Small pairs suffer in low-limit hold'em poker 'big card' game

May 22, 2012 3:09 AM

People play small pairs in low-limit hold’em games from any position, it seems, but is that a good idea?

Limit hold’em is a “big-card” game, so unless you flop a set – your chances of doing that are 7.5 to 1 – your little pocket pair (8-8 or lower) usually suffers the agony of defeat by a face-card foe.

To go up against those odds, you want the pre-flop pot to be big enough to warrant entering it. Problem is, you can’t predict the size of the pot if you’re sitting up front; you can only get that info if you’re in a late position.

Ideally, to make your small pair worth the gamble, you want to be sitting close to the button in a multi-way, unraised pot. When you’re in the first three or four seats, your best play is to throw a small pair away.

Let’s say you’re sitting two seats from the button, you limp into the pot with 7-7, and Solid Sue raises behind you. You can call one more bet – but if Wild Willy reraises, your best play usually is to fold.

A pair that has some added value is 5-5, since you always need a 5 or a 10 to make a straight. If you catch a flop such as 4-3-2, you’re in clover. If you’re lucky enough to catch an ace on the turn or river, and one of your opponents is holding an ace, you’ve beaten him with your straight.

Of course, if a 5 hits on the turn to give you a set, the guy with the ace has made the straight, as has someone with a 6. You don’t necessarily have to fold if that happens, but you should play cautiously on the river.

What if you’re playing against conservative players? Yes, I know that rarely happens in low-limit games – but if no one has entered the pot, you can raise from late position with your small pair. Warning: The key word is “conservative” players.

Don’t try this play if Loose Louie, Maniac Max, Clueless Carl and Any-Ace Annie are in the game. Why? Because they’ll call you down with any ace (no matter how puny their kicker), any suited high-card/low-card combo, and any middle suited connectors.

Here’s the lowdown on low pairs in low-limit hold’em: Play small pairs in big pots and fold if you don’t flop a set or a terrific draw.