From Monsters to Mice
After the flop, much of the strength of your hand depends on the character of the flop. Obviously, if you start with a pair, and make trips, a full house or four of a kind, you have a big hand, these are the Monsters. What is not so obvious is how the strength of your hand changes when you hit a fair hand, but get a flop that may have helped one, or more, of your opponents.
In the rare situation where you have a monster, hope that someone either bets, or catches a card on the turn so they can call your bet. You have an almost unbeatable hand, and the other players are going to be scared off by the flop. Your goal in this situation should be to keep as many players around as possible, and to get as much money in the pot as possible.
With your biggest hands, you may want to slow play and entice someone else into betting. But, in those rare cases when you have the best hand and other players are betting and raising, join in and help to build the pot. After all, it is almost certainly going to be yours. If the board later pairs, and there us any betting, you may be facing a full house.
Flopping top 2 pair when you have 2 different cards in your hand, is a very strong hand. Top and bottom pair is also a very strong hand. Since you will usually be playing premium cards, top 2 pair will often give someone else a straight draw, and/or a flush draw.
As a result, you should not slow play these hands. Your goal is to force players out of the hand, and charge those that stay. While this hand warrants raises and re-raises, lots of action could mean they have a set. If so, or a straight or flush is possible, you could be drawing to only 4 outs.
If the pot has already gotten large, you should call it down. If the pot is not large, or you are positive that the other player has you beaten, with 4 outs you need pot odds of 11:1 to make the call profitable.
When you have 2 pair, and 1 is on the board, your hand is not as strong as the split 2 pair. Another player may already have trips, or a higher 2 pair. If a card higher than your pair hits the board, it could make someone a higher 2 pair. There could also be other draws out that may beat your 2 pair.
This is another situation to play aggressively, to chase players out, win the pot immediately, or at least make it expensive for players to draw. If you are raised, or check raised, on the turn, you may be up against trips. But, by now, the pot has gotten big. You may want to back off and call, but you shouldn’t fold unless you are sure you are beaten, or you are facing 3 bets cold.
Top pair, good kicker is a very strong hand. This is 1 reason to treat Big Slick, Ace and King, as a strong hand. With a flop of King, Eight, Three, and 3 different suits you have an excellent hand. The only card higher than the flop pairs your Ace, giving you top 2 pair. There are no flush or straight draws, so you are only worried about Ace, Ace, King, King, or a pair of Eights or Threes in the hole.
You have a strong hand with top pair in the hole when the flop is 3 cards lower than yours and is un-coordinated. If you are the only one who raised with your pair of Kings before the flop, and the flop is Queen, Eight, Three, 3 different suits, you have a very strong hand. There are no straight or flush draws, it is unlikely that someone has a pair of Queens, so you are worried only about an Ace, or another Queen falling, a pair of Eights or Threes.
With hands, and flops like this, you want to get as much money in the pot as possible, since you are a favorite to win.
If you have Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces in the hole, and get a flop such as Eight, Nine, Ten, or 2 of 1 suit, or the board is paired, your hand is not as strong. Your hand is vulnerable to many cards that can come on the turn or river. Now, instead of a limited number of hands that may beat you, you may be facing a flush draw, a straight draw, or both. With a pair on board, you may be facing trips a full house, or a draw to a full house.
In these situations, you want to eliminate players, and try to win the hand immediately. If you think that someone after you will bet, you should check and raise, to face several players with calling 2 bets. If you are not sure that someone else will bet, you bet. You can not afford to give players a free draw.
When you start with Ace, Queen, Ace, Jack or Ace, Ten, and pair your Queen, Jack or Ten, you have a hand that is mediocre to somewhat strong, depending on the flop. If your pair is the top pair on board, and the flop has no draws, you have a fairly strong hand. But, it is vulnerable to over cards on the turn or river. Ace, Queen, with a flop of Queen , Six, two, or Ace, Jack, with a flop of Jack, Six, Two, the further down you go with this, the more hands that can beat you. With an Ace, Queen, and an Ace on the flop, you are beaten by someone with Ace, King. With an Ace, Queen, and a Queen on the flop, you are beaten by anybody holding a King if a King falls. With Ace, Jack, and a Jack on the flop, you are beaten by any King, or queen, that pairs someone.
Once again, you want to eliminate players, or win the hand immediately. If you think that someone after you will bet, check and raise. If you are not sure that someone will bet, bet out. You can not afford to give players a free, or cheap, draw in this situation.
If you make top pair, such as a pair of Eights, or Sixes, with your second card when you have an Ace, you have one of the mice. There are many cards that can fall on the turn and river that will give one of your opponents a higher pair. In addition, if all 3 cards on the flop are lower than a Ten you are often facing straight and/or flush draws.
Another mistake made by low limit players is to treat a pair of Aces, with a bad kicker, as a strong hand. It is one of the mice. You have an Ace and Five of hearts in the blinds and get in the pot cheaply hoping for a flush draw on the flop. Instead, you pair the Ace, and there are no hearts. You have top pair, but the more opponents you have, the more likely it is that someone has an Ace with a higher kicker.
With these hands, if someone bets, fold and save some money. You have 5 outs that will improve your hand, the 3 Aces, and 2 of your pair, or the 3 remaining of your kicker, and the 2 remaining Aces. In order to call a bet in this situation, you need to be getting pot odds of at least 8.5:1. Since you could improve your hand and still lose, you probably want odds of at least 10:1. If there are players to act after you, you need higher odds, to make up for the times that a player to your left raises.
With a pair of Tens or lower, you will usually only have a strong hand after the flop if you hit the third card for your set. Occasionally, the flop will all be lower than your pair, and be un-coordinated. Also, occasionally, you will hit a straight draw with your pair. Most often however, you will hit a card higher than your pair, face some betting, and should fold.
If you do hit your set, you have a very strong hand. You should bet out, or raise if someone else bets. In low limit games, players will often not believe you have a set if you bet, or raise, on the flop. They will expect you to slow play such a strong hand, and not raise until the turn. They will therefore often call all the way with as little as one small pair.
Second or Bottom Pair
These are more mice. In low limit games, someone who bets, normally has at least top pair. If you have 2 different cards in the hole and paired 1 of them, you have 5 outs to improve, 2 more cards of the rank you paired, and 3 of your second card. With a small pair in the hole, you only have 2 outs to improve. Even if you include implied odds, it is unlikely that you will have the odds you need. To make matters worse, you really need better odds to make up for the times you hit 1 of your outs and still lose. You also need higher odds from the pot if there are players still to act after you.
The only time you should call a bet with second or bottom pair is when the pot is big, your second card is higher than any of the cards on board, and you also have a backdoor draw, 3 to a straight or flush.
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