Playing pocket pairs in a $4-$8 limit hold’em game, in a middle position, I was dealt two red nines – a starting hand that satisfies the Hold’em Algorithm criteria for all positions.
Two opponents before me limped to see the flop. Instead of just limping along I decided to raise to thin the field to give my pocket 9’s a better chance to win without improvement.
I probably should not have been surprised – it was a loose-aggressive game – when two players behind me called my raise. Then the Small Blind re-raised, making it a three-bet. And then, the under-the-gun player raised again – a four-bet! Now it was my turn to act.
Using the excuse there was too much money in the pot to give up at that point, I called. Also, I considered all the chips I had already “invested” in that hand. That, too, was a mistake.
As poker guru, Mike Caro says, “Money you’ve already invested shouldn’t influence your decision at all!” Based on all the raising, apparently I held a relatively poor hand; I waited too long before folding my cards.
The flop had two overcards to my pocket nines. There was a bet and a raise to me. At that point, I decided I had better get out of the way, and mucked my lonely 9-9. Then, I realized I could have saved three bets ($12 in chips; that’s significant in a low-limit game). I should have played middle pocket pairs (J-J down to 8-8).
Here’s Caro’s advice about playing a middle pocket pair in low/medium limit hold’em, to which I’ll add a few comments: “With 9-9 in the hole, it is reasonable to assume your hand is in the lead pre-flop; so you are inclined to thin the field by raising, hoping to gain a better chance of keeping the lead until the end. The problem here is that the weaker hands may fold to your raise, but the stronger hands can be expected to stay to see the flop – especially those with an honor card.
“On average, one out of three times, each of those opponents will pair up one of his holecards. Then, unless you flop a set, you probably have a losing hand. In a low-limit game, players with just one honor card in the hole often stay to see the flop. So, you might as well just limp along.”
If an honor card does not fall on the flop, your pocket nines may still be in the lead. According to co-columnist George “The Engineer” Epstein, with only two cards to come, “that would be the time to bet out or raise to thin the field. Hope that your middle pair keeps the lead.”
Should you get lucky and hit a set or better on the flop (the odds are about 8-to-1 against), consider betting or raising for value; or you might slow-play to build the pot on the later betting rounds when the bets are twice as large.
Even if an honor card does flop, it is possible everyone checks to you. Now, consider the types of opponents involved. If none are deceptive, your bet on the flop would be appropriate. Look to your left for tells: Is any one gathering a batch of chips to bet or raise? If not, your bet might win the pot when they all fold. (Remember, they can only guess at the strength of your hand.)
If a player comes out betting before you, consider his playing traits. If he is tight, the flop probably has helped make his hand – most likely a pair higher than yours. In that case, calmly fold your hand; save some chips.