Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Secret Life of Pocket Pairs

Low pocket pairs can be difficult hands to play. On one hand, you want to bet them heavy to buy the blinds or to limit your opponents (hopefully to one) in order to get the best odds to win. However, if you do get that caller he probably has two over-cards leaving you with a coin-flip situation and somewhat pot-committed with your initial bet. So do you want to bet small or just call pre-flop? Well, not really. Then you would have more callers and each player who stays in the hand drops your odds to win with a quickness.

In good conscious, I will begin with a disclaimer that I don’t play pocket twos and pocket threes unless I am dealt them as big blind. These pocket pairs still work with the two below strategies, but for me they hold a high enough risk factor to not be worth my effort. And, yes, I’ve had some previous bad experiences. Inversely, pocket Jacks or better are hands that are premium enough that I play more aggressively then the two below strategies and will discuss them at a later time.

I have two winning plays with pockets pairs 10s and under. The first is only recommended in late position with no previous callers. I start by betting three times the big blind. It is likely this will buy the blinds with tight players, but if not I will probably only get one caller who I can assume doesn't have a super premium hand. So that rules out an over-pair and leaves either two over cards, or better yet, one over card. Keep in mind if the opponent raises my bet pre-flop I have to assume a super premium hand and will probably fold.

I watch closely after the flop because a good read on my opponent makes this strategy a lot easier. Do I think he hit the flop? If it is three low cards, especially if there is a pair on board, I feel more confident. I fire out a strong bet if I think he missed. The opponent will likely fold here. If you have a good read that he hit strong, you might as well check it because he will likely bet or raise regardless of your action. If you don't have a read, fire a bet if you can afford it. He may fold or at least give you information and a chance to see another card.

Strategy number two can be played from any position and starts with a call pre-flop. A weak play that I don’t usually recommend, I know. I use the concept of implied odds here. It is likely that you won't hit the flop, but if you do, you have trips. Trips is a very strong hand at after the flop and before the turn, allowing you to raise most bets without fear, or slow-play depending on the situation. You called pre-flop which means there are probably a few players in the hand, one of them probably caught top pair or even two pair. I can make a lot of money with this, but have to stay aware that I can be outdrawn on the turn or river. It is because of this I only consider slow-playing against one or two players; any more is far too risky.

In conclusion, trips=good, pocket twos=bad, mid-pocket pairs=depends how you play them. I should probably change my blog name to Grundy, Master of the Obvious. But seriously folks, pocket pairs are not for the passive players. You need to come in strong and read your opponent to profit, or cheaply wait for the relatively low chance to trip up. As with all of poker, it greatly depends on the situation.

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