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Don't fold, just ask - FL: Playing with mid pair

» Don't fold, just ask

There are moments in the life of every poker player in which the substantiated advice of a professional is extremely valuable. Going by the motto "together instead of alone" you can now get this well-grounded advice from our professional content team. This includes our content-chef, Onkel Hotte (Fixed Limit), Sammy (No limit, SNG), Wishmaster (Fixed Limit, Real-Life-Poker). Whether you are unsure about a hand, have questions about poker theory or any other matters - ask!


Question of kappe69

Fixed Limit

How do I play my mid pair (especially on the flop)?

- with/without initiative
- against 1-2 opponents
- in a family pot
- on a draw heavy board
- etc. etc.

It is not a very concrete question, but this is something I always struggle with.

Answer from OnkelHotte

While you could always assume to be ahead on the flop with top pair, answering the question of whether you are ahead with a mid pair is much more difficult. Even though you don't have the best hand you have to consider how valuable your outs for a two pair are and whether you have implied odds if you hit one of your outs. I will only deal with playing without initiative because I would generally suggest to bet any flop if you have the initiative.

Dr. rer. nat. Tobias Georgi, commonly known as Onkel Hotte coordinates the work of the education department of PokerStrategy. Many players also know him because he is a retired but yet very successful and passionate fixed-limit-player and also engages in the theoretical seminars of PokerStrategy.

You would have to ask yourself the common question if you don't have the initiative:

  • 1) Am I the favourite with my mid pair on average? If yes, can I play for value? If you are unsure about this: Would I have to protect my hand if I could? Is my hand very vulnerable?
  • 2) If I am not the favourite, will I be ahead enough of the time in order to see a showdown?
  • 3) If not, can I continue playing with odds and outs? Do I have implied odds if I hit my two pair or trips?

For question one it is important to note that you cannot play for value straight away if you are the favourite because you would often loose more against better hands than you would win against worse hands. The answers for questions two and three decide whether you could fold or not. The question of whether you could make a better hand fold is not very important now. Better hands would be a better mid pair and top pair, which would basically never fold.

Even though I can't go through every situation, I want to analyse a couple of sample hands using the points mentioned above.

Example 1

Preflop: Hero is Big Blind with 8 7
CO calls, BU raises, SB cold calls, Hero calls

Flop: 9 8 2 (8 SB)
SB checks, Hero ???

You are in the BB with 87o. You have an easy call because you are getting 7:1 even though the button raised. You hit mid pair on the flop with a bad kicker. What is your line on the flop?

Lets figure out whether you are the favourite on this board first. This is very difficult in this situation because determining the ranges from the cold callers is very hard. The first thing we could prove though is whether you would be ahead against the raising range of the button.

We assume the button has an isolation raise range of 20%, which could look like the following: 55+, A3s+, K8s+, QTs+, JTs, A7o+, KTo+, QJo

We have 62% equity against this range on the flop, clearly enabling us to play c/r for value. However there are two more opponents in the hand. At first, I am going to assign them random hands to see what we get. We have 33.5% equity against 2 random hands while the button has 27%. Lets tighten up the range a little and assign some typical limping ranges or "cold calling in multiway pots" ranges to our opponents, which most fishy players could have in such situations.

It could look like the following:

Board: 9s 8d 2c

Equity Won Draw Lost Hand
Player 1: 23,407% 22,297% 2,271% 75,432% A6s-A2s, K9s-K2s, QTs-Q2s, J4s+, T6s+, 96s+, 86s+, 76s, 65s, 54s, A8o-A2o, KTo-K7o, Q7o+, J7o+, T7o+, 97o+
Player 2: 26,115% 25,600% 1,059% 73,341% 55+, A3s+, K8s+, QTs+, JTs, A7o+, KTo+, QJo
Player 3: 23,408% 22,300% 2,269% 75,431% A6s-A2s, K9s-K2s, QTs-Q2s, J4s+, T6s+, 96s+, 86s+, 76s, 65s, 54s, A8o-A2o, KTo-K7o, Q7o+, J7o+, T7o+, 97o+
Hero : 27,070% 25,926% 2,339% 71,734% 8h7d

Under these circumstances you would be a slight favourite. It is hard to make it any more accurate and you could already be behind if your opponents had tighter ranges.

