POKER TIPS & STRATEGY

How to Play Two Pairs in Poker

By David Huber
June 05, 2023

Two pairs in the game of poker is often one of the most misunderstood hands when it comes to showdown strength, due to the possibility of being “counterfeited” in variants such as Texas Hold’em, Seven Card Stud, Five Card Draw, and Omaha.

In this article, we will take a look at how to play two pairs in poker, which hands 2 pairs will defeat at showdown, and how to be on the lookout for low “kickers” that are often counterfeited.

two pairs

Poker 2 Pair Rules

First, let’s start with some very simple examples related to poker 2 pair rules when it comes to showing down a winning hand.

Two pairs in poker (assuming you’re playing in a “high” or “best hand” game as opposed to a Hi/Lo format (like Omaha Hi/Lo) or “low” variant such as Razz).

Two pairs are better than one pair (or hands like Ace-high, King-high, etc.), regardless of the number or face card strength of the cards in a “high” game.

So two pairs: Threes and Twos will always defeat one pair: Aces.

If two or more players showdown hands that contain two pairs – then the numerical of face-card value of the two pairs DOES play a role, starting with the highest-ranking pair.

So Two Pairs: Kings and Fours will defeat Two Pairs: Queens and Jacks. The second pair of a 2 pair hand is only considered if the highest-ranking pair is similar.

Two Pairs: Kings and Sixes will beat Two Pairs: Kings and Fives because the second pair of Sixes rank higher than the Fives.

However, 2 pairs in poker will NOT showdown successfully against superior hands including Three of a Kind, Straights, Flushes, Full Houses, Four of a Kind, Straight Flushes, or Royal Flushes. Two Pairs: Aces and Kings will lose to Three of a Kind: Deuces in all “high” poker game formats.

Kicker Counterfeiting of 2 Pairs in Poker

It’s very important to keep in mind that 2 pairs in poker can be “counterfeited” in a number of ways, which can be confusing at first for new players who are starting out in “community card” games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha.

Let’s say Player 1 is dealt Pocket Twos and Player 2 is dealt Pocket Tens in a Texas Hold’em game – and that these two players go to a showdown with a community card board of:

Qh-Qs-Jc-Jd-As

In this instance, the pot will be CHOPPED (a.k.a., “tied”) because neither player’s hand can improve what is already displayed on the community-card board. The best hand both players can make is Two Pairs: Queens and Jacks, with an Ace “kicker.” It matters not that Player 2’s hole cards are superior to those of Player 1 – the pot will be chopped at showdown.

Now let’s assume Player 1 has Ace-Jack and Player 2 has Jack-Ten. The community board is dealt as follows, and the hand goes to a showdown:

Ks-Kc-Qd-Jh-5h

In this example, Player 1 DEFEATS Player 2 as showdown because of the superior “kicker” (an Ace). Both players have Two Pairs: Kings and Jacks – but Player 1 makes a superior 5-card “high” hands because of the Ace, while Player 2 cannot improve the Queen kicker that is on the community board.

Dealing with “Ace-Rag” Counterfeiting with 2 Pairs in Poker

One of the most common circumstances in which you’ll witness a “chopped pot” is when two players go all-in preflop with “Ace-Rag” starting hands in No Limit Texas Hold’em.

While A8 is a better hand than A3 before any community cards are dealt, you will notice that these two hands often split the eventual pot at showdown due to how easy it is for the “rag” in an Ace-Rag hand to get counterfeited – especially with two pairs.

Player 1: A8
Player 2: A3

BOARD CARDS: Ah-6d-6c-Jc-2s

This hand is a tie at showdown. Neither player wins – and the pot is chopped because the “rags” in each player’s hand has been counterfeited by the Jack of Clubs that was dealt on the Turn.

Player 1 has Two Pairs: Aces and Sixes with a Jack kicker
Player 2 also has Two Pairs: Aces and Sixes with a Jack kicker

For a 5-card hand, the “rags” can’t improve what’s already displayed by the community cards.

However, there are instances in which Player 1’s “eight-high” kicker will be in play at showdown.

BOARD CARDS: Ah-6d-6c-4c-2s

In this scenario, Player 1 WINS at showdown because that player has a superior 5-card hand.

Player 1 has Two Pairs: Aces and Sixes with an Eight kicker
Player 2 has Two Pairs: Aces and Sixes with a Four kicker, and loses at showdown.

Premium 2 Pair Poker Starting Hands in Omaha Hi/Lo Games

One thing a new poker players should be mindful of when playing Omaha Hi/Lo games is the potential decreased value of premium 2 pair poker starting hands – especially when three or more “low” cards appear on the community board.

For example: As-Ac-Ks-Kc is a premium “high” starting hand in a 9-handed or 10-handed Limit Omaha Hi/Lo ring game, but you can only use two of those cards to make your final “best 5 card hand.” Plus, a “high” hand will have to split the pot with another “low” winner if there are three or more different numerical-value cards on the community board (8-7-6-5-4-3-2-A).

In a Limit Omaha Hi/Lo hand in which six players reach a showdown, premium 2 pair poker starting hands (like As-Ac-Ks-Kc) aren’t going to compete very well against the showdown field on a board of Qs-Qc-7h-6d-2d.

What you would have as a “high” hand in this situation is Two Pairs: Aces & Queens with a Seven kicker (again, you can only use two or your four hole cards to make your Omaha hand.

