How to handle middle/low pocket pairs
January 10, 2017 3:10 AM
by George Epstein
Playing Texas hold’em, expect to be dealt a pocket pair about one out of seventeen hands, on average. With 30-35 hands dealt each hour, in the long run, you would see a pocket pair in the hole about twice an hour. So be prepared.
Most poker players understand that A-A, K-K, and Q-Q in the hole are “made hands;” they can win without further improvement. In that case, the best way to play them is to bet/raise to try to force out some opponents – to “thin the field.” The more opponents staying to see the flop, the more likely one will draw out against you.
Preferably, you’d like to play against two or three opponents. The exception: If you are in a late position, and only one or two opponents have limped in, it would be wise to just call the Big Blind so as not to force out both blinds.
That was easy… Now for the hard part: That’s when you are dealt a middle or small pair in the hole. Here’s where there is controversy: Should I raise or just limp to see the flop?
With a middle pocket pair (J-J down to 8-8), many poker experts always raise from a late or middle position, and sometimes from an early position. I don’t agree with that strategy. They figure they are probably in the lead, and want to thin the field so they have a better chance of their middle pocket pair holding up to the river.
That’s OK with a made hand, but not here. There are several factors to consider. In a few words, there are too many pairs that will kill that middle pocket pair. And, of course, the same applies to small pocket pairs (7-7 down to 2-2) – even more so. It’s best to look at the flop before investing more than the minimum. With the flop, you get to see over 70% of your final hand.
If the flop shows a card higher than your pocket pair, you may be in trouble. After all, even if you had raised preflop, opponents with higher hole cards are likely to stay to see the flop – unless it’s a very tight game. (Note: If the game is very tight, you would have been wise to consider a table change before this hand was dealt out.)
Once an opponent connects with a higher pair, you are a big underdog. You have just two outs to catch a set. Yes, a huge underdog! And, you may be inclined to call a bet on the flop, hoping to improve your hand – not likely. The odds are heavily against you.
By far, the better way to play a middle/small pocket pair is to get to see the flop at minimum cost; hope to catch your set. The odds are 7.5-to-1 against you; but it does happen. That’s called “set-mining,” in case you didn’t know. With that kind of card odds, you want to have high implied pot odds. That’s possible only if it’s a multi-way pot, with lots of opponents ready to call your bets after you catch your set.
If your flopped set is higher than any other card on the board, slow-playing is in order. Let others do the betting for you. The time to raise is on the turn, after someone has bet and there are a few callers.
That will build your pot very nicely. If no one bets before you, consider betting out – hoping for a few callers.
If you are in an early position, consider whether an opponent will bet after you check. If you believe that will happen, then the check-raise is a great tactic for building your pot. If not, make the bet and hope for some callers. You might even display a reverse tell.