This analysis shows me that there is a good chance that we have the best hand, but also that I don't want to invest too much money into the hand in case I don't have the best hand. I want to protect my hand, but not for any amount of money, because I also want to have an exit strategy. As I think I might be the potential favourite, I am going to ignore questions two and three.

I wouldn't consider a donk bet on the flop because I want to see what the other are going to do first before I invest money into the hand. Furthermore, the aggressor is not sitting directly behind me so that I don't have an optimal position to protect my hand with a donk bet. You can find more about the topic of protection here: Protection

Therefore: Hero checks

From this point onwards, the following situations could occur:

  • a) SB checks, Hero checks, CO checks, Button bets, SB folds, Hero raises!!!

The perfect situation to protect our hand. We can confront the button with 2 SB and consider ourselves to be the favourite after the SB folded.

Board: 9s 8d 2c

Equity Won Draw Lost Hand
Player 1: 28,818% 27,864% 1,921% 70,216% A6s-A2s, K9s-K2s, QTs-Q2s, J4s+, T6s+, 96s+, 86s+, 76s, 65s, 54s, A8o-A2o, KTo-K7o, Q7o+, J7o+, T7o+, 97o+
Player 2: 31,067% 30,680% 0,785% 68,535% 55+, A3s+, K8s+, QTs+, JTs, A7o+, KTo+, QJo
Player 3: 40,115% 39,249% 1,744% 59,007% 8h7d

  • b) SB checks, Hero checks, CO checks, Button bets, SB calls, Hero raises…

Even after the SB called I think we have a good chance to be ahead. I consider myself to be the favourite again because CO only checked (even though this doesn't mean much) and because the SB only called. Confronting the CO with 2 SB is the best option here.

  • c) SB checks, Hero checks, CO bets, Button calls, SB folds, Hero calls…

A donk bet from the CO is much more dangerous than a continuation bet from the button. The CO bets into three players including the preflop aggressor. This usually means that he has a good hand. However the call from the button tells us that we are very likely to be ahead against him because he would probably raise good hands on the flop. Nevertheless I don't think there is any value in check raising because I consider myself to be an underdog here and don't want to be faced with a 3 bet. We don't have any implied odds because a 7 on the turn wouldn't be a good card, but 10:1 are very good odds for 5 potential outs and the chance to still be ahead. We therefore have an easy call.

  • d) SB checks, Hero checks, CO bets, Button raises, SB folds, Hero folds
  • e) SB checks, Hero checks, CO checks, Button bets, SB raises, Hero folds

By looking at these two examples, the advantages of checking should become clear. We can easily find a fold without investing any more money. Furthermore we basically never fold the best hand. In example d) there is a donk bet plus a raise from the button. CO would have to be bluffing and the button would have to raise with over cards in order for us to be ahead.

5.5 to 1 and the chance of being ahead, can't compensate for the lack of pot odds in order to reach 8:1, which you would need for calling with 5 outs. The same applies to e and any situation where the button makes his continuation bet and the SB check raises.

In this situation we can gain a lot of information by checking at first to see what the others are up to. This information advantage is greater than the risk of giving away free cards with the best hand.

Example 2:

Preflop: Hero is Big Blind with Q T
MP3 raises, CO cold calls, Hero calls

Flop: J T 8 (6,5SB)

This time we defend the big blind against an MP3 raise and a CO cold caller. Both opponents are completely unknown. Again, we hit mid pair on the flop, but this time we got a gutshot as well. We are not sure where we are at in the hand yet. The only thing that is certain that we should see the river because the combination of a gutshot plus potentially the best hand simply commit to it.

The next step would be to see where I am at against the preflop raiser if he had a standard raising range. We have 54% equity against a range like this: 44+, A7s+, KTs+, QJs, JTs, T9s, A9o+, KJo+, QJo. That would be enough in order to play for value. However I think there are two problems.

Firstly, our edge is very low and we would be playing OOP. Someone could raise us on the turn. Furthermore we are only on a draw ourselves. The equity edge is often determined including your outs so that you can't clearly play a value line with a c/r bet turn bet river.

Secondly, a free card wouldn't be as bad as you'd think. We only have a gutshot ourselves. A queen could cause us a lot of trouble, but we would be winning against hands like KQ and AQ. AK would cause us a lot of trouble as well though. However KQ and AQ have the same amount of possibilities (AK = 16 combinations, KQ = 8 combinations, AQ = 8 combinations if a Q hits on the turn).


