If you’re just starting in poker, two pair is the perfect hand to aim for. It’s not too strong or too weak, and it can often lead to some big wins. Two pair is so versatile for poker hands that many experts consider it a “starter” hand — something new players should try to build on as they learn the game.
Of course, there’s more to poker than simply getting two pairs. But if you’re looking for a solid foundation, playing this hand is a good thing to master.
What is two pair in poker?
Two pair is quite a strong poker hand.
You must have two pairs in a five-card hand. Here are a few examples of a two-pair hand:
A A 8 8 2
Q Q 9 9 7
Two pair is the third-highest-ranking poker hand, beating one pair or high card hands.
Which two pair wins?
Multiple pairs of two-pair hands can go against each other. For example, A A 8 8 7 wins over Q Q 9 9 7 because the pair of aces outranks the pair of queens.
When multiple hands have the same high pairs, the hand with a better low pair wins. For instance, K K J J 8 beats K K 8 8 J because the pair of jacks is higher than the pair of eights.
If two hands have the same two pairs, it comes down to the kicker or the fifth card. For example, J J 7 7 A beats J J 7 7 Q because the ace kicker is higher than the queen kicker.
The odds of forming two pairs
Randomly drawing five cards from a 52-card deck will give you a 4.7539%
There are 858 ways to make two pairs with a standard card deck. When you consider all possible suit combinations, there are 123,552 ways to make two pairs from a 52-card deck.
If you have all five community cards on the table in Texas Hold’em, your chances of making two pairs are 23.5% or 3.26-to-1 odds.
to play a two pair hand
Finally, you got the two pairs you have been waiting for.
You are already smiling and thinking about how you will win this pot. What can you do to win the largest pot possible?
Not all pairs are created equal
Some two pairs are more valuable than others. Three variables determine the true value of two pairs:
- The flop texture.
- How the flop
interacts with your opponent’srange.
- The type of pairs you have.
Let’s start with flop texture and how it interacts with your opponent’s range. Every flop can have a certain number of nutted or near-nutted hands. There are also different hand strength ceilings for each board.
- Some boards have a hand strength ceiling (think K 8 5).
- Other boards offer the possibility of straights (think 9 7 5).
- Ceilings can be raised to flush on monotone boards (8 6 3).
- This ceiling can be either a straight flush (like 9 8 7) or a mighty royal flush (Q J T).
Consider the value of two pairs on each of these boards. Two pairs are fine on K 8 5 but the same hand strength shrinks a bit on 8 6 3 and 9 8 7. This shows how two pairs should be valued differently depending on their texture.
The hand strength ceiling may be different from the nuts. Let’s say you raise in early position, the opponent makes a 3-bet from the middle position, and then you call. If the flop is 7 5 3, then the hand strength ceiling is a set because neither player is likely to have a straight (6-4) in range.
The last thing you need to think about is which pair of cards you have.
Let’s look at some examples of hands to get an idea of how two pairs are best played.
Defending the big blind
After flopping two pairs, the first thing you should do is to analyze the flop and determine the hand strength ceiling.
On boards with high ceilings, you should play your two pairs more passively. You can play your two pairs more aggressively if the ceiling is lower.
Let’s take a look at a few examples.
8 6 on 8 6 3 can be a very strong two pair because your hand strength ceiling is only a hand higher. Your hand blocks 2 of the possible sets and you hold the top two pairs. This means that you should always raise or check-raise with this hand to extract value and build the pot.
T 8 on J T 8 is a weak two pair because the hand strength ceiling is a straight. Your opponent can have one or two straights (Q9 or 97) depending on the pre-flop action. You also have the bottom two pairs.
This means that you should consider calling or check-calling with this hand, especially if your stacks are very deep.
Playing in position as the pre-flop aggressor
In this position, always bet. You don’t want your two pairs to lose value by slow playing.
Is it possible to check back with this hand at a low frequency? Yes.
Does that play win you more money? Probably not.
This is my advice for single- and three-bet pots.
out of position as the pre-flop aggressor
When you play from an early position against a cutoff cold call, you should always check your two pairs. You don’t have the range advantage or nut advantage on many flop textures so you need to protect your ranges with passive play with strong hands, in addition to your weaker ones.
If you are playing from the small blind against the big blind, you should play with your two pairs.
Our best advice is to play passively with two pairs in multiway pots. Even on boards that you consider to be good for betting, you should choose to check.
There are two main reasons why you should prefer passive play when there are more players in a pot.
- A super-strong hand is more common.
- The burden of defense decreases, meaning your opponents are forced to call with a narrower range than a bet because they must account for other players.
So, what do you need to know about a two-pair hand? Well, first and foremost, it’s a very strong hand. In fact, in most cases, it will beat any other hand except for a full house or four of a kind.
That makes it the perfect hand to aim for when you’re just starting in poker. But don’t forget that two pair is only as good as your weakest card.