There are a lot of tricky hands to play in Hold ‘Em poker, but to me some of the hardest decisions come when you have a middle pair (anything from 6-6 to 10-10) as your hole cards.
Middle pairs are tough because you never know how your hand stacks up to everyone else that’s in the pot, and there’s also always the likelihood that you will no longer have the best pair after the flop comes. The first thing you need to consider when you get a MP (middle pair) is your position at the table. If you are first to act and have a 6-6, there’s a pretty decent chance that someone else ahead of you has a bigger pocket pair than yours, and that’s no good because then you only have two outs to beat them.
Generally, if you are in an early position and pick up a MP, just call and hope to see a cheap flop.
Seeing a cheap flop is what you are hoping for when you have a MP because usually the only way you can win with it is if you flop a set (hitting your 3 of a kind). There is a 7-1 chance that this is going to happen, so you have to consider the size of a pot before entering it. If you call in from an early position, you are hoping for a lot of callers, and then if you hit your set you have the chance to make a lot of money.
The ideal flop for a MP is something like 7-J-A rainbow (all different suits) when you have 7-7 as your hole cards. You’re going to get some action on the hand, so it’s best to just check and see what happens. In this scenario I will almost always just call whatever bets are out there and then wait until the turn to check-raise. If the flop is scary, (let’s say Q-J-7 with two hearts) with a straight and/or flush draw, you need to come out betting strong to try to ensure you win the hand. You need to make sure that someone chasing a draw is paying to do it. In that scenario I’ll usually bet the size of the pot so that the chaser isn’t getting good odds to try to see those cards.
Now, let’s say you’ve called with your MP in early or middle position and you get raised. When the action comes back to you, you now have a decision to make. You need to do some quick math and figure out if you are getting proper odds to call. You also need to figure out what your implied odds are, meaning not only do you have to figure out if you are getting proper odds on your money to call, but how much will you make if you hit your set. The implied odds for you when you do hit your set are fantastic, as most people won’t see it coming and you can get a lot of money out of them.
It is crucial when you play a MP to be able to lay it down if there are cards higher than yours on the board. Yes, you’re going to lose some money on the hand, but remember, you only have to hit the set one out of every seven times to make money on them, and when you do hit it, you’re going to win a huge pot most of the time.
Now, let’s say you’re in later position (the button and the two spots before it), no one has called and you have 8-8. In this scenario, it is correct to put in a raise and try and win the hand right there. If you just call you’re not going to get enough money in the pot to get to that 7-1 ratio you are looking for, so it’s best to put in a healthy raise (I usually go 3 to 3.5 times the big blind) and try to get everyone to fold. If you do get called on your raise, again, have the discipline to fold after the flop if you get over-cards to your MP.
Let’s say you’ve either called a raise or gone to the flop with your initial raise being called and you have 8-8. The flop comes 2-4-6 rainbow. Obviously your pair is better than what is on the board, but you also have at least one person in the pot that has represented a very good hand by either raising or calling a raise. At this point you need tread very carefully.
It’s doubtful that anyone has a 2-4-6 in their hand because we’re talking about hands that have been raised or called a raise. It’s very possible you have the best hand, but anyone still in the pot could have a bigger pocket pair than yours.
Usually what I’ll do in this scenario is if I act first I will put out a feeler bet of about 2/3 the size of the pot. If I get re-raised then I have to figure I’m beat by a stronger pocket pair, but my hope is that y opponents don’t have a pocket pair and they have something like A-Q or A-J and they will fold. If you have a MP and the flop comes out with all cards lower than yours, you really don’t want to see another card because it’s likely that it will be higher than yours and then you could be beat.
If I’m in later position on that 2-4-6 flop and there is a single bet ahead of me, I will re-raise to see if I have the best hand or not. Just calling in that spot doesn’t give you any information about what your opponent has, but a re-raise should either get him to fold or if he re-raises you back, you know he’s probably got you beat and you can fold.
Middle pairs are definitely scary to play but they are also extremely profitable in the right scenario. Play them correctly and they might make the difference between busting out early and making the final table!