For question 1) Even though we seem to be a slight favourite, I don't think you can play for value that is profitable here. The problem is that we would pay more against better hands than we would get from weaker hands.

Questions two and three are not necessary anymore because we know that we have to see the river.

Therefore it is best to play check/call on the flop. I would continue playing the hand like this on the turn and river as well. If I have no clue against what type of opponent I am up against, I would always play check/call on any street. If I do hit one of my outs I would definitely donk because any out that we hit would make the board look dangerous.

Example 3a

Preflop: Hero is Button with 8 7
Hero raises, SB 3-Bets, BB calls, Hero calls

Flop: 9 8 2 (12SB)
SB bets, BB folds, Hero ???
SB bets, BB calls, Hero???

In this example I wouldn't need any special reads to determine my line either. At first I ask myself: How do we perform against the preflop aggressor? With a range of 33+, A2s+, KTs, QTs, JTs, T9s, A5o+, KTo+ we have 65% equity.

The BB is relatively unimportant because he could have a very wide range. No matter what his range is we will still be the favourite in this hand. In case of doubt we could also bet the river for value because BB will often have a small pocket pair and the SB could call down with ace high. We can therefore play for value and raise the flop, bet the turn and bet a good river as well.

Example 3b

Preflop: Hero is Button with 8 7
Hero raises, SB calls, BB 3-Bets, Hero calls, SB calls

Flop: Q 8 2 (12SB)
SB checks, BB bets, Hero???

Different board, different situation. This time the BB 3-bet instead of the SB, who could have just called for 5:1. We have 60% equity against the 3-bet range mentioned above.

You should always be cautious if there is a 3-bet from the BB because their ranges are usually much tighter. We only have 43% equity against this range 88+, A9s+, KQs, ATo+, KQo. I don't think I am the favourite in the hand, but I think there is enough so that we have to see the showdown.

In this case, I don't want to put any money into the pot as the underdog but play passively to see a showdown cheaply. I would value a cheap showdown more than forcing the SB out of the hand. I would only make use of this option if I thought I could get the SB to fold a better hand. It would be an option if we were holding 33. In this case, the SB could fold hands like 44-77 that fit well into his calling range. We would win a lot by making him fold a better hand to buy up the best hand.

Therefore my line would be: Hero calls with intentions to see the showdown and continues to play the hand passively as long as no outs hit the board.

Example 3c

Preflop: Hero is Button with 8 7
Hero raises Button, SB 3-bets, BB caps, Hero calls, SB calls

Flop: 9 8 2 (12SB)
SB bets, BB raises, Hero ???

This time we are in a family and action pot on the flop. The button capped preflop. We have an easy call with 5:1 with a hand like 87s. The flop comes and doesn't look too bad. If we were to take the preflop ranges only, we could get the following results:

Board: 9s 8d 2d

Equity Won Draw Lost Hand
Player 1: 41,143% 41,013% 0,259% 58,728% 8s7s
Player 2: 22,342% 21,914% 0,856% 77,230% 33+, A2s+, KTs+, QTs+, JTs, T9s, A5o+, KTo+
Player 3: 36,515% 36,213% 0,604% 63,183% 88+, ATs+, AJo+

In fact we are the favourite on the flop. However, there was more action. the SB donks into the preflop capper and even raises him. It is very unlikely that none of these players have a 9 or an over pair.

I would basically always put the SB on a hand that beats us. The BB could raise AK as a matter of principle but some opponents would only call here too so that the raise doesn't necessarily imply that the BB has an over pair, but it increases the likelihood that the BB has a better hand. It could look like the following:

Board: 9s 8d 2d

Equity Won Draw Lost Hand
Player 1: 30,768% 30,639% 0,257% 69,103% 8s7s
Player 2: 35,050% 34,729% 0,643% 64,629% 33+, A9s-A8s, A9o-A8o
Player 3: 34,182% 33,988% 0,388% 65,624% 88+, ATs+, AJo+

Even if we were to use the whole preflop range of the BB for his raise, we would still be an underdog. If we assume that the SB wouldn't donk any small pocket pairs and that the BB would only raise AK as the only unpaired hand, the situation would become worse very drastically:

Board: 9s 8d 2d

Equity Won Draw Lost Hand
Player 1: 20,742% 20,679% 0,126% 79,195% 8s7s
Player 2: 40,557% 40,057% 1,001% 58,942% 88+, A9s-A8s, A9o-A8o
Player 3: 38,701% 38,263% 0,875% 60,861% 88+, AKs, AKo,AdQd,AdJd

We are now the definite underdog and we should stop thinking that we are ahead in this situation. Instead we should think about question three. Can I continue playing with odds and outs? The pot odds are 15 to two. We have 5 potential outs for our two pair, 1.5 outs for our back door flush draw and roughly 0.75 for the lower end of the back door straight draw.

