A low to medium pocket pair often elevates a player to top position prior to the flop. Unfortunately, with so many over-cards floating around that tantalizing hand often goes sour. In order to understand the best way to play this hand, make sure you are well versed in the two general techniques employed when someone is holding a low to medium pocket pair.
One option is to limp in and hope for trips to hit. The other is to make a substantial raise and chase away any callers.
Neither of these techniques guarantees success, but your game will improve when you better understand the other factors surrounding your bargain basement pocket pair. So next time you’re in a no-limit game and see something resembling pocket 4s don’t immediately react as though you’ve won the lottery and overplay them (a common mistake for novice players). Instead, inhale gently and take inventory of your chip stack, position, style of game and opponents before deciding how to proceed.
When you sneak into a hand without a raise and then hit a set, your opponents will have a lot of trouble putting you on that hand. Those with top pair and two of a kind will be beating into the trap you surreptitiously set for them. There is a reason pocket pairs are called silent killers.
The odds of hitting 3-of-a kind on the flop with a pocket pair is nearly 11 percent.
Another advantage of sneaking into a flop with this type of hand is you will have a good idea where you stand when all low cards hit the board. Most likely your opponents are playing a single high card. If no high cards are on the board, then you have the ability to make a sizeable raise since most likely you have the best hand. If you find yourself in this position, you must make a big raise to show strength and to stave off those on a draw.
The same holds true if the flop brings a lot of high cards. Someone betting the board with a lot of high cards probably has you beat.
The greatest advantage in coming in quietly with a low to medium pocket pair is how easy it is to walk away when re-raised a sizeable amount. Instead of committing too many chips to a hand that can go south real quick, it’s easy to fold this hand if you don’t make a large initial investment.
I like the idea of “easy in – easy out” with low pocket pairs.
Of course, chip stack is also important in how you play this hand. Usually low to medium pocket pairs generate the most action when it involves those with either the most or fewest chips. If you have a lot of chips you are in a position to gamble more, so these are good cards to use to push around the other less fortunate souls at the table. This hand is great for someone with a lot of chips because he is in a position to make a large bet and take away the pot odds for those on a draw.
For those barely clinging to life, especially in a tournament, having a low pocket pair makes an all-in a solid play. Going all-in gives you a chance of taking the blinds and letting the others know you are dangerous enough that they should think twice about picking on you. If someone calls, you’re probably going to race with them, and if you are without a lot of chips this is one of your best-case scenarios.
A double-edged sword also exists when you go into overdrive while playing the pocket pairs. If you make a large pre-flop raise, you run the risk of unnecessarily becoming pot-committed and overplaying what is probably a mediocre hand. If your hand is lower than 7s, then your chances are worse than a coin flip because the possibility arises that someone with just a little better pair than yours is going heads up against you. If that is the case, then you are really dominated.
On the other hand, if you fail to bet you leave the door wide open for someone to call with nothing and hit something on the flop that beats up.
These risks underlie why position is so important when playing low to medium pocket pairs.
An early position is often the best time to limp in with a low pair. By doing so, you can see how the others behind you react. If someone makes a large raise after you call the large blind that commonly signifies a medium pocket pair or a couple of high cards. If you have the money to gamble, you can call a large raise within reason or comfortably throw them in the muck without remorse if you feel like you are dominated. You will have these options as a result of not overplaying your hand too early.
Another reason position should dictate how you play a low to medium pair is you will be provided with the chance to size up the playing style of those behind you. If you have a calling station or a real loose player behind you, think twice about making a sizeable raise and just limp into the flop. If Mr. Call has something in the ballpark of K-9 unsuited, he will probably see your large bet and hope for some luck. If paint hits on the flop, tread lightly because he probably has a better hand. Large bets don’t necessarily shake off weak players who often just call. Inexperienced players tend to not know when they are beat, so a large bet in front of them is not as much a scare tactic as it is for other players.
If you are in a late position and there aren’t that many players involved with the pot, this is an opportune time to make a large raise. Raising with a low to medium pair is also advised when you know there are timid and tight players behind you. If you sense weakness, then view your pair of 5s as a pair of Aces. Play them confidently and continually raise to put pressure on tight players. Even if a tight player has a better pocket pair, he will very likely think the situation is reversed in your favor. By maintaining a steady betting pace, you can prevent a tight player from seeing the river and you ultimately know he will only call with the nuts.
Whatever decision you make with your low to medium pocket pair, make sure not to lead off with just a small raise. This does little to improve your chances of winning. Be committed and think either stealth or strength with the low to medium pocket pair.