High poker pairs can lose value quick

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It’s always nice to look down at your hole cards and see a pair. Of course, big pairs are much preferred over little ones. You can expect a pair of Aces – pocket Aces – only one out of 221 hands dealt; the odds are 220-to-1 against it. Much more often, you can expect any pocket pair.

Did you know that often a big pocket pair – other than A-A – has no more value than a little pair? Unless you have A-A in the hole, there are times when K-K or Q-Q have no more value to you than 2-2.

Preflop, the only three made hands are A-A, K-K and Q-Q. These are starting hands that could win the pot without improvement. (All other starting hands are drawing hands. They usually must improve to win at the showdown.)

Suppose you were dealt pocket Kings in a limit hold’em game – a great starting hand. Preflop, you raise it up, hoping to thin the playing field. The more opponents staying to see the flop, the more likely an opponent will draw out on you.

All things considered, it’s best if you can play against two or three opponents. Four or more opponents, and your K-K becomes an underdog. Underdogs usually lose.

Even so, you may often find your K-K in sad shape. There are so many players who will stay to see the flop with any-Ace, even A-rag offsuit. The probability of pairing that Ace on the flop is 16 percent. It happens often.

When holding pocket Kings and an Ace falls on the flop, it is reasonable to expect one of your eight opponents has caught a pair of Aces. With only two outs – the remaining Kings in the deck – your K-K is now a poor second-best. Indeed, you are not much better off than if you had pocket deuces or any other small pair in the hole.

With just two outs, the odds are over 22-to-1 against making a set on the next card. Even considering both the turn and river cards to come, the odds of catching the set you need to overcome your opponent’s A-A are almost 11-to-1 against you. We won’t even consider that the A-A or any other pair an opponent holds, could also make a set; it’s so unlikely.

How can you muck K-K? A big pocket pair is so beautiful to behold. It just goes against your natural inclination. Can you be sure an opponent has flopped a pair of Aces?

Here’s where observation is your best bet. As the game progressed, you should have been evaluating each of your opponents. Then, if a tight player comes out betting after a big Ace falls on the board, it’s best to fold – even pocket Kings. The chips you save by folding are valuable. The pot odds will not justify calling that tight player’s bet.

On the other hand, consider calling that bet if the opponent is a loose-aggressive player. You have watched him play similar hands; he is prone to bluff.

At this point, look for tells – especially any this opponent has previously displayed. There are typical “bluffing tells.” For example, in his new book, “The Art of Bluffing,” my friend George “The Engineer” Epstein lists bluffing tells to look for: Leaning back in his chair; covering his mouth with his hand (quite common); rubbing his neck; “freezing” in his chair; taking and holding a deep breath; licking his lips; and any noticeable departure in his otherwise normal behavior – such as speaking more or less often.

Bottom line: A big pocket pair is not much better than a lonely pair of deuces when cards higher in rank than your pair fall on the board. It’s best to know your opponents’ playing traits, and look for tells to make the best decision on how to proceed.

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