One Pair Will Make Or Break You
If you cannot learn how to play one pair in No Limit Hold’em, you will never succeed in the game.
I could literally write an entire book on playing one pair. I have devoted tremendous resources, time, and energy to crafting guides my students could use while playing one pair, and I still haven’t covered everything.
Why is one pair so important?
One pair is important for two reasons:
You will have one pair constantly.
There is no easy way to play one pair.
If you bet the flop with top pair, and your opponent does a pot-sized raise, are you ever happy?
That’s just the beginning of your problems.
Your biggest issue with one pair is how often you’ll have it. The average 20% opening range flops two pair or better 15% of the time. 50% of the time, it will completely miss the board. The other 35% of the time will see you with one pair.
If you flop two pair or better on the flop, it is going to be difficult to make a huge mistake. If you make a large bet or raise with the hand, you’ll almost always be making a profit.
If you fold a high card on the flop or just take a shot with a continuation bet, you’ll usually be fine too.
It’s what you do with the pairs that creates all the problems and profit.
If you find a way to consistently bet for value with one pair and fold when you’re beat, you will be in this game for a long time. If you constantly hero call down incorrectly, then you’re not going to be playing No Limit Hold’em for very long.
Some simple tips for playing one pair:
If you have second or third pair on the flop, you can generally fold to a double barrel. Most guys do not double barrel very effectively. You will get bluffed on occasion, but more importantly, you will avoid the largest losing spot in No Limit Hold’em.
This is why I teach an attacking No Limit Hold’em game. Calling down and praying is extremely difficult to do well. I can’t find a true hero caller who is good at it. Much like the "hot hand" in the NBA or "clutch hitter" in the MLB, the myth doesn’t seem to stand up to analytics-based scrutiny.
Betting pairs for value is much easier. Many of your opponents do not have a flop, turn, or river bluff raise in their game. If you bet one pair versus them and they raise, you can muck the hand. They generally have two pair or a huge draw when they do this.
This fold will be extremely exploitable if your opponent knows you do it, but most guys in your local cardroom or in normal online poker are just playing their hands.
You can find out who is capable of bluff raising because usually that player raises constantly.
If you know you can take over a table with bluffing, you usually do a ton of it. You’ll see the perpetual bluffer raising on flops and threebetting preflop.
If the guys at your table aren’t even threebetting that much or raising on the flop, nine times out of ten you’re playing against opponents who will let you dictate tempo.
Versus them, raise big enough preflop to get everyone to fold. They’ll usually let you get the raise through one time or two, then one guy will decide to "slow you down" by calling.
If you’re in position, bet flop and turn, giving yourself the option to check river or bet for more value. This will keep your range wide and his range capped, and will allow you to maximize your earnings.
If he’s in position, and you flop a pair, you need to make a decision on the flop.
Are you betting three streets?
Are you check/folding to a second barrel?
Until you have statistics or live tells these are really your two best options.
If you bet two streets with one pair, then check river, you are effectively telling your opponent, "I have one pair or a missed draw. Please play accordingly." Unsurprisingly, most guys do pretty damn well when they know their opponent’s hand.
If you don’t like how big the pot will be on the river after a triple barrel, try playing with the bet sizes. Don’t get worried till they raise you. Bet 35% on each street. Until they raise you period, don’t believe they’ll raise you as a bluff.
If you decide to check and call, be extremely wary versus the second bet. If they bet the flop, check turn, and bet river that is a good pot-controlled pair most of the time.
If they bet the flop and turn, you need to know that many guys will not do that as a bluff. The guys who do bluff turns tend to bet small on the flop to set up the turn bet. If they don’t do that, they’re usually not bluff betting as much as you’d like them to.
I hope these tips have been helpful to you and your game. Good luck to all of you.