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What Do You Do When You Flop Second Pair?

Is second pair worth a call? While flopping top pair is pretty easy to play in most hold'em games, playing second pair can be dicey. Suppose you've had a free play in the blind with A-9, and the flop is Q-9-3. Now what?

If someone bets, he's probably got a queen or else he's bluffing. Sometimes he'll have a pair of tens or jacks too, but as far as you're concerned the situation is exactly the same: He's got a bigger pair than you do and you'll have to run him down to win the pot.

In a fixed limit game bets are still small on the flop, and as long as the pot contains about three big bets - $50 or $60 in a $10-$20 game, for example - you can usually see the turn card as long as the cost is only one bet.

Here's how to figure it. You'll probably need to catch a third nine or hit your kicker to win the pot, so we'll operate on that assumption. You have five outs to make two pair or trips, so you're almost an 8.5-to-1 dog to catch the card you need. If you figure the implied odds will provide a payoff in excess of 8.5-to-1, it pays to stick around for the turn.

But remember, if the cost is any more than one bet, toss your hand away. It's going to be too expensive to play. If your hand improves, you can bet, or even raise. But if you miss and someone bets, save your money and throw your hand away.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well it is ... almost, but this is poker and there are always a few caveats:

1. If you're heads-up, the pot probably won't contain the fifty or sixty dollars necessary to make your draw worthwhile, and that's the bad news. But there's good news too. When you're heads-up you shouldn't assume your opponent has top pair just because he comes out betting. The fewer the number of players in a pot, the more likely it is that someone is either bluffing or semi-bluffing with an overcard or two. And when there are only two of you, second pair stands a pretty good chance of being the best hand right now instead of a hand that needs improvement.

2. Be leery of sequenced boards, especially if hitting your second pair would also put four sequenced cards on the board, or four cards with just one gap. Either one portends a straight.

3. Be careful if you have a pair in your hand that's bigger than second pair but smaller than top pair. Sure, you'll beat second pair with that hand, but your prospects for improvement are pretty futile. With a pair in your hand you only have two cards to draw at. But with second pair, you've got five outs.

4. In shorthanded games, particularly online games with five players or fewer, second pair is often the equivalent of top pair in a full game, so you can come right out and bet it for value. Most of your online opponents will bluff a disproportionably high portion of the time, and an overcard on the board - especially if that overcard is NOT an ace - does not necessarily mean your opponent has top pair.

5. Aces are a special category because in shorthanded games most everyone plays ace-anything, and when an ace flops and there's any appreciable action, you have to use some sound judgment to decide whether your opponent has the goods or is bluffing.

About Lou Krieger
Lou Krieger, the host of Royal Vegas Poker Room and the author of 7 popular poker books, co-author of "Poker for Dummies" and over 400 poker articles in Card Player and other poker and gambling magazines. You can find this and other articles on Lou Krieger's blog site:

Recommended Reading:
"Before The River" - Texas Hold'em Poker Lessons.
"Backdoor Draw" - Texas Hold'em Poker Lesson 2.

Tags: Second Pair, Flop, Poker Lesson, Lou Krieger.

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