakest hand in the game, only beating one pair and high card hands. But that’s not to say it’s not good. The problem is there are different types of two pairs.
Flopping Bottom Two
Let’s say you face a pre-flop raise in the Big Blind and make the call with 7-6(Spades). A flop of A(Diamond)-7(Club)-6(Heart) appears. You’ve made the bottom two-pair hand, which is great, especially since there’s a good chance your opponent has a valuable A-X type holding.
The trouble with this hand is that it’s vulnerable. If your opponent has an A-Q type holding, they aren’t going away. And they still have two more cards with which to hit another Queen or Ace. Further, whatever appears on the turn could also appear again on the river, giving your opponent a higher two-pair hand.
Flopping the Top Two-Pair Hand
Unlike the bottom two-pair hand, a top two-pair hand is much stronger, so there is much less cause for concern. But again, it’s all relative. Take a look at the following examples.
Let’s say you hold K-9(Spades) and the flop comes K(Heart)-9(Diamond)-3(Club). Not much is beating you here; there’s no real danger from straights or flushes. You’re only losing to a set, which seems quite unlikely.
However, compare that to a different top two-pair holding. Imagine you have J-T(Spades) and the flop is J-T-8(Hearts). You still have the top two-pair hand, but it feels much weaker, with a potential flush already out there. Not to mention straight draws everywhere you look. Of course, the set still remains a possibility too.
Your Opponent’s Range
Something else to consider is your opponent’s range. Let’s continue with the last example and imagine that you raised pre-flop in the early position, came up against a 3-bet, and made the call.
Clearly, you can rule out your opponent having middling suited-connector-type hands, for instance. So your Jacks and Tens now feel a little stronger, as you’re much more likely to be looking at an overpair, such as A-A or K-K.
The takeaway here is that no two-pair hands are ever the same. First of all, there are three different combinations of two pairs: top two, bottom two, and top-and-bottom two. Then everything is relative to the board’s texture and your opponent’s actions.
Playing Two-Pair Hands Effectively
As a result, there’s no simple way to sum up the correct strategy for playing two pairs. However, we can work through a few more examples to help you get a handle on what to do in various spots.
Slowplaying Two Pair
Assuming you raised pre-flop, keep it simple. It doesn’t matter if it was one raise or two, you should just bet for value on the flop.
With the strongest two pairs, you want to get chips into the middle and build a nice pot. With weaker two-pair holdings, you want to protect against draws. So don’t try to get creative in most cases.
If you have somehow managed to limp in pre-flop, which is never an advisable strategy anyway, you’re likely playing against multiple opponents. In this situation, you will want to bet here in order to try and thin the field.
As a general rule, you should exercise more caution against two or more players. After all, the chances of a stronger hand appearing increase along with the number of opponents.
Further, since the other players have to worry about those behind them, they are forced into calling with a tighter range. In other words, they are more likely to fold the hands you want them to continue with.
Battle of the Blinds
If you’re in the Small Blind up against the Big, you’re safe to assume that you’ll be ahead. Your opponent’s range is extremely wide, and on the vast majority of flops, you’re in front. Bet for value and punish any poor play.
If you’re the one in the Big Blind, you have position, so you’re free to get a little more creative. But as a general rule, you should bet to protect against any draws.
Keep the following points in mind whenever you find yourself holding two pairs:
- Paired boards: If the turn or river pairs the board, make sure you don’t get married to your hand. Especially if you have the bottom two pairs, since you’re more likely to be counterfeited.
- Coordinated boards: Similarly, if the turn or river brings too many draws, you’ll need to proceed with more caution than usual.
- Loose players: Since their opening ranges are much wider, a loose player will find two pairs more frequently than someone who is tight. Don’t look at a board and assume they can’t have two pair.
- Stack sizes: If playing with shorter stacks, you can be less worried about trouble. But the deeper the stack, the more you run the risk of losing if counterfeited.
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