How to play

Poker pairs: learn how to play the pairs on the flop

Here you’ll learn how you play a hand that is trickier than you thought – pairs:

Here are a couple of fun facts for you – did you know that the odds of getting dealt a pair as your hole cards before the flop is 16/1? But that an unpaired hand has a one in three chance of finding a pair in the flop?

Holding a pair pre-flop can be a powerful hand. Let us explain why...

A pair of aces is a formidable hand, but we'd recommend you protect it with a strong raise during the pre-flop. This shows your opponents that you have a strong hand, so you may only get one or two callers.

Then comes the flop – the first three 'community cards'. If you reckon it's a weak flop, such as 10-6-3 then it might be a good idea to place a small bet so you can gauge the other players' interest. If everyone bets low, you can presume that nobody particularly likes the community cards. But, of course, there's always the possibility of having a really good flop such as a J-10-8 which might give your opponents the chance to make a straight.

It's tough, but this is why it is sometimes necessary to fold with your pair of aces in this situation. On the flop, it wouldn't be silly to call a raise or even go all-in with a pair of aces since it's a pretty strong hand so far. But as we reach the turn and river, it's likely the other players have managed to improve their hands, which is why you'll need to carefully evaluate just what hands you can beat at this stage.

Just be aware that holding a pair lower than aces faces more risks on the flop, turn and river. Why? Well something called an 'overcard' could appear on the flop. An overcard is a card, which is higher in value than your pair.

Let's have an example to make things clearer. So imagine you have a pair of queens in your hand. You're thinking, what a good pair I have. But then a king or an ace appears on the flop. They are considered overcards because they're higher than your queens. The advice here is to bet out with your pair so you can get an idea about what the other person has. So, if someone else raises, it's pretty likely that they have a king or an ace in their hand. In this case, it's best to fold and save yourself some chips.

But what should you do if you have a smaller pair? If you have a pair of 8s, for instance, and a reasonable flop turns up, such as a 6-4-2, then it's quite likely that no one has a bigger pair than you. So if nobody seems interested in the flop or there are not many players in the hand, then you can try to bet out with your pair.

Small pairs

Small pairs, as you know, are not likely to make the winning hand. But don't just dismiss a low pair, because you might be able to make three of a kind. Similarly, if you're holding a low suited connector (such as 8♣ 9♣) you'll want to make a straight or flush. It's quite unlikely that simply pairing your 8 or 9 with cards in the flop will win you the hand.

You might be wondering how much you should bet. If you're the first one to bet, then we recommend betting 2/3 the size of the pot.

However, things change a little when you have a really good hand. In this case, you want to prove that your hand is strong, so we would say you should re-raise to two and a half times the other player's bet. Basically, if they bet $6, you should raise around $15. But of course they might decide to raise again. If so, go all-in.

But here's a piece of advice – be wary with betting too much where all the cards in the flop are in sequence or are all in the same suit. This gives your fellow opponent the chance to make a straight or a flush. If you can't make a flush or a straight, we advise that you fold if others begin betting and raising. The last thing you want to do is lose your chips, so it's best to avoid betting too much money unless you're really sure you stand a good chance of winning.

Top pair

In a nutshell, a top pair means pairing one of your cards with the highest card on the flop. Here's an example to make things clearer. Let's imagine that the flop was J-10-3. If you are holding a jack in your hand then you know that you have the top pair. But don't forget that someone else might have a jack too.

If you've noticed that there are a lot of bets and raises going on, then your top pair – even if it's a pair of aces – is unlikely to be the winning hand. If your friends keep raising their bets then it is quite likely they have something stronger than a top pair.

If you're holding A-J and the flop is J-10-6, then you have the top pair, therefore why not raise or bet if nobody has bet before you? But, if the flop is J-Q-K, you are unlikely to have the best hand because any of your fellow poker players with a king or queen will beat you. Plus, this set-up could provide someone with a straight.

Just remember that if you were the person who raised before the flop, and nobody re-raised you then you might want to place a bet even if your hand has not improved. This is also called 'continuation betting' if you hadn't heard that term before.

We would say that you should try the continuation bet tactic around 80-90% of the time. Your aim is to make everyone else fold so you win the round. Even if you haven't managed to improve your hand in the flop, you can always try to continue betting and hope everyone will fold. But if you are called to reveal your hand, just hold fire and see if you improve on the turn. If unfortunately you cannot improve your hand then we would say that you should fold to a bet.

Don't just think about what you're holding, but consider what your opponent may be holding too. For instance, if you have a straight but there are four clubs on the board after the river, then it's likely that someone else has a flush.

It's definitely a good idea to look out for two cards on the table which contribute towards a straight or a flush since they're worth more than your top pair. If the flop reads 9♣ 8♣ K? then this opens a lot of doors for your opponents, therefore they are sure to start raising their bets. They will be hoping to see a card in the turn or the river that will complete their flush or straight.

You can normally tell if this is their plan since they will call rather large bets in the hope of seeing that one desired card. But you can bet without fear if you hold a Q♣ J♣ and the flop reads 10♣9♣ 2?. Why? You actually have an excellent chance of making either a straight or a flush. A king or an 8 in any suit can turn up to give you a straight.

But if you are waiting for just one particular card to appear so you can make a flush, then you're in something called a flush draw, because you are waiting for one card to be drawn to make your flush. If you're in this scenario then the chances of your desired card turning up is quite small, so it might be worth folding at this point.