A pocket pair is one of the best starting hands in hold’em. Pocket aces is the best. Indeed, A-A, K-K, and Q-Q are regarded as “made hands” preflop: They could win the pot without further improvement. (Of course, it would be great to improve to a set or better.)
On the other hand, small pairs (7-7 down to 2-2) are “drawing hands.” They usually must improve to win the pot at the showdown. You are hoping to make three-of-a-kind – a set, giving you a made hand.
Starting with a pocket pair, the probability of flopping a set is less than 12%. The odds are approximately 7½-to-1 against. On average, expect to make a set on the flop only one out of about 8½ times. It’s a longshot.
And if you don’t connect on the flop, it is even less likely you will connect on the turn or the river. That’s why, especially in a limit game, with a drawing hand, you want multi-way action to see the flop so there will be a decent-size pot for you to win if/when you do connect. Since the card odds are so poor, you need high implied pot odds to make up for it.
When Flop Includes Pair
Consider the situation when a pair flops. Suppose, from the button, you stayed to see the flop, holding, say, K-9 offsuit – a marginal drawing hand that barely exceeds the criteria of our Hold’em Algorithm.. Now the flop brings a pair of aces. If no one had raised preflop, it is reasonable to assume no opponent has made trip-aces.
Now, on the flop, if everyone checks to you, consider betting. Most players will fold under these circumstances. You then take a small pot – enough to pay for a few blinds. You “stole the pot on the flop!”
But your K-9 offsuit could be in trouble if the flop brings any other pair of honor cards not matching either of your hole cards. Caution! There’s reasonable chance an opponent has trips. Carefully observe how the betting goes and use your assessment of the bettor before deciding whether to call or fold.
What do you think he is holding? If everyone checks, you see the turn for free. As a general rule, if the flop didn’t help your hand, you need at least five solid outs to call a single bet. Fold to a raise on the flop.
Sometimes the flop will include a small pair. Let’s say you stayed in with a middle pair (J-J down to 8-8) that is higher than any card on the board – an “overpair.” The probability an opponent was dealt a matching hole card to the pair on the board, giving him trips, is less than 1.5%. (Ref.: Caro’s Most Profitable Hold’em Advice by Mike Caro).
The odds are 73-1 against – a huge longshot. Furthermore, many poker players usually don’t stay in with small hole cards. It is highly unlikely one has made trips on the flop. The odds definitely favor your middle pair as being in the lead.
You want to keep the lead. After all, it is likely opponents have picture cards in the hole. Those are over cards to your middle pair. Bet or raise to force them out before a matching card falls on the turn or river. Protect your hand.
The same strategy applies if you hold two over cards to the pair on the board. That’s six outs. But caution is warranted. Consider the situation. Could a tricky player be sandbagging? Alternatively, could a calling-station be drawing to a straight or flush?
Think about it. If the “traffic lights” signal go or if you are in a limit game and your stack can easily stand a raise, then go ahead and make the bet.