How to Butcher an Overpair

An overpair is a great hand, especially if you're holding a big pair like Q-Q, K-K, or A-A.

In low stakes games against bad or mediocre opponents, the best strategy when flopping an overpair of Queens, Kings, or Aces is usually to play it fast. You want to get some value from your hand and making decent sized bets on 2 or 3 streets is usually the way to go.

While overpairs are easy to play in many situations, there are also plenty of ways to totally butcher them!

That's what happens in the following hand played at the WSOP Main Event. Overpairs should not be fast-played in all situations. In this case, it ends up being a rather big mistake, potentially costing a few million dollars.


The Excitement of a Big Overpair

​The odds of getting dealt a pair of Aces are only 1/221. No wonder that players get excited when they get dealt a big pocket pair like that. I know I am.....

Excitement Level for Big Pairs

If you have some poker experience you probably also know how easy it is to get carried away when you hold a big pair. The truth is, it can be incredibly hard to fold them. It can also be very hard to slow down with such a big hand and exercise some pot control.

You have to wait so long for these big hands and that simply makes​ it hard to toss them in the muck. Or play them safe for a bit of pot control.

Playing Overpairs

If you flop an overpair of Queens, Kings, or Aces, always try to contain your excitement. Emotions can cloud your judgment and you should never get too excited or attached to a strong hand!

An overpair is a strong hand that you want to get value from. But you should also be prepared to slow down or fold when it seems necessary.

In particular, pay attention to:​

  • The board
  • The opponent you're playing against

The Board

Q♠-Q♣ on 2-2-7♣ is very strong.

Q♠-Q♣ on 6-8-T♣ is already a bit more problematic. Even if you have the best hand on this flop, there are plenty of turn and river cards that can make your opponent a better hand.

If you're facing a bad, passive opponent, you can fire multiple value bets quite easily, even on relatively wet boards. Against a good, thinking opponent who sticks around and calls or raises have to be much more careful, as you could be in big trouble.

Q-Q in the WSOP Main Event: Hallaert v Vornicu

On day 7 of the WSOP Main Event, Hallaert opens to 475k chips from the Hijack with A-T.

Vornicu picks up Q♣-Q on the button and 3-bets to 1.1 million. It folds around to Hallaert who makes the call.

Hallaert has around 13 million chips in his stack and calling here with A-Ts is fine. It's not the greatest hand to be playing out of position, but he's getting decent odds and A-Ts has some post-flop potential.

The flop

The flop comes down T-T♣-7. Jackpot for Hallaert with trip Tens!

Vornicu should be pretty happy with this flop as well. No Ace or King, so his pair of Queens will often be best here. Also, it's a paired board reducing the chances Hallaert has a strong hand. If Hallaert missed the flop, there's only really the straight draws to worry about. Hallaert is a pretty solid player and there probably aren't too many straight draw combinations in his pre-flop calling range. Maybe only 8-9s.

The action on the flop is pretty standard. Hallaert checks to the pre-flop raiser. And Vornicu c-bets 1.225 million into a pot of 2.74 million. Hallaert calls.

The Turn​

The turn is the 6♣, making the board T-T♣-7-6♣.

Hallaert checks again. Also fairly standard in my opinion.

Vornicu decides to bet again: 2.2 million into 5.19 million. This....not so standard!

Against a bad or mediocre player, this could certainly be a spot to bet again. But against a solid, thinking, and careful player like Hallaert: what can we realistically get value from?

There are some hand combinations in Hallaert's range that have Vornicu beat. 8-9s just made a straight. A-T, K-T, Q-T, T-T, and 7-7 (which are all in Hallaert's pre-flop calling range) have Vornicu destroyed. And K-K and A-A are also a possibility: Hallaert could have just called with those hands pre-flop instead of 4-betting them.

Really the only hands that I can think of that we would be able to get value from, are A♣-K♣ and A♣-J♣, J-J. Maybe 8-8, 9-9, or suited broadways like K♣-Q♣ and Q♣-J♣, although a player like Hallaert may just fold those. Against such a relatively range, would it not be better to check here?