The good thing about the hand is that our outs don't have to be discounted a lot. As we are assuming to be up against 2 over pairs a set is very unlikely because we are holding and 8 and 99 would only be bad luck. We therefore have 1.5 outs for our back door flush.

Furthermore we basically always have the best hand with a two pair on the turn. You could prove this by using a blank on the river. If a 7 hits on the turn and a 3 hits on the river, the following situation would result:

Board: 9s 8d 7c 3s 2d

Equity Won Draw Lost Hand
Player 1: 84,478% 84,478% 0,000% 15,522% 8s7s
Player 2: 8,270% 8,270% 0,000% 91,730% 88+, A9s-A8s, A9o-A8o
Player 3: 7,252% 7,252% 0,000% 92,748% 88+, AKs, AKo,AdQd,AdJd

You can tell from these numbers that a 7 would basically always make our hand the winning hand on the turn. We would have 61% even without the blank on the river.

Board: 9s 8d 7c 2h

Equity Won Draw Lost Hand
Player 1: 60,681% 60,681% 0,000% 39,319% 8s7s
Player 2: 21,921% 21,788% 0,267% 77,945% 88+, A9s-A8s, A9o-A8o
Player 3: 17,398% 17,264% 0,267% 82,469% 88+, AKs, AKo,AdQd,AdJd

We would have 75% if another 8 hits the board.

Board: 9s 8c 8d 2h

Equity Won Draw Lost Hand
Player 1: 75,322% 74,767% 1,108% 24,124% 8s7s
Player 2: 16,762% 16,208% 1,108% 82,683% 88+, A9s-A8s, A9o-A8o
Player 3: 7,916% 7,916% 0,000% 92,084% 88+, AKs, AKo,AdQd,AdJd

We now know that we would have implied odds if we do hit. I would assume 2 BB.

As we are in a good position if we do hit one of our outs, you could abstain from discounting your outs but not include the implied odds any more. With pot odds of 7.5 to 1 we could definitely continue playing the hand.

The only problem is the danger of a 3-bet or a cap. Assuming that we know that someone will cap the flop, we would have pot odds of 20 to 4 = 5:1. This would then be a tough fold even though we have 7.25 outs because as we said, the implied odds are already included by abstaining from discounting our outs. In real life, not every flop is capped though so that we could continue playing the hand.

The final question is now whether we should 3-bet or cold call. Personally I don't think much of a 3-bet because we will be behind most of the time and only make it very expensive for us as we are still the underdog. As mentioned, if we knew that the flop would be capped, we should fold our hand. We should therefore not provoke this. A free card would be the only reason to do this. As things are going in this hand I would prefer to see the next streets cheaply. See the turn for 2 SB and hopefully see the river for one BB. I will not play the hand for any price. If both players call until the river, I wouldn't make an over call and lay down my hand if I am unimproved.

My line on the flop would therefore be: Hero cold calls!! With the intention to see the river without the definite intention to see the show down.

Looks strange at first, but since you could play draws and monsters like this, the hand would balance your lines a little as well. This would change if we were to assume very loose 3-betting and capping ranges of our opponents. You shouldn't fold your hand for one more BB on the river in this case.

Conclusion: There is no standard way for playing mid pairs. Using the questions and examples I hope I have shown you how you could analyse these spots in order to reach a decision. Even though this article only deals with mid pairs, you could expand your analysis for any situation you want. I hope I could help you with my explanation.

Kind regards



Comments (4)

#1 bkkconnexxion, 21 Oct 09 23:45

nice i knew that

#2 Rap1d007, 06 Mar 10 10:56

wow so complex :-)

#3 helmyouth, 08 Aug 12 04:23

way overthinking. do u have equity? continue if not fold. don't forget your implied odds. and did that last hand say calling a preflop cap with 87s is + EV???

#4 Ritakurnia, 14 Mar 14 09:41

way overthinking. do u have equity? continue if not fold. don't forget your implied odds. and did that last hand say calling a preflop cap with 87s is + EV???