Many aspects of poker strategy have fluctuated overtime…
…including whether or not you should c-bet with middle or bottom pair on the flop.
With the help of solvers, we now have a much clearer view of when it’s a good idea to do so.
In this article, I am going to explain why you would want to c-bet with a flopped middle or bottom pair, as well as when you should do it.
What is Middle Pair?
Making a pair with the middle-ranked card on the flop and a hole card. For example, on a board of A-9-2, you have middle pair if one of your hole cards is a 9 (excluding A9 and 92, which give you two pair). Similarly, you have bottom pair if your hand contains a 2 (excluding A2 and 92).
Consider three potential goals that may drive you to bet or check with any hand:
- Getting called by worse (betting for value)
- Denying equity (betting as a bluff and/or for protection)
- Improving the implied odds of your hand
Let’s run through each of these to see if any are valid reasons to c-bet with a bottom or middle pair.
1. Getting called by worse (value)
It’s pretty tough to get value from worse when you c-bet with middle or bottom pair.
There are exceptions, of course, like when you hold A♠ T♠ on a K♠ T♦ 6♣ flop. It’s easy to imagine some worse hands calling when you have middle pair with top kicker.
But the majority of middle and bottom pairs will have much more trouble extracting value from worse. Consider a hand like J♥ 9♥ on K-J-3 or 6♠ 5♠ on J-7-5. Not many worse hands will call your bets on those boards, and many of the ones that do will be draws (which have a lot of equity to beat you by the river).
So, this usually won’t be a good reason to bet with middle or bottom pair. Onto the next one!
2. Denying equity (bluff/protection)
Denying equity is the main reason you will want to c-bet with some middle or bottom pairs. When you bet with these hands and force your opponent to fold, that is oftentimes a huge win for you. You’ve taken away their chance to draw out!
Again, there are exceptions. If your hand doesn’t benefit much from equity denial, then you should usually check with it.
Consider the difference between these two middle pair hands:
- Q♠ J♣ on K♠ Q♥ 4♣
- 9♣ 7♥ on T♣ 7♦ 3♠
Which of these hands would benefit more from denying equity?
The answer is 9♣ 7♥. Here’s why:
QJ is a less vulnerable hand than 97. QJ will remain second pair as long as an ace doesn’t come on the turn or river. Compare this to 97, which has many more overcards to worry about.
This is not to say that you should definitely bet with 97, but it is a more appropriate bet than the QJ.
3. Improving the implied odds of your hand
This is a harder concept to grasp, but you can actually improve the implied odds of your specific hand by choosing to bet or check.
If your opponent would fold hands to a bet that you would rather keep in the pot, check becomes a more attractive option.
For example, suppose you have T♠ 9♠ on a J♥ 9♦ 4♠ flop. When you turn two pair (making the board J♥ 9♦ 4♠ Tx), your opponent will have many draws (A8, K8, Q7) and turned pairs (AT, KT) that will give you action, either by bluffing or by calling. For this reason, you can be more willing to let them see the turn for free.
Now that we went over the fundamentals, let’s look at some specific spots with the help of PioSolver.
When you have a large range advantage, you get to c-bet with your entire range (or close to it), including middle and bottom pairs. This most commonly happens in 3-bet pots and 4-bet pots, but it happens in single raised pots as well.
For example, suppose the player in the cutoff raises and you 3-bet from the button. The cutoff calls and the two of you see a flop of K♠ J♣ 3♠.
Here is how PioSolver plays this flop as the button after the cutoff checks:
The solver likes c-betting small (33% pot) with the entire range on this board. It likes this strategy because the button’s range is absolutely dominating with ~62% equity against the cutoff’s range. (For reference, 55% is considered a decent-sized range advantage. 62% is massive.)
You’re now familiar with the main reasons to c-bet with middle or bottom pair.
For a list of 10 specific scenarios in which you should c-bet with your entire range (or close to it), read this article:
That’s all for today. Until next time, good luck, grinders!
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