And even if – by some miracle – you don’t run into a superior “high” hand at showdown, you’ll STILL be splitting the pot with the best “low” hand. If you don’t have at least two “low” hole cards at the start of an Omaha Hi/Lo hand (8-7-6-5-4-3-2-A), then you are automatically disqualified from making a “low” hand, regardless of how many “low” cards appear on the community board.

This is why As-Ac-2s-3c is considered to be a superior starting hand in Omaha Hi/Lo when compared to premium 2 pair poker starting hands like As-Ac-Ks-Kc.

Premium 2 pair poker starting hands are less likely to hold up in Omaha games (High or Hi/lo) if there are no other cards to make a Set, Full House, or Quads on the community board.

Of course, if your As-Ac-Ks-Kc starting hand sees a Turn board of Ad-Ah-9h-2d – then by all means – you WANT as many players as possible “donating” on the Turn in an Omaha Hi/Lo game. That’s because you are going to have the best possible “high” hand no matter which card is dealt face-up on the River, and you’re more than happy for opponents to chase each others’ potential “low” hand.

READ MORE: Learn How to Master the Math at Poker Tables

Even if the River comes Ad-Ah-9h-2d-4s you’re still winning the “high” hand and will split the pot evenly with whoever made the best “low” hand. But again, your Pocket Kings won’t enter the picture in such a scenario – your 5-card “high” hand will be: Quad Aces with a 9 kicker.

Making Two Pairs on a “Paired Board” in Texas Hold’em Games

Another example of when to be wary of making two pairs is when the community board is paired in Texas Hold’em games.

Your Ts-Tc may be one of the stronger starting hands possible in Texas Hold’em, but you face a danger of going up against “Trips” if a community board flop of 9s-9c-2d is dealt.

Yes… you have two pairs so far (Tens and Nines with a 2 kicker), but you are way behind if one or two of your opponents happen to have a nine in their starting hand, and you’re also way behind if one of your remaining opponents was dealt Pocket Twos at the beginning of the hand.

You DO have two pairs on the flop described above, but are behind to any Three-of-a-Kind hands, Full Houses, or Quad Nines. You will also be a several showdown underdog to other premium pocket pairs such as JJ/QQ/KK/AA – which will have superior 2 pair poker hands compared to you.

The Importance of “Kickers” in Two Pair Poker Hands

In a hypothetical Texas Hold’em poker game, let’s assume that there are two players who have reached showdown, and both players have Two Pairs.

Player 1: As-Ks
Player 2: Kc-Qc

COMMUNITY BOARD: 5d-5h-Kd-Tc-8s

Player 1 will win this showdown outright, due to the superior “kicker” that accompanies the two pair poker hand.

Player 1 has. Two Pairs, Kings and Fives with an Ace kicker
Player 2 has: Two Pairs, Kings and Fives with a Queen kicker

Simply put, Player 1 makes a superior 5 card Texas Hold’em hand in this situation thanks to the Ace of Spades. Player 2 CAN improve the board “kicker” with the Queen, but it loses to the Ace kicker.

Two Pair Poker Hands – Learn The Rules

As with any card game, it is important to learn the rules of poker BEFORE stepping into a competitive environment in which real money is at stake.

Two pairs can be a formidable hand in certain scenarios, and can be clearly outmatched in others. After all, the only hands that two pairs will always beat are one pair hands (or “no-pair” hands such as Ace-high).

Two pairs are defeated outright by any Three-of-a-Kind or better – meaning that Two Pair hands like Aces & Kings will lose to a hand like Three-of-a-Kind: Twos.

Two Pairs in Poker: The Difference Between Poker Rules and Poker Skills

As with all poker games, it is important to distinguish between poker “rules” and poker “skills” when playing any hand, including 2 pairs.

Learning how to best your opponents in a game in which the rules are clearly stipulated, posted, and available for all players to consult falls under the realm of poker “skills” – which may require a lot of experience as well as poker training to accomplish.

However, the rules of any poker game should be “open-face” at all times. You’ll want to keep an eye out during home games in which a dealer’s choice format is in effect.

If deuces are “wild” during a particular hand, then this is PERTINENT information that all competing players NEED to know (on an equal comprehension footing) before any real money is risked.

The same can be said for novelty TV show poker games in which starting hands like Seven-Deuce win an extra bounty – from either the house or other players at the table – if that hand is successful (a.k.a., deemed the winning hand) at showdown.

Despite the popularity and domination of poker variants like Texas Hold’em, there are many more mixed game variants that can be played and that can be fun… as long as each player is aware (and has access to) the “rules” of the game.

As a card game host, you want ALL players at a table to be 100% aware of the poker game rules, as this makes for a more competitive (not to mention “fair”) environment when real money or something else of “value” is at stake.

Summary: Two Pairs in Poker

Playing poker with hands like Two Pairs is part of the game, and can result in taking down an entire pot or getting beaten at showdown for all your chips.

Make sure to know the relative strength of your 2 pair poker hand when competing at the tables for real money, and keep any specific rules that may enhance (or devalue) your 2 pair poker hands in mind at all times.

Have fun at the tables, and make the most out of your 2 pair poker hands to win more!

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David Huber poker author
Written By.

David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for close to two decades: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as “dhubermex” online, David’s poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.

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