Problems Playing Pocket Pairs

Pocket pairs can give the highest pay-offs in No Limit Holdem.  Statistically you are ahead of virtually every hand in the game preflop.  Unfortunately however, playing pocket pairs is one of the hardest things to master in poker.  And one of the most popular hands that lands players in big trouble.

The following article will cover some issues when playing pocket pairs; and how to avoid getting into nasty situations involving large sums of money.

Why Is Playing Pocket Pairs Dangerous?

As I mentioned, pocket pairs are very good hands preflop; however by the time the flop comes down most players either panic or make the wrong moves.

Your aim when playing small pocket pairs, whether in cash games, tournaments (MTT Strategy) or SNGs, is to catch a set on the flop.  Catching a set on the flop pays off extremely well because it’s a monster hand none of your opponents will be able to read.  You can lay out traps on the board hoping your opponent’s hit top pair or is on a draw.  In fact, hitting a set on the flop with pocket pairs provides such high value that many players advocate calling up to 6xBB with small pockets.

The problem here is that you only have a 12% chance of hitting that set.  As such, many new/inexperienced players find themselves exposed in pots.  They don’t know whether they still have the best hand, or are beaten by any of the overcards.  My advice to avoid this situation is to always lead out on the flop; however any calls you receive or re-raises then you should insta-fold.

The same problem can be said for high pockets like JJ or QQ with overcards on the flop.  Many players will call to the river hoping to make their set.  Looking at the maths though, you only have two outs for such a situation, giving you just an 8% chance of hitting a set by showdown.  You can see here that being able to read your opponent is crucial to avoiding problems with pockets.

Biggest Problem with Pocket Pairs – a Drawing Board

This is the most dangerous situation for pocket pairs in my opinion.  It presents a massive problem because even if you lead out on the flop after raising preflop; there are so many draws available that players with a wide range of hands could call for value.  This means you’ll be in a situation getting called by players and you still don’t know if you’re ahead or behind.  Your options are either to keep betting out assuming they’re on a draw (normal pot-sized bet - in which case you’ll end up risking most your stack); or you can simply check the board hoping to catch a set, which also give your opponents’ a free card plus give you horrible reverse implied odds knowing even if you catch your set you can be beaten by a straight or flush.

For example:  You hold KsKh and raise 4xBB with two callers. Flop brings AsKdQs.  If you lead out and get called, you’re up against any range of hands with good value for calling. Any two spades, any J, any A or even AK, AQ or QK.

What I recommend in this situation is an overbet.  You likely hold the best hand on the flop, and any straight is very likely to re-raise you in order to prevent players on a flushdraw.  If you get called again and no danger card comes up, go all in.  This will give you great value if you get called.  If you only min raise or pot bet, you’re find yourself in a dangerous rut – especially in a 3 way pot.  You’ll have outs, but not enough to want to risk your entire stack on a dangerous board.

1 comment on “Problems Playing Pocket Pairs”

  1. ShadowElf Reply

    Playing small pockets also includes being able to put your opponent on a hand. I don’t mind seeing a cheap flop with 6-6 and know I can get away from it, with several opponents if I don’t connect with the flop, but against a single opponent that raised 3x mid. and you call from the BB with 6-6, your probably ahead with a flop like 8-5-2, but he will most likely call with a good A. I will still small ball, but a reraise might tell you he has better pockets, or just doesn’t want to get pushed holding A-K. It’s best to have a read on the style of your opponent and betting habits. But, by keeping it small you can usually call a min reraise, and see the next card. With small pairs knowing how to proceed and when to get away is crucial. Unless you know an opponent will check behind you on the turn and see another card, if say a J comes out, and he misses, betting gives info. checking leaves you in the dark and gives him a chance to steal it. Also if he is reading you, c-betting the J after just calling pre-flop, he knows that is in your range of the pre flop call. If he’s holding A-K, A-Q, or any pair below J-J, he’s not felling good about his hand right now and may just give it up.

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