Low-value pocket pairs can be difficult to play. Although they can be powerful hands, they can also land you in a lot of sticky situations. Especially if you’re a relatively inexperienced No-Limit Hold’em player. In this article, we’ll learn how to play small pocket pairs effectively.
While any pocket pair is always a nice starting hand, those with the lowest values can be problematic. When we talk about small pocket pairs, we’re generally referring to 2-2 through to 6-6. While they are pretty strong, it’s very easy to overvalue such holdings.
Whenever we have a low pocket pair, there’s a high chance of seeing overcards hit the board. So while we are almost certainly ahead preflop, that’s likely to change quickly. When it does, it can then be difficult to extract information, particularly when out of position. If we bet out on the flop and find a call, it’s tough to really know where we stand. Is our opponent drawing? Are they already ahead?
The real value of a small pocket pair lies in its set mining qualities. Flopping a set leaves you in an extremely strong position, but it’s also an incredibly well-disguised hand. So, as a general rule, especially for relatively inexperienced poker players, look to control the pot preflop and try to make that set.
Speaking broadly, the best approach is to dump the low pocket pair when facing postflop aggression. There will be situations when you have a read on your opponent or can justify trying to get tricky. But small pairs are the type of hand where you’ll put lots of money into the pot trying to work out where you are. And invariably, you’ll lose money in the long term.
However, as with any situation in No-Limit Hold’em, we need to consider our range rather than our specific holding. They only make a set around 12% of the time, and we still have to be able to represent a strong hand when appropriate. Imagine the following scenario:
After raising preflop with 4-4, only the big blind calls. We then see a flop of A(Spade)-Q(Diamond)-5(Spade). This board has hit a big chunk of our range. The Ace is obviously a strong card for us, given our preflop raise. But we can also have many straight and flush draws, not to mention two-pair and set-type hands.
As the caller was in the big blind, they are more likely to defend than any other position. If they had a real monster, you’d have likely seen a preflop 3-bet. So, all things considered, we have to believe that our range is well ahead of theirs. Therefore, this seems a good spot in which to fire off a continuation bet.
Having already said that it’s generally a good idea to ditch small pocket pairs when missing the flop, why bluff in this situation? Firstly, it’s about balancing that range. If we only bet when making our set, we become too predictable. But then there’s also equity denial to consider. An opponent with two overcards, such as 8-7(Clubs), is almost certain to fold to a bet. But if we keep them in the hand, there’s a good chance they make a better pair than us.
Let’s look at what we should do in a few specific scenarios that can occur when holding a small pocket pair.
When facing a preflop open raise with a small pocket pair, we should generally be folding. The two main exceptions are when we are in the big blind or on the button. In the former case, we are safe from being squeezed, while in the latter, we’re guaranteed the postflop position.
Solvers suggest these are both profitable plays. Calling in from the early position is a definite no-no, while doing so from the cut-off and hijack positions is marginal. As an inexperienced player, you would be safer staying out of it with hands like 5-5 and 4-4.
As a general rule, you should never 4-bet preflop with a low pocket pair. You can certainly call some of the time, especially if it’s a small blind vs big blind confrontation. Since raising ranges are wider in such situations, you can safely broaden your calling range too.
The most likely spot in which to call is if you raised from a late position. But if you’re seated in early to mid-position, only call if you’re playing with exceptionally deep stack sizes.
Preflop 3-betting with a low pair is a bad idea. If you’re going to get aggressive without a strong hand, you need to factor in potential blockers. Bluffing to balance our range would be better achieved with a weak ace. Something like A-4, for instance, since it lessens the chance of your opponent holding an Ace.
In terms of open raising, we can do so with any pair from any position, if playing short-handed. But at a table of 9 or 10 players, a lot of the time you’re actually better off folding from the first two positions. As we mentioned previously, you’re not going to be able to defend from an early position if facing a 3-bet. And limping shouldn’t even be a consideration.
From mid-position, we can safely open raise, even at a full-handed table.
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