Ways to bluff off small pairs while playing poker

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Small pairs in the hole, from 7-7 down to 2-2, are hard to play. According to the Hold’em Algorithm, you should play them only from a late position and in accordance with the Hold’em Caveat – no raises preflop in a multi-way pot.

What if everyone folds to you? Consider raising the Big Blind to steal the pot. (Sure, it’s only a small pot, but it would pay for your next blind.)

More often, there will be several limpers to you. In a late position, with the Hold’em Caveat satisfied, you decide to also limp to see the flop. Of course, you are hoping to flop a set. But the odds are almost 8-to-1 against you. Most of the time, you will find yourself sitting there after the flop, with just your original small pair. Now what?

Betting on the Flop: If it’s checked to you on the flop, there are two options you might consider:

(1) Check along to get a free card on the turn; or

(2) Bet out as a semi-bluff.

Let’s explore both options.

The free-card is very tempting, isn’t it? You would see the turn with your small pocket pair for no additional cost. Trouble is, most of the time the turn won’t help your hand one iota. (The odds are over 20-to-1 against connecting on the turn.) You still have your lowly small pair.

Far more likely, one of your opponents will have improved. Now your hand is practically worthless. There’s a bet to you. Perhaps you aren’t ready to give up. So you call the bet – chasing to the river – even though the pot odds were not nearly high enough.

Bottom Line: By deciding to see the free card on the flop, most of the time it will prove costly. The card odds are so much against you.

On the other hand, option 2, betting on the flop as a Semi-Bluff, has a much better chance of being profitable. Let’s say three opponents saw the flop with you. The board is not threatening. There are no Aces, Kings, Queens, or Jacks; it’s a rainbow flop and no cards in sequence.

None of the remaining opponents in the hand are especially deceptive or tricky; i.e., no one is likely to be slow-playing a set. (What’s more, flopping a set is a long shot!) Under these circumstances, there is a good chance your small pocket pair is still the best hand. While the flop didn’t help you, it likely also missed your opponents. They all check to you.

By betting, you can expect to force out at least some of your opponents, thereby protecting your small pocket pair. (With fewer opponents in the pot, it’s less likely one will draw out on you.) If it’s a no-limit game, make your Semi-Bluff bet high enough so it’s unattractive for an opponent to chase you any further.

And by all means, take advantage of the Esther Bluff tactic along with the Richard B. Reverse Tell. That tactic is especially important in limit games. By making the bet – rather than checking to get a free turn card, you are Semi-Bluffin. If all of your remaining opponents fold, the pot is yours by default.

If one or two do call your bet on the flop, you still hold a small pair that could improve to a set. It’s only two outs, but it could improve as a long shot. Furthermore, it is possible your opponents are drawing to make a hand; none hold a pair.

Caution: If the board catches an honor card on the turn, you may well be behind if an opponent has paired up. You might “test the waters” by betting out if it’s checked to you. If your remaining opponents fold, the pot is yours. If you are called, then be very cautious.

Avoid investing further in the hand unless you believe you can bluff him out on the river.

“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].

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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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