Poker: Small Pairs, Big Problem

It can be difficult to know what to do when you’re holding small pocket pairs at the poker table. They’re immediately ahead of every hand that’s not a higher pair (7 or above) but they can be easily run down at the end of a five-card board. Let’s look at how position and limit type can affect your small pairs.

Early Position
This is, obviously, the trickiest place to have a pair like 55 in your hand. You’ve not only got most of the entire table that is going to play after you, you’ve got to actually keep an eye on how your bet will trigger the action going forward. If you limp in, you’re probably going to have to call or face a re-raise against a player in a later position. If you opt to rise, it’s the same thing. So, how do you determine what your action should be?

Your chip stack is actually the biggest part of your decision-making process in this position and with a hand like that. If you’ve got a healthy stack that’s ahead of the pack, you can find calling to be a fine idea, as you stand a chance of catching a set, but otherwise, be willing to fold and move on, and that applies to tournament play, too.

Middle Position
Your options are much more easily weighed once you’re no longer under the gun. You can definitely get an idea of how the table is playing and if there has been a lot of action, you can fold with some confidence. That said, if you’re seeing a lot of calls and folds, you can definitely turn the situation around so that you’re betting and either working to scoop the pot or end up in heads-up against someone. You never want to take a small pair to the turn unless you’re supremely confident of the weakness of other players’ hands.

Late Position
This is where you can play poker for all its worth. Even when you’re holding a baby pair, your position allows you go for the flat call or the raise. Heck, you could even go for the re-raise if only one other player’s raised before you. However, if there have been multiple raises and re-raises, you have to fold. Just fold; don’t argue about it. It should be noted that for the sake of argument, “late position” could include the blinds.

The Limits
In a fixed-limit game, you can actually play a baby pair in pretty much any position as long as there are only two other betters at most in the pot. The odds of you catching a set don’t marginally improve, but you mitigate your losses handily. However, in a no-limit game, you have to take all of the above factors in mind along with the general tenor of the table.

Knowing that small pairs require a bit more thought is one of the best things you can do to improve your game. Watch the table and use some discipline, and you can play small pairs profitably. You also have to have the discretion to know when to, as the bard Kenny Rogers said, fold ’em.