Poker Trouble Spots: Second Pair Part 2

Mike McDonald

In part one of this article we looked at the numbers that influence your odds of winning pre- and post-flop when you hold second pair.

If you missed part one, check it out here.

Now we can put those numbers into play to get some general guidelines for how to act, and react, with second pair on the flop.

Before you get into the following material, the idea of pot control and reserving big pots for big hands should be ingrained in your mind. For a refresher on this subject, take a quick read of this article:

Further Dissection of the Numbers

In the last article we took this scenario:


Your Hand:    

... and calculated a 77% chance of another player having been dealt a king preflop. If every player plays every hand they're dealt to the flop, there is only a 23% chance that you have the best pair.

The chances of you having the best hand are even lower after allowing for trips and two-pair scenarios.

Ivan Demidov
Warning: Maths may cause cranial discomfort.

The first thing to understand is that the 23% chance of another player having a king does not translate into you having a 23% chance at winning the pot. The last article explained that your equity in the pot is only 17%.

"How likely is it that another player has a king on the flop?"

This is the most important question of all. We know that there's a 77% chance of another player having been dealt a king preflop, but what are the chances that a player has called the bets to take their king to the flop?

Although every player is different, and a player's opening range will change depending on many factors, we can make a general chart of all the hands with a king, grouped by whether or not they would have been played preflop:

Folded Maybe Played Definitely Played
K-2 off  to K-9 off (96) K-2 suited to K-9 suited (32), K-T off (12) K-T suited (4), K-J - K-A all (64)

Number in parentheses = the total number of permutations in that range.

Total Folded: 96

Total Potentially Played: 44

Total Definitely Played: 68

This very basic chart is not an accurate look at how every specific player feels about all of these hands, but more of a generalization as to how the hands are viewed as a whole, by pros and fish alike.

Luckily, we don't need accurate numbers for this example; approximations will do us just fine. For the sake of making things easy, we'll chop the maybes right down the middle, saying half of them would get played, while the other half would be folded.

Total hands with a king = 208

Total hands played = 90

90/208 = 43%

Phil Ivey
The best math is always getting to count the pot you just won.

If 77% of the time a player was dealt a king, and out of those hands 43% of the time the king was played to the flop, the chances of a player having a king on the flop are somewhere around 33%.

This means, aside from a random two pair or trips, you have the best hand on the flop close to 67% of the time. Naturally, this number will change dramatically depending on the style of players and game (if the game is very loose, your chances go down, and vice versa), but in general, this is a very solid place to start from.

Poker professionals understand how powerful a strong second pair is on a dry board. This is why they can be seen making large bets and calls on TV holding hands such as these.

If you're against a opponent you know to be very tight (meaning they will only play a small number of possible king hands to the flop), you can almost count on having the best hand on the flop 67% of the time.

Thoughts on Play

Even though you have the best hand more often than not, there is simply no other possible hand your opponent could have that you beat, and that they would want to make or call bets with. A second-pair hand should almost always be played for a quick win of a small pot.

Any players willing to invest into a large pot against you simply have to have a better hand, or a very strong draw. On a board as dry as in our example, it doesn't make any sense for them to have a draw, meaning any player willing to play back at you either has you beat or is bluffing.

Although players do bluff, bluffing is far less common than many beginning poker players seem to think, especially at the low-limit games.

Unless you have a read on the player, and know that they're capable of making bluffs against you and prone to do so, you should be willing to fold away your second pair at the sign of significant strength from your opponent.

On a dry board, you typically will have the best hand in play with a high-kicked second pair. You should feel confident using these hands to take down small pots. If however you get called after betting the flop, you generally want to shut down and give up, unless you improve on the turn.

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