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How to Play Low Pocket Pairs

Dominic Field

May 26, 2023

Hold'em hole cards with a pair of 6's

Playing small pocket pairs can be a challenge as they can give you a false sense of a strong hand, while in reality, their value is relatively weak if not played correctly.

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.

What are Small Pocket Pairs, And How to Play Them?

Small pocket pairs range from 2-2 to 6-6, anything higher is regarded as medium or premium pairs. Before you get too excited when getting a pair during a poker game, read this article through because it is going to open your eyes to a few unpleasant aspects.

To make small pocket pairs your winning hand, you need to remember that their strength is mostly revealed on the flop when you hit a set of 3-of-a-kind.

Once you get a set, playing passively is the last thing you want to do. Instead, your strategy should be to scare the opponents into folding, even if it requires a bit of bluffing. However, if you miss the flop, your small pocket pair is not worth fighting with.

The Issue With Low Pocket Pairs

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. In poker, any pocket pair is always a nice starting hand, but those with the lowest values can be problematic.

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 pre-flop, 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?

So What Should We Do With A Low Pocket Pair?

Low Pocket Pairs - Pocket 2sThe 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 pre-flop and try to hit that set.

What Happens If I Don’t Hit A 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.

Range Considerations

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 -Q- 5. 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 in 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.

Equity Denial

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, 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.

Low Pocket Pair Example Situations

Let’s look at what we should do in a few specific scenarios that can occur when holding a small pocket pair.

Low Pocket Pairs Examples

Against An Open Raise

When facing a pre-flop 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 post-flop 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.

Against A 3-Bet After Raising Pre-Flop

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 middle position, only call if you’re playing with exceptionally deep stack sizes.

Open Raising and 3-Betting With Small Pocket Pairs

Pre-flop 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 out 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.

Practice Playing Small Pocket Pairs At Natural8

As you can tell by now, not every pair has the same type of strength. Knowing the strength of the pocket pair that you have and knowing when to call, raise, or fold with such a hand will make you a better player.  

You have seen our thoughts and strategies for low-pocket pairs, as well as premium pairs such as pocket aces. The next thing to do is to practice, and what’s better than signing up for a free online poker account with a reputable poker platform? With that being said, why not create a free account with Natural8 today and start practicing with the freerolls and low-stakes tournaments?

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are low-pocket pairs?

Low-pocket pairs are any pair from 2-2 to 6-6. Anything above those numbers is regarded as medium or high (premium) pocket pairs.

Q: What is the biggest problem with playing pocket pairs?

While pocket pairs are good to start with, hitting a set of small pairs may put you in a bad position post-flop. This is because it can be hard to tell whether your competitor has a better hand than yours. In some cases, when you decide to risk whether other poker players bluff or do indeed have an advantage over you may turn out to be costly.

Q: Should you raise with small pocket pairs from the early position?

When played correctly, small pocket pairs can make you a winner. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. It might be best to fold small pocket pairs when facing a pre-flop. However, when you are in the big blind or the button, you have a higher chance of securing a post-flop position.

When playing, we would advise you to monitor the implied odds. For example, if your opponent has a big stack, it is worth making a raise and increasing implied odds pre-flop. It's worth a shot to risk and see whether you manage to get a set on the flop.

Q: How do I adjust my play with small pocket pairs depending on my position at the table?

Your position is crucial when playing low-pocket pairs.

If you are in an early position, it's best to play carefully since you aren't sure what your opponents have against you. Defending in an early position is also tough, so if your opponents play aggressively, it is advisable to fold your small pairs.

In contrast to that, playing in the late position gives you a big advantage over the rest. You have enough time to evaluate your opponents and see how they bet with their hands. If no one raises before you, chances are your hand with small pairs is the strongest. You may even win pre-flop.

Q: What are the odds of hitting the set with a pocket pair?

The odds of hitting the set pre-flop with a good enough pocket pair are quite low, to be precise, they are 7 to 1. But even if you hit a set, you shouldn't exclude the possibility that your opponent has a stronger hand.

One thing that may be overlooked is the implied odds. The implied odds for the sets are quite promising. Simply put, the bigger your opponent's stack is, the higher the implied odds are. And this is what makes many players stick with their pairs and not fold.

Q: How do I extract value from my opponents when I hit a set with a small pocket pair?

Since hitting a set with small pockets is a rarity, once you actually have a hand, it is only natural to want to win back the money you've lost before. First, you need to be aware of your opponents' ranges and analyse how they play. If you decide to raise too much, others may simply fold. But if you bet too small, your opponents will be tempted to call just to test you and others. Your priority should always be the players who have the highest stacks because you are likely to get the most value from them.