When I introduced the Hold’em Caveat as a new poker concept in the 3rd edition of Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision, the focus was on holecards that barely meet or slightly exceed the starting-hand criteria of the Hold’em Algorithm.
These are marginal drawing hands. (Note: We distinguish between “made” hands that can win without improvement, and “drawing” hands that usually must improve to win the pot on a showdown.) In developing the original concept, we considered only non-pair holecards.
With experience, I am now prepared to extend the Hold’em Caveat to small pairs in the hole. In particular, this applies to 7-7, regarded as playable in middle and late positions, and pairs from 6-6 down to 2-2 that are playable only in late positions.
Review: To remind you, the original Hold’em Caveat requires that the following two key conditions must be satisfied to warrant calling to see the flop when you hold a marginal drawing hand as your holecards: (1) the pot is not raised – nor likely to be raised; and (2) it is a multi-way pot with three or more opponents staying to see the flop.
Explanation: A raised pot makes it too costly to pursue marginal starting-hands; you will not win often enough for it to be a sound financial venture. And, with two or fewer opponents staying to see the flop, the implied pot odds are not likely sufficiently attractive to warrant you making that investment. (You would have a Negative Expectation.)
About Small Pairs: Starting with a pair in the hole, the odds are 7.5-to-1 against flopping a set. At the same time, an opponent with two non-paired holecards, has odds of only 2-to-1 against pairing one of his holecards. If you hold a small pair, say 4-4, and two opponents call holding two higher holecards – for example, 6-5 suited or 10-9 offsuit, then quite likely, one will be ahead of you after the flop – leaving you a huge underdog with just 2 outs. At that point, you would be chasing by calling bets on the turn or the river – almost a sure recipe for losing your chips.
It is true that you are a small favorite against a single opponent who does not hold a higher pair in the hole. Problem is, unless it is a very aggressive game, you cannot win much money playing against a single opponent. If he does not improve on the flop, and you bet, he probably will fold, leaving you with a very small reward for your investment. And, if the flop has two or more overcards to your small pair, you would be wise to fold if your opponent bets out – unless he is a very loose or deceptive player.
Best way to play small pairs: All things considered, it makes good sense to apply the Hold’em Caveat to small pairs in the hole. If the two key criteria are not satisfied (see above), muck your small pair and wait for a better hand. Be patient. It is that simple. . . The few times you improve to a small set on the flop (1 out of 8.5 times) just is not worth the investment.
(If only you had a crystal ball!) In the long run, small pairs are losers – unless the Hold’em Algorithm and Hold’em Caveat are satisfied. It takes a good-size pot to warrant investing many chips in such holecards. In a limit game, that can only happen in a multi-way pot. You might consider staying to see the flop in a no-limit game against one or two opponents, provided that there is no raise preflop. In that case, plan to see the flop; then fold if you do not connect – unless you get a free card on the turn. . .
“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].