Medium and small pocket pairs can make or break your bankroll. By medium pairs, I am using 8's through Jack's. I consider anything below that, 2's through 7's, as small pairs. There is not a huge difference in the way they should be played in most hands. The small differences will be noted as necessary. The flop is the key to medium and small pocket pairs.
My first general rule is that if you don't make a set, three of a kind, on the flop, get rid of them. In the long run, you will save a lot of chips lost chasing the elusive third matching card. Remember, there are only two left, that is about a 25 to 1 shot, once the flop is out, that the turn card (4th card face up) will be the matching card. Even if you consider the river, or last card, the odds are still over 12 to 1 against you.
Even if you get a third match and make trips, that is no guarantee of winning the hand. You have to consider both flush and straight possibilities on the board. Additionally, if there are overcards, cards higher than your pocket pair, you risk other players pairing and losing to the higher set of trips. If you absolutely HAVE to see the turn card, and there is not much betting action, pay attention to the missing suits of the remaining cards you need.
For example, if you have 2 and 2 , then you need either the 2 or 2 . Check the flop. If, for example, the flop comes or , then if one of your 2's comes, giving you three of a kind, there is now a flush possible on the board. How do you like your trips with this staring at you?
The same would hold true with straights. Learn to read the board quickly. Assess if when you get the third card it might be helpful to others in a significant manor. For example: You have pocket 9's. The flop comes 8, 10, Jack. If the 9 hits, giving you trips, the board looks like this: 8, 10, J, 9 and anyone with either a 7 or Queen will make a straight.
You are probably saying, "Yeah, but if the board pairs I win." Not necessarily. Remember there is a Jack and 10 higher than your 9's. Either of those pairing might give another player a higher full house than yours. AND, you need two perfect events to happen to even get that far, and still don't "have the nuts." You must always be in a position to maximize your profits in a pot when you get the hand you are drawing for. If you are playing for less than a nut hand, you are asking to have your chips burned up and lose even more than you could have won.
On the other hand, let's consider the play when you are lucky enough to flop a set, three of a kind. Don't get too cute with them, depending on the other cards out there. If you flop the top set, meaning there are no cards higher than your set, you might consider check-raising the hand. Check-raising might help build the pot if you feel there is a player, or a bluffer, that will bet the hand for you.
Otherwise, you might be losing a bet and call from several players in the hand. If you make your set on the turn card, when the betting level is now two bets, a check-raise might be in order, assuming other factors have not shown dangerous flush or straights already possible. Remember that while check-raising increases the pot, not too many players you trap will throw away their hand. If the board flops 6, 7, 8, and you have a pocket pair of 6's, bet it straight out! You want to win the hand right now, if possible. With a lot of players in the hand, often 5 or so in a low limit game, someone is sure to have a 5 or 9 or both. They will have an open-ended straight draw and will call for sure. And weak players will have a 4 or 10, looking for the gut-shot straight.
While that sounds pretty weak, when there are four or five players that adds a lot of outs that will beat you. Check-raising, and other betting strategies will be discussed at length in a future article. It is a delicate tactic and a learned skill to use it to maximize profits. Small pairs should rarely, if ever, be played beyond the flop if you don't get a set or three of a kind. Medium pairs should not be played beyond the flop if there are overcards, cards higher than your pair. You may already be drawing dead, or to a losing hand.
On the favorable side, if you don't flop a set, but flop a straight draw, and your pair is higher than any card on the flop, bet or raise anyone betting into you. This is especially true if you flop an open-ended straight with your pair being the top card. You have pocket 8's and the flop comes 5, 6, 7. Just be careful if you hit the third 8, as you now have a potential straight out against you. Before the flop there are several options for playing small and medium pocket pairs. If the blind has already been raised, I personally will not play pocket pairs 8 or under. Too many hands can beat me, and not enough outs for me. It depends on the player, my position and how many people are in the pot, on pocket pairs like 10's or even Jack's. Let them go and wait for a safer pot. Whenever possible you want to be in control of the action.
Don't be a caller to raises in front of you with pocket pairs. If I am in a late position and there are no players, or maybe just one player in the pot, I might raise to eliminate the blinds, or take control of the action after the flop. If over cards hit and there is a bet into me, I'm gone from the hand. Let them bluff the small pots for now. You will get them another time when you hit that set perfect.
Raising also sets up the possible semi-bluff if an Ace or King hit the flop, and the only other player in the pot checks to you on the flop. They will often consider your pre-flop raise as an indication of a King or Ace in your hand. Once again, position is all important in playing small or medium pairs. Being in an early position, right after the blinds, will seriously hamper your options.
Our next article will deal with the higher pocket pairs, Jacks, Queens and Kings. In summation on this topic, medium pocket pairs and small pocket pairs can make you a lot of money when played right. The key is when you flop the set. If you start chasing that third card on the turn or river, the cost will far outweigh any profits in the long run. I won't bother you with the math, just trust me. Every time you go all the way and don't improve that small pocket pair, it will cost you about 6 bets. That's a lot to make up by just losing one pot. Good turns and rivers to you.
Pokerwhiz ? 2002-2006