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May I remind you: While playing Texas hold’em, often you will look down at your holecards and see a small pair; that’s 7-7 down to 2-2. It will happen often enough that you would be wise to be prepared as to how best to play this hand.

To start, recognize that small pairs are extremely vulnerable. There is a reasonable chance an opponent already has a higher pair. With five cards to come, at a full table of nine players, it is highly likely one or more of your opponents will connect with a higher hand. Needless to say, that could cost you a bundle of chips. The probability is only 8.4 percent you will improve your small pocket pair on the flop by catching a matching card for a set. The odds are heavily against you.

On the other hand, when you do catch your set, it is a very strong hand – very likely to win a good-sized pot on the showdown.

Here’s my advice on how to play your small pocket pair. Make full use of the Hold’em Algorithm, which will quickly tell you whether or not to stay to see the flop. The three face-up cards on the flop, let you see over 70 percent of your final hand.

The preflop decision is based on the ranking of your pair, your betting position, whether there has been a raise or likely to be one (or more), the number of opponents staying to see the flop, the playing traits of the players behind you, and the texture of the game.

Ideally, especially with a small pocket pair, you would like to play from a late position so you can see if there are any raises before your turn to act. Small pocket pairs aren’t worth a double bet; in that case, folding your hand would be the wisest decision – especially if the raiser is a tight player, and not deceptive.

From an early/middle position, assuming there is no raise before you, consider the traits of opponents behind you. Highly aggressive players are more likely to raise the betting; then you would be faced with calling a double bet in a limit game (much more in a no-limit game). Look to your left before investing any chips; look for any tells your opponents may offer. If you see a player picking up a bunch of chips – much more than enough to limp to see the flop – you can assume he is planning to raise. If so, folding is your best option.

Knowing pocket pairs will occur, you should be somewhat selective of the table at which you play. Loose games are fine, but highly aggressive ones (especially if there is more than one “maniac” at the table) spell danger. Avoid such games by getting a table change. But, if there is only one “aggressor” at your table, try to be seated to his left. Then, you can easily fold at no cost if he raises before the flop.

As noted above, the texture of the game is important too – especially when you hold a small pocket pair. Since the odds against improving your small pair to a set are relatively high – 8-to-1 against you, a loose game is preferred. Then with several callers to see the flop, you can expect high pot odds when you do catch your set. Remember, the objective is to win as many chips as possible.

In summary, expect to be dealt a small pocket pair in the hole, a number of times during a poker session. Play it so as to give yourself the best chance of emerging victorious. There are several factors – as described above. Understand why these are so important and apply them as suggested, especially when you are dealt a small pocket pair. Otherwise, you are bound to be a loser.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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