Sitting just behind Three-of-a-Kind in the rankings is the Two Pair: this is when your hand contains two separate Pairs of different ranks, for example 10-10-9-9-X or J-J-9-9-X. In the case of two players having Two Pairs, the hand with the highest Pair wins. In the example above, this would be the hand with the Pair of Jacks, as Jacks rank higher than Tens. In most forms of poker this is a relatively easy hand to gain. In Holdem, the most common poker variant, it’s also a hand that gets players into deep water.
Firstly, if holding a Pocket Pair and there is another Pair on the flop – you have to seriously consider the possibility that your opponent may well have hit ‘Three-of-a-Kind’ if he is still betting or worse, a ‘Full House’. Second, and this happens all the time, is someone else having a much stronger Two Pair than you do, largely down to beginners starting a hand with weak cards when the opponent did not.
Going into the start of the game with strong Pairs or premium connected hands like Ace-King helps you avoid getting into that situation later in the hand. On a board where there is the obvious possibility of a Straight or Flush you will have to be very confident of your ‘read’ on your opponent’s hand being weaker to bet Two Pair hard.
Three-Of-A-Kind – Why Does It Beat Two-Pair?
Sometimes you’re lucky enough to have your Pair turned into a Three-of-a-Kind, a ‘Set’ or ‘Trips’ as it’s affectionately known. This is when you have any three cards of the same rank (for example, 7-7 in your hand and a further 7 on the table, with two irrelevant cards), and it’s a relatively strong hand, depending on the competition. Many players, when starting out, assume that because this is a hand where it’s 3x cards supplying the value – versus the 4x cards in Two
Pair – that it ranks lower. It’s statistically harder to make Trips in a hand and it ranks higher than Two Pair as a result.
The most comfortable way to play Trips is when you begin with a Pocket Pair and make your Trips or ‘Set’ on the flop. If there is no evident Straight or Flush, you are going to feel confident betting or calling with this hand strongly. However, the stronger your Set, and the less likely it seems from the community cards that someone has you beaten, or a draw to beat you, the more likely you are to think about betting lightly to gain value from the hand or letting someone bluff and then call or re-raise.
Straight – Does It Have to Be the Same Suit?
A Straight is where you land five cards in sequence (for example, Q-J-10-9-8) but from a mixture of suits. It’s often a very strong hand, but it’s worth less than a Flush. It’s extremely unlikely you will make a Straight on the flop. When you do, to gain maximum value, more advanced techniques like slow playing or inducing become extremely important to maximize the money you earn from what will most likely be the winning hand.
Where the Straight can cause players issue is, as with many hands, dependent on what cards they were holding pre-flop. If the community cards in front of you are 8,9,10 and you are holding Queen + Jack – you are going to be very confident that you won’t be out ‘drawn’ by an opponent. If on the other hand you were playing very loose and made the Straight with 6,7 – players with over cards may well stay in the betting and attempt to make their hand on the turn or river.
If you have a draw to the straight on the flop (1 card missing from the required 5) then your table position, number of opponents in play and their aggression all play in to your decisions. Although a strong hand, the Straight, as with ‘Three-of-a-Kind’ can be difficult to play for maximum effect when you are mastering the basics of the game.
When you make your Straight – always be aware of any Flush draws on the board and try to bet opponents off the hand and take the existing pot if they are coming back to you aggressively. If you have the right starting hand then this is one of the best poker hands to play even with minimal skills.
The Straight is the only hand where the Ace is both the lowest possible card and also the highest within a hand. Ten-Jack-Queen-King-Ace is known as ‘Broadway’ whilst Ace-2-3-4 and 5 is known as “The Wheel.”