by Barbara Connors
Suppose you call to see a flop with suited connectors, let’s say 8-9 of clubs. Of course something like 7c-10c-Jc would be your dream flop, though any kind of made straight or flush would be welcome. But suited connectors are generally looking to flop a draw — four to a flush, an open-ended straight draw, or the everpopular double-belly-buster. Failing that, hitting top pair on a ragged flop would be decent, or hitting trips on a flop like Q-8-8 would be even better. But on this particular occasion the flop comes down Q-9-8 giving you two pair. Bottom two pair.
Bottom two is a funny hand. At first blush, it seems like a strong holding. And maybe it is. But that strength goes handin- hand with incredible vulnerability—made all the worse because two pair is difficult to get away from. This hand can win you a big pot, or it can make your entire stack disappear faster than you can say “counterfeited.” In his classic book, Super/System, Doyle Brunson said he’s gone broke more often with bottom two pair than with any other hand. But assuming that you aren’t facing off against too many opponents, you’re likely to be ahead on the flop. Conventional wisdom says to play bottom two pair fast on the flop, much as you would play top pair with a good kicker. One of the biggest mistakes players make with bottom two pair is to slowplay it on the flop, thinking this hand is some kind of a powerhouse. It’s not. You can’t afford to give lesser hands a free or cheap card to suck out.
Of course in poker nothing is ever simple. One of the inescapable facts about flopping two pair with connecting cards is that it puts a straight draw out there, so you’re almost never dealing with a dry board. In the above example, anyone with J-10 already has a made straight. That’s just one way your bottom two pair could be behind right from the get-go. Any opponent who holds Q-9, Q-8, or pocket queens, nines, or eights has you drawing virtually dead.
But for the moment let’s say you’re up against one opponent with K-Q. Moreover, this particular opponent is very aggressive and he tends to overplay top pair. Really this is about as good a situation as you can hope for with bottom two pair. But even here, you must be careful. On the face of it, this opponent has only five outs to beat you — the two remaining queens and the three remaining kings. But any turn card that isn’t a nine or an eight will give him three more outs to make a bigger two pair.
For that matter, runner-runner J-10 will give your adversary a king-high straight — yes it’s unlikely and you shouldn’t see monsters under the bed — but you should be aware of all the ways your bottom two pair can lose because it is such a tricky hand. And this is assuming there’s no flush draw on the board that can hurt you (since you called with suited connectors and hit two pair, by definition you can’t flop anything better than a backdoor flush draw). So make opponents pay for the chance to draw out on you and be ready to hit the “eject” button when the signs point to your hand being second-best.
If the board appears dangerous and/or you’re up against multiple opponents, one alternative is to wait until fourth street and if the turn card is a blank, then start firing out your big bets. All things being equal, you’ll have more fold equity on the turn. Of course much depends on the situational factors: your position, the size of the pot, the stakes, the depth of the stacks, your table image, and most of all your read on your opponent. Know thy enemy. Words to live by at the poker table — especially when you’re looking at risking your entire stack on bottom two pair.
Barbara Connors is a sucker for classic old movies, science fiction, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Her life’s ambition is to figure out the unusual behavior patterns of that unique breed of humans who call themselves poker players. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.