Third Street

Playing Small and Medium Pairs

The first thing to keep in mind when you have a small pair is that these hands are much worse than big pairs. A pair of eights, for instance, is significantly weaker than a pair of queens. This is especially true if your kicker is small.

Here’s an example. Suppose a deuce brings it in, and you are next with:


Automatically playing this holding is a big mistake.

To determine whether a small or medium pair is playable when you are not in a steal position, you must consider the following six factors:
1. How high your kicker is.
2. Whether your cards are all live. (If one of your pair cards is out you should rarely play. If one of your kickers is out, it still might be worth it, but not if two of them are gone.)

3. What the other upcards are.
4. What the game is like.
5. Whether your pair is in the hole. (It is usually better if the pair is in the hole, but the reverse may be true if you have an ace or a king kicker.)
6. Whether you also have a two-card flush (or less importantly a two-card straight), especially if the fuslh cards are live. (Also, it is slightly better for the two-card flush to be in the hole, and it is even better if you have a two-card straight flush.)

The two most important factors are the size of your kicker and whether your cards are all live.

So how high does your kicker need to be? The answer is that it should be higher than any card on board (but if it isn’t an ace or a king it’s not that strong).

Here’s an example. A deuce brings it in. You have


and all your cards are live. The hand is certainly worth playing for the bring-in. If it is a full bet, the hand is still worth playing, but whether you should make it a full bet is debatable. What the game is like should influence your decision. Obviously, if the game is very tight and you think you have some chance to steal, be more inclined to make it a full bet.² Also be more inclined to raise if you feel that this will get you heads-up. (See “Part One: Third Street”- “More Discussion on Calling Versus Raising” on page 54.)

In addition, you should frequently reraise higher upcards. This is correct if you can get it heads-up, your cards are live, one of their upcards is gone, or there is some chance they don’t have what they are representing.

The way you judge this last condition is not only by the type of player it is, but also the cards on the board. If a person raises where he has reason to believe that he can get away with a steal perhaps he has the highest card or perhaps there are a lot of duplicated cards then there is some chance to believe that he duplicated cards-then there is some chance to believe that he doesn’t have it. But if a jack on your right raises, and

If the game is tight it might be best to find another game there is a queen on your left, this is not the situation that we are talking about. First of all, he probably has the two jacks or some other good hand, and second, you are not necessarily going to get it heads-up. But if you are almost sure you can get it heads-up. But if you are almost sure you can get it heads-up, and there is either some doubt about his having the pair or one of his upcards is out, you just reriase (with that ace kicker).

Another question that comes up is how long should you stay with a small or medium pair? This depends on what you think you have to beat, how much money in the pot, and how the hand will be played from that point on. Automatically folding on fourth or fifth poker street when you haven’t improved is not correct. There certainly will be times when you should go all the way to the river (even though you have not improved). There is further discussion on this topic throughout the text.

Now suppose you have a medium pair, such as two nines. If there are no cards or only one card behind you higher than your nines, go ahead and raise, no matter what your upcard is. Another time that you should raise is when you have a concealed small or medium pair and the highest upcard, and you are the first one in. Again notice that this is consistent with our antre stealing strageity. Be happy if you just get the antes.

Having the highest upcard with your small pair in the hole has certain advantages. It allows you to represent a different hand than what you actually have. Plus it makes it easier to make the best two pair. If you get raised when you hold a medium pair and a high kicker that is your upcard, you should usually call. However, if you get raised and reraised, you should usually flod against this double bet. As mentioned previously, the exception would be when you have a live overcard kicker (to go along with your live pair) higher than either of the upcards of the two active players.

If it is raised ahead of you and you have a concealed pair lower than the upcard of the raiser, you usually should fold if there are any players behind you with unduplicated upcards higher than the raiser’s upcard. One reason why you should fold in this spot is that you can be raised again. Another reason is that since the raiser was looking at higher upcars and still raised, he probably has a real hand.

