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when to fold pairs

3 Situations to Fold a Pair On The Flop In Poker

Poker is a funny game.

Sometimes it’s correct to make a big call with just Ace-high on the river. Other times it’s correct to fold a pair on the flop!

Today I’m going to explore the latter by listing three situations in which you should fold a pair on the flop in cash games.

These may be intuitive or even obvious to you, but even so, it’s worth the refresher so you avoid lighting money on fire in the following situations.

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Spot #1: Underpair After Calling a 3-Bet Out of Position

It’s not easy to make a pair in No Limit Hold’em, which is why underpairs are usually worth calling one bet on the flop in single raised pots.

3-bet pots, however, are a different story.

Related article: Single Raised Pots vs 3-Bet Pots: How Should Your Strategy Differ?

Spot #1 Example

Let’s say that you open-raise with 5♣ 5 from the Cutoff, the Button 3-bets, and you call. The flop comes K♠ 8 6♣. You check, and the Button c-bets about 33% of the pot.

You should always fold in this situation because you lack the equity and the playability to make a profitable call. There are just too few turns that you can continue on.

For the solver nerds out there (such as myself), take a look at the solution below:

solver sim showing to fold low pocket pairs in 3-bet pot on k-8-6

The solver actually calls around 17% of the time with Pocket Fives, but the expected value (EV) of the call is basically 0. The only reason the solver calls at all is to avoid folding too often, which the player on the Button could exploit. But the solver is playing against itself — an omniscient computer — so it prioritizes being unexploitable.

In practice, it’s an easy fold against a human opponent (as your intuition probably already knew).

Spot #2: Bottom Pair on a Monotone Flop Versus a Relatively Big Bet

When I say monotone flops, I’m talking about flops with 3 cards of the same suit (such as A T 7 or 9 6 5)

Monotone flops are quite tricky to play well. The optimal approach involves implementing mixed strategies with each hand class. That being said, because your range is perceived to be uncapped (aka includes the strongest hands possible), your average opponent will not be willing to put in a big bet on the flop without a strong hand himself.

Most opponents will rather check or put in a small bet size. Thus, when you are faced with a big bet, it’s best to play it safe and fold your third pairs that don’t have a draw to go with it. You can even start folding some of the middle pairs that don’t have some kind of draw.

Spot #2 Example

Say that the Button raises and you defend with Q 5 in the Big Blind. The flop comes J♠ 8♠ 5♠. You check and your opponent bets around 75% of the pot.

That’s bad news. If he’s a thinking player, he knows you can already have a flopped flush yourself (you’d defend your Big Blind with a lot of suited hands). So, it doesn’t make much sense for him to start building a huge pot with weak hands. If he’s bluffing, he could easily use a smaller bet and you’d still fold a lot of hands that missed.

A 75% pot-sized bet makes a lot of sense for a strong but vulnerable hand, such as top pair top kicker or better. But it’s highly unlikely that he will balance out this range properly with bluffs. Even if he does, then it’s going to be balanced with strong draws, such as nut flush draws that will barrel very often and deny your equity.

To avoid playing a big pot against that very strong range, you should fold right away on the flop.

The solver elects to fold here basically every time against the 75% pot-sized bet, even against a perfectly balanced range that actually does include bluffs. Check out the strategy below:

q5 pair folds on j-8-5 all spades

Of course, you can call if you have a flush draw (or a straight draw on a more connected board) to go with your pair.

Spot #3: Low pairs in multiway pots

Multiway pots are a different breed. The dynamic is vastly different from heads-up pots. Without getting into any math* I will tell you that while the required fold equity is the same for the different bet sizes, the burden of defense is split among multiple people. 

*If you are interested in the math behind multiway pots, check out this article about multiway pot tactics.

This means that the value betting threshold for the aggressor is much higher, and thus the required strength for the bluffing range is also higher. As the player facing a bet, your hand classes have a significantly lower relative value. Thus, when you are faced with a bet, you can only profitably call with a fraction of the range with which you’d call in a heads-up pot.

For example, in a heads-up pot — your Big Blind vs the Cutoff — you should call with a hand such as T♠ 6♠ on a K J 6♣ board. However, you shouldn’t call in that scenario if the Cutoff open-raised, the Button cold-called, and then you defended the Big Blind with the T♠ 6♠. 

The Cutoff’s bet must pass through both the Button’s range and your range. Because he has that extra player to worry about, he will be betting with a tighter range.

Specifically, he should not be trying to bluff with hands such as Q8-suited with a backdoor flush draw like he would if it was a heads-up pot. He should also not be betting with Pocket Fours as a semi-bluff/protection bet (which would be the right course of action in a heads-up pot).

That tighter range really makes your bottom pair with T♠ 6♠ shrivel up, so you should fold (unless the bet is outrageously small).

Final Thoughts

Folding pairs in the 3 situations will have a nice positive impact on your win-rate. A dollar saved is a dollar earned!

That’s all for this article! I hope you learned something new and as usual, if you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in the comment section down below!

Until next time, good luck, grinders!

Note: Learn an easy-to-implement poker strategy that wins in less than 2 hours with Doug Polk’s $7 Postflop Playbook. Coming to Upswing Poker on Monday (December 19th).

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About the Author
Dan B.

Dan B.

Online grinder aspiring to reach the highest stakes and crush the toughest games. I'm available for quick strategy questions and hourly coaching -- reach out to me at [email protected].

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