This is actually a good spot to make a value check, a play that I talked about before on the Podcast.

A value check is a check in position to try and get more value from your hand on the river and mitigate the variance in case you're beat.

A value check is typically made on the turn and in this hand, it really seems the best play for Vornicu to make:

  • By checking, Vornicu keeps all of Hallaert's hands in that he's still ahead of.
  • Against these hands, Vornicu might get some more value on the river. If he checks back the turn, Hallaert may decide to bluff the river with his air hands. And he may decide to check-call with his weaker value hands in case he thinks Vornicu is bluffing the river.
  • By checking, Vornicu also limits his losses in case he's beat. Checking back allows him to play for some pot control. A good option when there are potentially millions of dollars on the line.

Hallaert decides to check-call.

Let's see what the river brings.

The River​

The river is the 4, making the board T-T♣-7-6♣-4. Hallaert checks for a third time.

​Vornicu now has to really think here about what Hallaert could possibly have. He called a 3-bet pre-flop, check-called the flop, and check-called the turn.

Realistically, how many hands in Hallaert's range are there that Vornicu can still get value from? As we know, Hallaert is a solid, reasonably tight player. So....there really aren't that many hands left in his range that we can get value from.

With ​J-J he may call. Although Hallaert is also capable of laying down Jacks against this much aggression. What else.....pocket 8's or 9's? Maybe he'll call with those hands, maybe he won't.

All in all, the hands that Vornicu can get value from, are very limited. In his shoes, it seems that checking back is probably the best option. Betting small for some thin value from 8-8, 9-9, and J-J is an option. But in that case he should really be folding to a check-raise. ​

Vornicu indeed goes for thin value on the river, betting 2.65 million into 9.59 million.

Hallaert thinks about it for a bit and then check-raises all-in to 8.69 million.​

At this point, Vornicu should really realize that he's beat. If you think about it, what hands can Hallaert realistically have that he beats? If Hallaert had 8-8, 9-9, or J-J, he would just check-call. By check-raising all-in he's on a very polarized range. Either he has a very strong hand like trip Tens, a straight, or a full house. Or he has total air that he's bluffing with.

The odds that Hallaert is on a completely bluff here, however, are almost non-existent. I would only consider a player capable of making a complete bluff here if they were:

  • A very bad, very loose-aggressive player
  • A player like Tom Dwan who is capable of making ballsy bluffs here, trying to out-level you

This is not the case here though and Vornicu should really fold.

Instead, Vornicu snap calls the all-in with his Q-Q. In less than 3 seconds, he announces "call".​

In my mind, this is a classic case of getting too attached to your big pair. Q-Q doesn't come around very often and when it does, many players simply can't fold it, even in cases where there can be no other conclusion than that they're beat.

Vornicu's snap call makes this all the more clear. He probably knows deep down that there's no way he's good here. But to avoid having to deal with the pain of mucking his overpair of Q-Q, he just snap calls to get the hand over with and not have to think about it.

How to Play an Overpair

Overpairs are strong hands that you usually want to get 2 or 3 streets of value with.

But like with any hand in poker: don't get attached to your hand! Even big overpairs can be in a lot of trouble against certain opponents and on certain boards.

The last thing that you want to do is avoid thinking about the situation and snap call. When you have a big decision to make, always step back a minute and think about it.​

Unless you have the nuts, snap calling is NOT something you want to be doing.​

Only snap call:​

  • When you have the absolute nuts.
  • When you have close to the nuts and are absolutely confident you have the best hand. But even in that case, thinking about it for a bit is still better!

Unless you have the absolute nuts, snap calling is NOT a good play. Step back and think about it for a minute.

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Calling the river turns out to be a pretty costly mistake for Vornicu. He loses a big chunk of his stack, while he's running deep in the most prestigious poker tournament there is. Snap calling in that situation makes it even worse.

The Poker Guys made a video of this hand, where they give a pretty good analysis. You can watch it below!

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