Playing One Pair in No Limit Hold'em

For many journeymen players, one pair is probably the critical hand which determines if you are a winning or losing NLHE player. Of course you have to be able to play good all around poker and have a good style. If you're competent and experienced, you can probably play no pair hands well enough, and play any two pair or better hand pretty well. One pair hands are the really tricky ones.

It's crucial to win the big pots that the cards let you win when you have one pair. AA and KK should be your most profitable hole cards. On the other hand, it's crucial to be able to fold one pair when it's beat. You don't want to give away your stack against people who outflop you. There are some players who make their living trying to outflop one pair, and they want your whole stack when you have AA and they hit two pair - don't give it to them!

So, I'm going to try to go through some guidelines to help make this decision. I'm assuming you have a hand like Top-Pair Top-Kicker (TPTK) or a good overpair, something like QQ-AA where the board is all below your hole. If you have something worse, like TP2K (Top pair 2nd kicker), then you can follow the same thinking, but you have to be aware that your hand is that much weaker because there's another hand that he can have that beats you.

I'm mainly going to be looking at evaluating your hand on the flop, because that's usually the crucial street for a one pair hand. I'm also not going to talk about obvious cases where a draw hits on later streets and it's clear your hand is no longer good. Basically I'm assuming you're a good poker player and will make the right plays in obvious situations, we're just looking at the marginal cases.

First I'll go through a rough check-list to make a decision about your one pair hand. In each case if the rule applies then you break out of the check list, so the later questions assume that none of the previous ones applied. Also here when I say "go with your hand", it means keep betting unless the later streets or their actions change the situation. When I say "get away from your hand" that doesn't mean check/fold, you probably should still bet the flop, but fold to a raise, and check the turn if called, etc. etc.

Of course you have to be aware of general poker principles - if they're passive and betting, give them more credit than if they're aggressive. Similarly, if you have an aggro/donk/bluffer image then you have to be more willing to stick with your hand. If you have a very tight image, then your one pair hand is actually less likely to be good and you have to be more willing to fold it.

Now I'll go through some specific hands to illustrate when you should go with your one pair and when you should be careful.

Hand 1 :

Party Poker $100 NL Hold'em, $1 BB (5 handed)
Hero ($245.69)
BB ($158.16)
UTG ($19.55)
MP ($155.14)
Button ($100.77)

Preflop: Hero is SB with Ah, Js. Hero posts a blind of $0.50.
1 fold, MP calls $1, Button calls $1, Hero (poster) completes, BB checks.

Flop: ($4) Jd, Tc, 6d (4 players)
Hero bets $3.8, BB calls $3.80, MP calls $3.80, Button folds.

Turn: ($15.40) 3h (3 players)
Hero ???

We have TPTK. They might have JT or a set which beats us. We did get called in two places, which is a bit scary. However, this board has so many draws that we just have to keep betting. It's far too likely they have QJ or KJ or a draw and we're ahead, we can't give up yet.

Hand 2 :

Party Poker $100 NL Hold'em, $1 BB (6 handed)
BB ($46)
UTG ($40.75)
MP ($92.85)
CO ($392.93)
Button ($107.78)
Hero ($179.89)

Preflop: Hero is SB with Kc, Ad. Hero posts a blind of $0.50.
UTG calls $1, MP calls $1, CO calls $1, Button calls $1, Hero (poster) completes, BB checks.

Flop: ($6) Ac, 6h, 6d (6 players)
Hero bets $5.7, BB calls $5.70, UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Button calls $5.70.

Turn: ($23.10) 9c (3 players)
Hero ???

First of all hero should've raised preflop. AKo mainly makes one pair hands, and one pair needs to play heads up, not multiway. On the turn, we need to be ready to drop this hand. We might go ahead and still bet the turn, or just check, but either way we fold if anyone shows strength. We led out from the SB on an A66 board. They must put us on an ace or a six, and yet they still called on a board with no draws. That means at least one of them probably has a 6. There are a lot of 6x hands, and BB can have any of them.

Hand 3 :

Party Poker $100 NL Hold'em, $1 BB (6 handed)
UTG ($29.09)
MP ($25.75)
CO ($66.62)
Button ($282.79)
Hero ($99)
BB ($108.14)

Preflop: Hero is SB with Qd, Qc. Hero posts a blind of $0.50.
UTG calls $1, 1 fold, CO raises to $4, Button calls $4, Hero (poster) raises to $17.5, 1 fold, UTG folds, CO calls $14, Button calls $14.

Flop: ($56) 3c, 6c, Jd (3 players)
Hero ???

Hero put in a nice big raise preflop, which is great, it makes it wrong for anyone to call and try to crack our overpair. If they did call with a worse hand and got lucky, that's fine, we can pay them off and still be +EV for the strategy. In this case the pot size rule applies - the pot is now very big compared to our stack, and particularly compared to CO's stack, so we just have to go with this hand. If we had 1000 BB's we'd have to be more careful and worry about AA or KK or a set (particularly JJ). This is not a situation where we can try to feel if we're beat and fold to a set.

Hand 4 :

Party Poker $100 NL Hold'em, $1 BB (6 handed)
UTG ($102.67)
Hero ($98.35)
CO ($16)
Button ($28.71)
SB ($197)
BB ($142.32)

Preflop: Hero is MP with As, Ah. SB posts a blind of $0.50.
UTG calls $1, Hero raises to $5, 4 folds, UTG calls $4.

Flop: ($11.50) Jc, 7d, Th (2 players)
UTG bets $3, Hero raises to $13, UTG calls $10.

Turn: ($37.50) Qc (2 players)
UTG bets $30, Hero ????

The board here is full of coordinated broadway. AK made a straight and there are lots of two pairs. We raised big preflop and raised on the flop and have shown a lot of strength, and UTG is still leading into us hard. We're probably beat.

Hand 5 :

Party Poker $100 NL Hold'em, $1 BB (6 handed)
MP ($42.85)
CO ($117.25)
Button ($90)
SB ($297.84)
Hero ($98.50)
UTG ($113.97)

Preflop: Hero is BB with Ks, Kd. SB posts a blind of $0.50.
1 fold, CO raises to $2, Button calls $2, 1 fold, Hero raises to $9, 1 fold, Button calls $8.

Flop: ($22.50) Th, 5c, 3h (3 players)
Hero bets $20, Button calls $20.

Turn: ($62.50) 3c (3 players)
Hero ???

In this hand we know that Button is a tight solid player. He must have a set after he calls our flop bet. I'm done with the hand, check/folding unless he bets tiny. The flush draw on the flop is of some concern, but his preflop action, calling a min raise and then calling our big raise will be a pocket pair 90% of the time.

Charles Blooom [cb][at][cbloom][dot][com]
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