QuickFact #10: All of the true four-card Broadway hands flop top pair on at least 30% of flops and top two on at least 10%.
QuickFact #10: KK** Flops Top Set ~80-85% Of The Time. QQ** Flops Top Set ~65-70% Of The Time.
Alongside suitedness and connectedness, high card strength is the other determining characteristic of any starting hand. If you ever get the chance to look through a successful PLO player’s database, the first thing to notice is how their most profitable starting hands are big cards. This is not a coincidence; big cards intrinsically possess more post-flop equity on average than little cards do.
Holding overcards on low boards illustrates this concept. To explain a bit further, let’s use a Hold’em analogy. When check-raising a T♣6♦2♥ board in NLHE, we would much rather have A♣Q♣ than a hand like 5♥5♦, because when someone decides to look us up with a pair, our equity is greater holding the live overcards and backdoor equity than with just the pocket pair. You can think about overcards the same way in PLO.
Another luxury of having big cards is that many times, there’s no need to find creative ways to realize your equity, because hands like unpaired broadway cards naturally flop well a high percentage of the time. For example, any unpaired hand flops a pair 40% of the time, and if you hold one of the true four-card broadway hands, 30% of flops will greet you with a top pair high-five. The other benefit big cards offer is the domination effect they have on draws and made hands. Plus, as we’ll talk about in the following sections, big cards pick up bigger and more dominating pieces of equity on later streets in barreling scenarios than smaller cards do.
One of the first video series I ever watched on PLO was Vanessa Selbst’s 2×6 series on DeucesCracked. In one of the videos, she talks extensively about how much pocket pairs suck, and why you should stay as far away from them as possible. Well, I know Vanessa is one of the sickest players around, and it definitely wasn’t her intention for me to take that away from the lesson.
In many ways, what Vanessa said was absolutely correct. In many instances, holding a pocket pair devalues your hand, because it reduces its smoothness post-flop. Having a pair diminishes your two pair outs when flopping a pair with sidecards, while also reducing the likelihood of filling a straight. Furthermore, unless they flop a set, unimproved pairs don’t win at showdown nearly as often as they do in Hold’em.
The middle pairs from Jacks thru Sixes are playable only if you have some backup to go along with it. When I say backup, I am referring to other ways to win the pot besides flopping a set (like making straights and flushes). The biggest problem with pockets pairs Nines thru Jacks (and to a degree Queens), is that when you do flop a set, the board can be considerably draw-heavy, which means stack-off ranges have a lot of equity against you.
For example, on a board like J♥T♦6♥, holding a bare set of Jacks without redraws is a dangerous situation. Even when all the money doesn’t go in on the flop, the board is likely to get scary if you don’t fill up. Even on the non-straight boards, people have a lot of equity against you on boards like JTx, J9x, and QJx. Plus, you can easily get over-setted.
That being said, hands like J♦J♣9♦8♣, Q♦Q♥T♦9♥, and 9♣9♥8♣7♦ can flop huge combo draws like sets and straight draws, sets and flush draws, and so on. The more marginal ones like 7♥7♣5♥4♣ and 9♦8♥8♦6♣ are easy folds from early position, and standard opens from late position.
Speaking of pocket pairs, here’s some useful top set data. Whenever it flops a set, KK** flops top set ~80-85% of the time, and QQ** flops top set ~65-70% of the time. While it’s true that Aces should never be folded pre-flop, the trashiest Kings can definitely be folds from UTG at tough tables. Trashy Queens are easy folds from early position as well, and it should be obvious by now that big pocket pairs have a ton of value in PLO, but that doesn’t mean they’re excluded from needing backup to play profitably. The primary danger with Queens in comparison to Kings is the increased risk of being over-setted, particularly on KQx flops in multi-way, single-raised pots. When there is heavy action on this board texture, you might have an opportunity to make a big fold.
The line between re-raising and flat calling pre-flop with any of the big pockets pairs is grey. The main factor to consider depends on the amount of backup, especially with lower pocket pairs. A paired hand’s secondary equity greatly affects its raw pre-flop equity as well as its post-flop equity distribution. For example, there’s a big difference between A♥K♣Q♥Q♦ and Q♥Q♣9♥8♦. A♥K♣Q♥Q♦ has blockers to overpairs and higher sets, it doesn’t have to sweat overcards as much on later streets when the flop comes low, and it makes stronger flushes and wraps.