Playing Middle or Bottom Pair on the Flop

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Playing Middle or Bottom Pair on the Flop


When you make a pair on the flop using one of your two hole cards, and it is not top pair, you have flopped middle or bottom pair. For example, you hold As-4 and the flop is Q 4 2 or Q 7 4. You can play these two different pairs in similar ways and, as such, they will be discussed here as though they are one and the same. And, while it is very common for both beginner and intermediate players to misplay middle or bottom pair, it is actually a fairly easy situation to play correctly since decisions are most often based on simple mathematics.

In every scenario discussed below, we will assume that at least one of your opponents holds a bigger or better pair and that the pot is multi-way.

General Guidelines

The first step is to understand that after the flop you have five outs that will improve your hand, at best. This translates into 8-to-1 against improving on the turn, and you are drawing to two-pair or trips. However, the vast majority of the time you will need better odds than these in order to draw. Compare this draw to a gut-shot straight draw which only has four outs but is a draw to a much stronger hand. Essentially, you need very good pot-odds to play middle or bottom pair on the flop in multi-way pots. This is a result of the following factors:

  1. If an opponent holds a set or two-pair you could be drawing dead, or close to it.
  2. Your opponents can hold hands that counterfeit your cards, such as straight and/or flush cards.
  3. Even if you make a two-pair or trips on the turn, you can still lose on the river to bigger two-pairs, a three-of-a-kind, straights, or flushes.

When to consider drawing/raising:

  1. If your kicker is higher than the highest card on the flop, the flop looks favorable, and the pot odds justify calling.
  2. If the pot is very big, this is to say that it is offering you at least 12-to-1 on your call and looks favorable.
  3. When your call will close the betting, as a raise behind you will change your pot-odds dramatically. This is one reason why late position is advantageous.
  4. When you think your hand is the best or when you believe that the probability of your opponents folding better hands, combined with the probability of you outdrawing them, justifies a raise.

When not to draw/raise:

  1. If the flop is three-suited. This means that either three clubs, hearts, spades, or diamonds have hit the flop (unless you have an ace or a king-high flush draw to go with your pair). On this type of flop, you are practically drawing dead if someone already has a flush. In addition, the likelihood of you losing the pot even if you hit your draw, is much greater.
  2. If the flop is three-connected. This means that the flop comes something like J-T-9, 9-8-7, 8-7-6, etc. You should almost always fold for the same reasons as given in the "three-suited scenario" (see Number One). If the flop is all high-cards and you do not have an open-ended straight-draw. This means that the flop comes something like K-Q-T, A-Q-J, etc. Let us suppose that you are holding AT, and the flop comes Q-J-T in a multi-way pot. What you really have is 4 outs to a likely split if a king hits, and 2 outs to an uncertain win if another ten hits. And, indeed, while that is certainly 6 outs, they are very weak outs.
  3. If the flop is two-suited, you are facing three or more opponents, and the pot is small.

How you should be thinking

The following examples illustrate the lines along which you should be thinking when determining how many outs your middle or bottom pair really has.

In all of the following examples there are three or more opponents in the hand and the flop is Q 8 2.

  1. You hold the A 2. At best, you have 5 outs and a back-door nut-flush draw to go with it.
  2. You hold the As-2. At best, you have 4 outs since the A is counterfeited and you have no chance of making a flush yourself.
  3. You hold the As-8. At best, you have 3 outs since the A and the 8 are counterfeited and you have no chance of making a flush yourself.
  4. You hold the As-8, one opponent holds A Q and another holds a flush draw. At best, you have 2 outs since all aces are counterfeited.
  5. You hold the As-8, one opponent holds A Q, and another holds a flush draw. At best, you have 1 out since all aces and the 8 is counterfeited.

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