Board pair "rescues" low-kicker hand

I’ve seen this fairly often, although it is definitely an uncommon occurrence.

I’ll hit top pair on the flop with a good kicker. Say Q9, pairing the Q. Someone else hits the Q as well, but with a junk rag kicker, say Q3. On the way to the river, the board pairs, now we have two pair. And say now an Ace comes, so now we have two pair Queens and something, Ace kicker, and chop the pot.

It happens sometimes that the board gives both players a better kicker than the one in either player’s hands.

Statistically speaking, the board should pair a little less than half of the time by the river.Having noticed this, I’ve started thinking about holding onto weak top pair hands, and see if the board pairs with a high enough kicker to improve the one in my hand and guarantee at least a split.

It has happened on accident a few times and saved me, and it’s happened to me a few times where I had someone beat and they ended up sucking out to a chop. Of course, I’ve also seen plenty of hands where the weaker player’s hand pairs their bottom card, while the player with the better kicker doesn’t pair, and either their’s no board pair for both players, or the weaker kicker-turned-pair is stronger than the board pair.

What’s the conventional wisdom about this? I don’t read much at all about this type of situation. It is a somewhat uncommon situation, but it does happen enough that I’ve noticed it. Having noticed it, I’d like to see some good analysis of how these hands play, and get a better understanding of the odds.

It is pretty common. There is an awful lot about the odds of various situations that is hardly ever discussed. I have recently been (re)reading Sklansky’s No Limit Hold’em for Advance Players, and most of it seems pretty elementary to me.

Part of this is because the text is written for ring-game players, so just addresses what hands will likely put you ahead by probability, (which you should be able to work out on your own in your head) and if you lose a hand, there is always another hand coming up.

In tournament poker, especially with the rapidly escalating blind structure here on RP, every hand can be your last. You take a huge risk on a hand, have the lead, then the pot is chopped. You take a huge risk on a hand, have the lead, and get called by a hand with an underkicker and get turned or rivered. Happens all the time.

Although I have won a high value tournament within the last week, in my last four tournaments I have gone out early when opponents hit 1 in 17 odds to pair their second card. I noticed that in the last one, where I had AK, put in a very large raise preflop, had one caller with KT, hit a K on the flop, shoved, and was called and beaten by KT the winner of that hand went on to win the tournament.

Often winning a tournament is just a matter of getting lucky in a few key hands. But this is poker. Even the best players in the world often do not make the final table in the main event at the World Series of Poker, or even get close, because bad things happen to good players all the time.

Having said all that, it does not seem to me like a good idea to call a pot-sized bet in a tournament when you make top pair with Q3 unless you are the giant stack and the bettor is a microstack,or you have some reason to believe that the bet is a bluff.

Incidentally, Q9 is a pretty marginal hand. I might play it from late position if suited on the basis of hitting a good draw, or a flush/straight/pair combo, or from small blind if unsuited, but if you make a habit of limping Q9, sooner or later you will find yourself all-in against KQ, QJ, or QT, and the odds will not be in your favor.

It would be interesting to know if there is a computer program like the chess programs that can take on the best players and win tournaments with optimal plays and how successful they would be.

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I encourage you to get Equilab (it’s free) and play with it to evaluate this sort of question.

Let’s say you have Q3 on a board of Q84 and you somehow know that villain has exactly Q9.


Q3 is going to win 10% of the time, with a chop 5.5% of the time. If villain is betting small then sure, go ahead and call. Otherwise, you’re going to be losing chips with this play.

If the board is instead QT4 then the picture is a bit better for Q3:


Now Q9 is still winning 10% of the time, but the chop is more likely at 13% of the time. Still, the Q3 is way behind - Q9 is going to win about 77% of the time.

Obviously the situation is worse if villain can also have hands like AQ or KQ in their range.

Generally top pair no kicker is not a hand that you want to put a lot of chips in the pot with unless you know villain to be a manic bluffer.


Here’s an example of the play. I’m ATs, opponent A7, we chop a pot with a pair of 4s on the board. I had him outkicked, but couldn’t knock him out.