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Roy Cooke, one of the world’s top poker columnists in my opinion, recently wrote a superb piece in a popular poker magazine on “Playing the Small and Medium Pairs.”

Cooke points out that “how you play these hands is often the difference in being a long-term winner or loser.” He well illustrates the value of knowing how your opponents play and “reading” their hands. I agree 100 percent.

Cooke gives two examples, including discussion of appropriate strategies. Primarily he focuses on post-flop play. In my opinion, much more important is your preflop decision-making. That’s when you decide to make a financial commitment to this hand. My Hold’em Algorithm makes that decision relatively easy. Also important is using the Hold’em Caveat.

Seeing the flop

Starting with a pair in the hole, the odds of flopping a set are much against you at approximately 7.5-to-1. It’s a longshot. Of course you are anxious to see the flop. After all, combined with your two hole cards, it will represent more than 70% of your final hand. Before you take the plunge, careful consideration is essential if you want to be a winner.

As explained in the Hold’em or Fold’em? book, there are several parameters (factors) that are essential in making the decision whether to fold your small pair or invest to see the flop. Cooke touches on a few of these. In case you haven’t yet read the book, I’ll list these key parameters and briefly comment on each:

• Value of your two holecards – rank, pairs, connectors, suited.

• Your betting position.

• Any raises?

• Number of opponents staying in the pot.

• Types of opponents in the pot and texture of the game.

Based on numerical values related to the first two parameters, the Hold’em Algorithm establishes an easy-to-remember point count that serves as the primary criteria for making the key decision, depending on betting position.

Should I invest?

The next two parameters are the subject of the “Hold’em Caveat” for marginal drawing hands, including small pairs. Briefly stated:

• Fold if there is a raise before you must declare or there is likely to be a raise after you bet.

• Fold if it is not a multi-way pot (three or more opponents staying to see the flop)

Explanation (quoting from the book): “With a marginal starting hand, a raised bet makes it too costly to warrant your $$$ investment; likewise, the investment would less likely be profitable (i.e., would not yield a return-on-investment – a ‘Positive Expectation’) if fewer than three opponents stay to see the flop. (The ‘implied’ or expected pot odds at the showdown would be too small.)”

To further optimize your decision, it is wise to pay heed to the fifth of the key parameters listed above. If you have been observant, you know the type of player each of your opponents is – tight or loose, passive or aggressive, and/or deceptive.

Take this into consideration in deciding whether to make the preflop investment with your small pair. According to famed poker authority, Lou Krieger, “You must account for the game being loose or tight, passive or aggressive, with skilled or unskilled players. These elements make up the game’s texture.” (Ref. Hold’em Excellence – From Beginner to Winner).

Bottom line: Your preflop decision is vital to winning with small pairs in the hole. Toward that end, the Hold’em Algorithm is recommended.

“The Engineer,” noted author and poker teacher in greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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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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