For example, suppose the raiser has a queen up and there is a king behind him. It is very likely that you are looking at a pair of queens, as opposed to a steal hand. Many poker players will also have a high three-flush in this spot but that is also a real hand. Thus, you should throw away most pairs below queens, especially if the king is yet to act.

If you have a pair and one of your pair cards is out, you should fold if it appears that someone has a higher pair. An exception to this is if your kicker is higher than the highest card on board. But remember, even this situation is not so great, unless your kicker is an ace or a king. Keep in mind that you have a dead card and you must improve. This means that if your decision is close and you are against a strong player, you should consider folding even with the higher kicker.

The only time that a small pair with one of the pair cards out is automatically playable is when you are in a good position to steal. (However, this does not imply that you should normally play a low pair with no kicker just because your hand is live.)

If there are one or two higher cards behind you, but the six factors listed earlier in this section are favorable, and no one has yet voluntarily entered the pot, you should at least call with your pair if you have a live quality kicker. But frequently you should go ahead and raise whether or not your kicker is up. The time that this raise would be especially correct is when you are against weak players over whom you have good control.

Here’s an example. Suppose you have:


Your cards are live, no one is yet in the pot, but behind you is an ace and a king. (Notice that the J is a str5aight flush card.) You should usually raise.

You can’t fold me pair of nines with a suited jack if your cards are live even if you thought that there was a good chance to raise yourself. And in this case if you are reraised you have to call. If your jack was not a straigt flush card then the right play is to raise, and if you get reraised, usually fold.

When you have the two nines (no matter what your kicker), one reason to consider raising with two overcrds behind you is if they both fold you might get to charge a bad player with a smaller pair.

Of course, this assumes that there are additional players behind the overcards. But suppose you have


in this same situation. If you are going to play, you should only call, and folding is probably the correct option because getting the big cards out does you little good if a hand like two sixes stays in.

If there are three or four cards behind you higher than your pair, usually fold. Consider calling only with a high kicker or if your kicker is a straight flush card that’s very live on both straights and flushes. (Or if you are in a game with a very high ante.)

Remember, when evaluating pairs on third poker street, you must consider the six factors mentioned. Every time you pick up a medium pair, you need to think about whether you have a two-flush or a two-straight, how live your hand is, and how high your kicker is. For instance, if you are sure that your opponent has a big pair-such as two queens –and you have a small or medium pair, for your call to be correct, you need (among other things) either an ace or a king kicker. A straight flush kicker is usually not god enough in this spot unbless you are in a game with a very high ante. (If you raised and were reraised, the straight flush kicker now makes your hand-along with the extra money in the pot-good enough to keep playing.)

Also, when you make this call, your kicker usually need to be in the hole. Otherwise you will have to lead all the way, thus showing weakness when you check. In addition, with you kicker in the hole, you can catch three cards to give you a hidden hand, as opposed to two cards if you have a wired pair.

Here’s an example. You have:


It is generally worth it to go all the way against a probable pair lower than aces in a heads-up situation, providing that your opponent does not improve and your cards remain live.

If it is raised ahead of you, the raiser is not in a probable pair lower than aces in a heads-up situation, providing that your oppoent does not improve and your cards remain live.

If it is raised ahead of you, the raiser is not in a steal position, and your kicker is live but small, you should fold even if there are not threatening cards behind you. The only times that it is correct to play a small pair with a small kicker is as an ante steal or when you know you can get in cheaply. If you think there is a reasonable chance that you will be raised, it is best to throw the hand away.

If a high card raises in front of you hand you have a live pair with an even higher live kicker, you should usually reraise if you can get it heads-up. Otherwise, normally call. If your kicker is a straight flush card and you anticipate a multiway pot, you can also call.

If you raise with a medium pair, a smaller card reraises, and you know this player has a bigger pair in the hole, you should call. That’s right; calling is correct! The reason for continuing with the hand is that, except for the last card, your opponent cannot make two pair without you, knowing it. (See “Part Three: Miscellaneous Topics” – “Playing Two Pair Against a Hidden Big Pair” on page 104.)