Two Pair Plus?

poker hand rankings

Here’s an interesting poker hand from last night.  It’s a run of the mill private house game, with blinds of $1 and $2.

There was a $5 live button straddle, and I was one seat to the right of the button.  One or two players limp in, and the player on my right also limps.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Chad.”

I look down at Ace-Nine off-suit.  A9o isn’t super strong, but it seems too good to fold.  Therefore, I should attack!  I raise to $25, hoping to get the button straddler to fold so I’ll be last to act for the remainder of the hand.  If the limpers also fold, that’s a fine outcome.  If one of them calls, I’ll have them isolated and out-of-position.

Only Chad calls.  He’s a good, thinking player, whose style isn’t near any of the extremes of the loose-tight or passive-aggressive scales.  He is not prone to lots of fancy plays or huge bluffs.

Flop (pot = $60):  AJ2 rainbow.  My pair of aces should be ahead here.

Chad says something, like “let’s see if you got any of that” and bets $25.

Many experts default to a belief that leading into the pre-flop aggressor indicates weakness, a notion that is encouraged by Chad’s remark before betting.  Under that theory, Chad is either (A) firing a one-and-done type of bluff, hoping I don’t have an ace and might fold pocket pairs as strong as KK, or hoping I have an unpaired hand without an ace (which I’m less likely to have now that an ace appeared on this flop), or (B) leading with a weaker ace (AT is possible as the top of his Ax hands that limp/call pre-flop, where the rest of his pre-flop range can be ignored).  Even if he has AT, I can easily represent AK/AQ, and he cannot as his pre-flop range is capped.  I’m ahead if Chad has A8 A7, A6, A5, A4, or A3.

So I attack again, raising to $60.  I want to retain the betting lead, and am ambivalent as to whether he calls or folds.

Well, Chad doesn’t fold, and he doesn’t call either.  He re-raises all-in!  

Uh… time for a new analysis.  More critically, it’s time for a quick pivot in my own emotional state, from “I’m about to win some chips” to “I have to let this go.”  The emotional shift – for me, at least – is far more difficult than the analysis.

The analysis is simple:  Would Chad ever ship his entire stack with the action so far in this hand with anything weaker than 2-pair?  (No!)  If he has 2-pair or better (2P+), it doesn’t matter which exact hand he has; I have one pair, and 2P+ destroys me.

For shits and giggles, let’s quickly explore the 2P+ options:

  • Straights, flushes or full houses — none of these are possible on this flop.
  • Top or middle set — requires Chad to have AA or JJ — nope, because he would have raised pre-flop with either of these hands
  • Bottom set — requires him to have 22 — highly possible, with six combinations
  • Top two pair — requires Chad to have AJ — also possible, although AJ is a transition hand in many players’ ranges.  Some will raise, others limp.  There is a tendency to expand the stronger end of limping ranges when facing a straddle, so we cannot assume he always raises with AJ.  I would raise from his position in the hijack seat (just as I raised with A9 in the cutoff seat), but I’m not analyzing my range.  Maybe Chad raises AJs but limps AJo.  If so, there are five combos after removal of known cards and AJs combos, and one or two additional AJs combos.
  • Top / bottom pair — requires him to have A2 — also possible if they are suited, which really only leaves one or two combos (two combos if my ace was the same suit as the deuce on the board, or one suited combo if my ace, and the ace and deuce on the board are all different suits)
  • Bottom two pair — requires Chad to have J2 — nope, Chad would simply fold pre-flop.

There you have it, as in They Always Have It.  Because of the strength of my range, the texture of this flop, and my history of playing with Chad, I can conclude that almost certainly has 2P+, and further reduce his hand to one of 12-15 specific 2-card combinations.

As I’m folding, I tell Chad that he must have either AJ, A2 or 22.  Since we’re friends, he agrees to tell me later.

He leaves the game before I do, and a few minutes later I get the confirmatory text:  It was AJ♠.  I’ll be sure to point out to him that it’s me who enjoys a reputation as the tightest player around, yet it was him who couldn’t find a raise with the stronger pre-flop holding.  The irony of this fact doesn’t reduce the sting of giving him a decent chunk of my stack.

Analytically, this was easy.  Emotionally, it should be easy, but don’t we all have experiences where we spazz out after new information conflicts with our expectation of winning.  Thankfully, not this time.

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