Two pair is usually quite a strong hand in a game of poker.
To make two pair, you must have two distinct pairs in the same five-card hand. Here is an example of two pair:
The hand above is two pair, tens and threes. Other examples of two pair include A♠ A♦ 8♣ 8♦ 2♣ (aces and eights) and Q♦ Q♠ 9♥ 9♦ 7♠ (queens and nines).
Two pair is the third highest-ranking of the poker hands, beating one pair and high card hands. Two pair is beaten by three-of-a-kind and every hand above it.
Tie-Breakers: Which Two Pair Wins?
If multiple two pair hands go against each other, the hand with the better high pair wins. For example, A♠ A♦ 8♣ 8♦ 7♠ beats Q♦ Q♠ 9♥ 9♦ 7♠. The pair of aces in the first hand outranks the pair of queens in the latter hand.
If multiple hands have the same high pair, the hand with the better low pair wins. For example, K♠ K♣ J♦ J♠ 8♠ beats K♠ K♣ 8♠ 8♥ J♦ because the first hand is kings and jacks, which is higher than the kings and eights of the second hand.
If two hands have the exact same two pair, it comes down to the higher kicker (the 5th card). For example, J♠ J♣ 7♦ 7♣ A♠ beats J♠ J♣ 7♦ 7♣ Q♥ because the ace kicker outranks the queen kicker.
The Odds of Two Pair in Poker
If you randomly draw five cards out of a 52-card deck, you’ll have a 4.7539% chance of making two pair. That percentage can also be expressed as 20-to-1 odds against making two pair.
A standard poker deck yields 858 distinct ways to make two pair. Factoring in the different possible suit combinations, you have 123,552 total possible ways to make two pair out of a 52-card deck.
With all five community cards on the board in a game of Texas Hold’em, you have a 23.5% chance of making two pair (3.26-to-1 odds against).
How to Play Two Pair Like a Pro
Finally! You’ve flopped that two pair you’ve been waiting for.
You’re already smiling inside, thinking how you’re gonna scoop this pot. But what should you do to win the biggest possible pot?
That’s what I’m going to cover in this article because, as you’ll see, it’s not always best to play two pair fast.
Not All Two Pairs Are Created Equal
Some two pairs are worth more than others. The true value of a two pair hand boils down to three variables:
- The flop texture.
- How the flop interacts with your opponent’s range.
- Which specific two pair you have.
Let’s first talk about flop texture and the interaction it has with your opponent’s range. Each flop has a certain amount of possible nutted and near-nutted hands. Each board also has different hand strength ceilings:
- On some boards the hand strength ceiling is a set (think K♦ 8♥ 5♣).
- Other boards add the possibility of straights (think 9♣ 7♦ 5♥).
- The ceiling lifts to a flush on monotone boards (like 8♠ 6♠ 3♠).
- This ceiling can even be a straight flush (like on 9♥ 8♥ 7♥) or a mighty royal flush (Q♠ J♠ T♠).
Think about the value of two pair on each of these example boards. Two pair is sitting pretty on K♦ 8♥ 5♣, but the same hand strength shrivels up a bit on 8♠ 6♠ 3♠ and even more so on 9♥ 8♥ 7♥. This makes it pretty clear how a two pair should be valued very differently depending on the texture.
Note that the hand strength ceiling can be different than the nuts. For example, suppose you raise in early position, I 3-bet from middle position and you call. If the flop comes 7♠ 5♠ 3♥, the hand strength ceiling is a set — not a straight — because neither of us are likely to have the one possible straight (6-4) in our range.
The final thing to consider is which specific two pair you are holding. Despite their similarities, 9-8 on a 9-8-4 flop should sometimes be played differently than, say, 5-4 on a K54 flop.
Let’s dive into a few example hands so you can get a handle on how different two pair hands are best played.
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Playing After Defending the Big Blind
The first thing you must do after flopping two pair is analyze the flop to determine what the hand strength ceiling is.
You should tend to play your two pair hands more passively on boards with a high ceiling. When the ceiling is lower, you can usually play your two pair more aggressively.
Let’s consider a couple examples.
8♦ 6♦ on 8♣ 6♣ 3♥ is a very strong two pair because the hand strength ceiling is only one hand higher (a set). Your hand also blocks 2 of the 3 possible sets and you are holding the top two pair. This means you should look to always raise or check-raise with this hand to extract value and build the pot.
T♠ 8♠ on J♥ T♣ 8♣ is a relatively weak two pair because the hand strength ceiling is a straight. Depending on the preflop action, your opponent can have either one or two straights (Q9 and 97). On top of that, you have bottom two pair. This means you should look to call or check-call with this hand, especially when stacks are deep.
Playing In Position As the Preflop Aggressor
Here, it’s pretty damn easy: always bet.
You don’t want to miss value with your two pairs by getting tricky and slow-playing.
Should you, in theory, check back with this hand in some spots at some low frequency? Yes. Is that play going to win you more money in practice? Probably not. Do yourself a solid and make that pot juicy ASAP.
This is my advice for both single raised pots and 3-bet pots.
Playing Out Of Position As the Preflop Aggressor
This discussion is a bit more nuanced and the positions of both players are crucial to consider.
If you’re playing from early position against a cutoff cold-call, for example, then you should oftentimes check your two pair. This is because you don’t have the range advantage and/or nut advantage on a lot of flop textures, so you have to protect your ranges by playing passively with strong hands (in addition to your weak ones).
If you’re playing from the small blind against the big blind, the situation changes significantly. The big blind’s range is very wide and will be weaker on the majority of flops, which means that, on average, you should be betting with your two pairs.
Going deeper than this is beyond the scope of this article. If you want to dive deep into playing out of position as the preflop aggressor, check out one of the many lessons covering that spot in the Upswing Lab training course.
This one is especially important for live players. Note that you should take this advice with a grain of salt because solid multiway solutions don’t really exist yet. Plus, cold-calling strategies vary immensely between different players, so it’s tough to come up with a baseline game plan that works well versus everyone.
Having said that, I advise you to lean towards playing passively with two pair in multiway pots. As the preflop aggressor, you should mostly choose to check, even on boards that you perceive to be good for betting.
There are two main reasons to prefer passivity. With more players involved in a pot:
- The frequency of someone holding a super strong hand increases
- The burden of defense decreases (meaning your opponents are forced to call with a tighter range versus a bet because they have to account for the other players).
To learn more about playing multiway pots on the flop, read Multiway Pots: When Should You Bet the Flop?
Keep the advice in this article in mind, and try not to dust your stack when there’s a straight and a flush possible!
That’s all for today. As usual, if you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in the comment section down below.
Til’ next time, Dan signing out!
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