Smallest poker pair has potential, but caveats

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It’s a limit game in poker; you look down at your hole cards: pocket deuces. How should you play your hand?

I’ll offer you my perspective and invite you to comment – whether or not you agree with me.

If you have read my booklet, “Hold’em or Fold’em?” – An Algorithm for Making the KEY Decision, you know that it’s really not a simple decision; there are several factors to be considered.

(Note: The algorithm makes it easier to make that decision.)

As a rule, small pairs (what could be smaller than pocket deuces?) usually have to improve to win the pot at the showdown. Granted that your pocket deuces could be a 60-40 favorite over any other player with two over cards.

But your pocket deuces are an underdog if two or more opponents stay to see the flop. In a limit game, how often do you have only one opponent staying with you to see the flop? Let’s analyze this situation.

If an opponent already has a bigger pair in the hole, then your pocket deuces are about a 4-to-1 longshot against him. And that doesn’t consider the other players staying to see the flop, any one of which could make an even better hand.

If no one else has a pair in the hole, there is a very good chance that someone will pair up on the flop or afterwards. Indeed, it is more likely a player with two unpaired hole cards will pair up on the flop (2-to-1 odds against him) than you will make your set on the flop (7.5-to-1 against you). And you don’t have to be a math whiz to realize that, with five community cards to be dealt, the more opponents staying to see the flop, the more likely your pocket deuces will fall by the wayside.

Meanwhile, the odds are 7.5-to-1 against you to flop a set of deuces; and, if you miss on the flop and stay to the river, the odds are about 11-to-1 against making your set of deuces on the turn or river. All in all, starting with a pair of deuces, the odds are very much against making your set if you stay all the way to the river. (The same applies to any pocket pair.)

You don’t have to memorize those odds; the point is that small pocket pairs are almost always underdogs. Furthermore, if you called to see the flop and it was raised behind you, then it would cost you a double bet to see the flop – perhaps more if there is a re-raise.

Therefore, knowing that your hand is such a longshot to start with, small pocket pairs are best played from late position when there are not any raises before the flop. What’s more, since your pocket deuces are such a longshot, you need to be sure there will be a decent-size pot at the showdown to make it worth your pre-flop investment.

In a limit game, if fewer than three opponents are staying to see the flop, the implied pot odds cannot be very attractive.

In summary

Considering the odds and all, our best advice is to stay to see the flop with pocket deuces (or other small pair) only if you are in late position and there has been no raise and none is expected after you call; and it’s a multi-way pot (three or more opponents staying to see the flop).

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted at [email protected]

You can try out your strategy by playing our free live online poker.

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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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