Small pocket pairs present an interesting problem for Texas holdem players. They look good enough to play, but most players end up losing money on them in the long run. Some of the best poker players in the world simply don’t play them. They’re dangerous.
Yet some players can play small pocket pairs profitably, so they’re worth investigating.
Small pocket pairs are any pair below nines. I realize that this may seem odd, but there’s rarely a difference between a pair of twos and a pair of eights. Neither of them is strong enough to win a contested pot, so you should treat them the same.
Take it up a step to get a medium pocket pair. A medium pair is anything from a pair of nines to a pair of jacks. You might win a few pots with a pair of jacks, but they can be hard to play profitably.
Before moving on, you need to understand one quirk about small pocket pairs. Their entire value is based on flopping a set. Regardless of what you think or feel, when you don’t flop a set, you must check and fold to any bet.
Never make the mistake of chasing a set to the turn or river unless everyone checks, and you get to see another card for free. A small pair really isn’t going to win a contested pot.
Playing No Limit Texas Holdem
Small pocket pairs that flop a set can be profitable in no limit Texas holdem. As a result, many players overvalue them, especially from early position. When you flop a set, you usually win a big pot. But when you lose, it’s always a big pot.
You want to avoid this situation. The worst thing that happens when you flop a set is when an opponent flops a higher set. You end up with your entire stack in the pot and almost no chance to win.
I admit that in some games playing small pocket pairs from early and middle position can be profitable. Nonetheless, most players simply aren’t good enough to recognize these situations.
Therefore, my recommendation is to fold all small pocket pairs in no limit play from early and middle position.
You need to learn from the mistakes of others, and this is a big one to watch out for. The first time you get into a pot for cheap, flop a set, and stack an opponent, it’s going to be a great feeling. Every time this happens it reinforces that this is a great way to make money.
If you’re not careful, you’re going to start looking at small pocket pairs as a gold mine. After all, you either flop a set and keep pushing or miss your set and fold. This seems simple enough. So, why not play them from middle and early position?
Quit playing small pairs from early and middle positions. It may seem contradictory because all you remember is the times you stacked an opponent, but the odds are high that making this play isn’t profitable. Deviate from this advice at your own risk.
Late position and the blinds have some of the same dangers, like facing a higher set. But in the blinds, your added cost to see the flop is lower. When I face a raise in the blinds with a small set, I usually fold. The only time I don’t is when I know I can get the aggressor to go all in when I hit a set. If there’s any question about getting them all in, or if they have a small stack, I just fold.
From late position, you have the advantage of being able to control the pot size to some degree. This alone turns an unprofitable play from middle and early position to a profitable one.
Once you flop a set in no limit play, you must master ways to maximize the pot size. Sometimes you can let an opponent lead the way until the river, and other times you need to raise earlier.
Your decision changes from game to game. It’s one of the biggest reasons why you should always observe your opponents’ plays as much as possible.
Playing Limit Texas Holdem
The discussion in the last section was about playing small pocket pairs in no limit Texas holdem. But what about playing them in limit games?
Your basic goals are the same. The only way you can expect to win with a small pocket pair is to hit a set. You also need to ensure the possible reward when you win is high enough to cover all of the times that you don’t flop a set and need to fold.
When you take everything into account, it makes it somewhat easier to offer specific rules for playing small pocket pairs in limit Texas holdem.
Confirm there’s enough money in the pot for you to profit. While your chances of collecting more bets yields similar to those in a no limit game, the best are capped by the table limits.
Because you can’t accurately predict what’s going to happen behind you at the casinos, just fold all small pocket pairs in limit Texas holdem from early and middle position.
What about late position and the blinds?
From late position, I prefer at least four bets in the pot before I enter with a small pair. This relies heavily on my ability to extract more bets when I flop a set. Nonetheless, in most hands with at least four other players, I can do this.
I also generally won’t call a raise from late position with a small pair. Even if it looks like four opponents will remain to see the flop, the bets on the flop are still at the smaller limit, and this restricts my opportunity for profit. While this may seem strict, remember that you’re interested in profitability.
The blinds are slightly different with a small pair than most other hands. From the big blind, if the pot isn’t raised, you’re in a good situation. Your bet is already in the pot, and you basically get a free chance to flop a set.
From the small blind in an unraised pot, you only must add a half bet. If at least three other players are in the pot I complete the bet with a small air. Otherwise, I fold.
When you flop a small set from the blinds in limit Texas holdem you should start betting immediately and keep betting at every opportunity. Forget about trying to get an opponent to make a bet and then check raising or trapping them. You can’t afford to miss a single bet when you flop a set.
If you flop a set from late position in a limit game, you should also usually bet and raise at every opportunity.
If someone bets before you after you flop a set, you can flat call on the flop if you think it can keep more opponents in the hand for the higher betting rounds. But you should never do this with a dangerous board.
If the flop offers a flush or straight draw, don’t wait to raise an earlier bet on the flop. Because there can be a fine line here, I always recommend that beginning and intermediate players simply always bet and raise in limit holdem when they flop a set. When you gain more experience, you might be able to see situations where calling on the flop is more profitable, but if you’re not sure the best way to play is to bet and raise at every opportunity.
Small pocket pairs are hard to play in Texas holdem. For this reason, your best bet may be to simply fold them at all times until you’re an experienced player. But you can play them in some situations. Make sure you always fold them when you don’t flop a set and can maximize your return when you do flop a set.