Playing Pocket Pairs

Contrary to what some poker players think, the subject of pocket pairs isn’t all about premium hands like aces, kings, queens and jacks. Any pocket pair can earn you money over time assuming you know how to play it. Of course, this is easier said than done since some of the lower pocket pairs are invitations to getting trapped by opponents. Seeing as how we don’t want this to happen, let’s look at how to play various pocket pairs in addition to some general advice on the subject.

General Pocket Pairs Advice

The first thing worth noting about pocket pairs is that they don’t come around every other hand. In fact, your odds are only 16:1 of being dealt any pocket pair, and your chances of being dealt a specific pocket pair are 220:1. So when you get those pocket aces, take advantage!

Along with this, you should also try to isolate one opponent when you get a big pocket pair (AA-JJ) with a pre-flop raise worth 4-5 times the big blind. This will eliminate drawing hands, and give you the advantage over a single opponent since they only have 54:1 odds of having an AA-JJ pocket pair.

Small pocket pairs are a little trickier to play since you often need to improve to a set to win. Even in situations where you don’t need to hit a set, it’s difficult to know when you’re ahead. This is why we’re going to discuss small pocket pairs more in-depth, along with the other pocket pairs too.

Playing Small Pocket Pairs

Small pocket pairs are those that range from 22-66, and as mentioned before, some players have difficulty with these hands because they don’t have much value as a pair. Now if you were heads-up with an opponent, a pocket pair would give you the advantage over any drawing hand such as AK; but in bigger games, the real value of pocket pairs comes from their ability to become sets.

Turning small pocket pairs into sets is nice because it allows you to slip under the radar, and possibly take an unsuspecting opponent’s stack. But one thing to keep in mind here is that you don’t want to be playing a small pair past the flop; if you miss the flop in a big pot, you need to fold a small pair.

That being said if there are just a couple people in the hand, sometimes you can represent strength after the flop by doing a continuation bet regardless if you hit the flop or not. This comes into play if you raised preflop. A lot of times that will take down the pot, especially if you have a tight table image. Some players do a continuation bet all the time, I personally do this some of the time when I feel like I can get away with it, if not my main goal is to see the flop for a cheap as I can to see if I hit a set.

Of course, it’s very important to know what your odds are of hitting a set on the flop. The answer is that you have a 11.8% chance of hitting a set (or quads); 7.5:1 when expressed in terms of odds. What this means is that your pot odds need to be better than 7.5:1 if you’re going to make this call. You can also use implied odds when trying to flop a set if you have a firm grasp of this concept. After all, if you hit a set, there’s a good chance that you’re going to win more than what’s currently in the pot.

Playing Middle Pairs

Middle pairs (77-TT) have some value on their own without improving. However, most of the pair value comes from being in late position, so don’t get carried away with this aspect. If there are several limpers before you, a raise of 5 times the big blind, plus one blind for every limper, should either help you steal the pot or at least isolate you with one opponent.

Just like small pairs, you’ll be hoping to hit a set most of the time, so you should be looking for better than 7.5:1 pot odds before calling. If you miss the flop and you’re in an unraised pot, firing out a one-half to two-thirds pot-sized raise can steal the hand for you. However, you should also be willing to fold to large raises and re-raises if you’ve missed the flop.

Playing Big Pairs

As mentioned before, big pairs are in the AA-JJ range, and they’re the best pre-flop hands you can have. But you need to keep in mind that big pairs are by no means bulletproof, and you need to weed out the drawing hands before the flop. In most cases, making a pre-flop raise that’s 4-5 times the big blind (plus one blind for every limper) should accomplish this. Depending on the table personality though, you may need to bet more to force others out of the pot.

On the other hand, your overall goal is to isolate one player so you aren’t susceptible to more than one drawing hand, which means you don’t want to over-bet. The makeup of the table is going to affect how you bet with your big pair, so on a tight table, you should take your pre-flop raise down to 3-4 times the big blind. If two players happen to call, then so be it because it’s preferable to have two people in the pot as opposed to merely stealing the blinds with pocket aces.

One common fear among people with a premium pocket pair is that somebody else could have a bigger pocket pair. However, the thing you need to remember is the statistic about how there’s only a 1 in 220 chance that someone will have a certain pocket pair. So if you’ve got pocket kings and somebody else re-raises you pre-flop, there are only 220:1 odds that they’ve got you dominated.

Limit or No-Limit

The type of poker game you’re playing will affect how valuable your pocket pairs are too. For example, in Limit Hold’em, you can’t take an opponent’s whole stack after hitting a set like you can in NL Hold’em. And while small pocket pairs are still valuable in Limit Hold’em, they aren’t quite as valuable for this one fact alone. Case in point, you want to stick pretty rigidly to your pot odds with small pocket pairs in Limit Hold’em.

But for the most part, the aforementioned advice on playing small, big and medium pairs is pretty universal. And if you’re able to play pocket pairs correctly in most given situations, you’ll earn lots of poker profits over the long run.