Playing Pocket Pairs
After playing for years, the masters of Texas Hold’em, have perfected their skills at bluffing, strategy, slow-playing and reading other players. But the one thing it doesn’t take an expert to know is that the pocket cards in Hold’em hold all the power.
This is the time of the game where the most important decisions are made. Position, whether the game is loose or tight, the skill level of the other players, and the number of players who have already called and must be taken into account in deciding if one should play their hand or pass.
Because five of the seven cards dealt in Hold’em are community cards, the game is about the cards in the hole, not about chasing pairs. The reason? If one improves, their opponents usually will too. No matter how many years you’ve put in at the tables, if your opponents are consistently starting with better cards, they will often come out on top.
If you draw pocket pairs, where odds run 16-1, consider yourself lucky, and in good position to grab the pot. But it still takes knowing how to play them correctly, whether you’re sitting with a pair or deuces or a monster pair of aces.
High pairs consist of pocket Jacks or better. They should be played aggressively by raising preflop if no one has raised yet, or reraising if someone has. But remember that depending on how the community cards fall, a high pair hand can lose value quickly. If an overcard falls, tread carefully. If the flop has three of a suit or cards close enough in sequence, caution should also be exercised. Otherwise, bet it up if for nothing else than to gauge the strength of your opponents’ hands. But, always be cautious of playing a strong second best hand. As discussed, the big pair is a good hand, but it’s not a great hand.
It is important to understand the value of small pocket pairs. These hands fall under the category of playing well with very few (heads-up) or several (6 or more) other players. When playing a small pair, the ultimate goal is to flop three-of-a-kind. Without a set on the flop, it is time to start thinking of an exit strategy. The idea is to think economy class when getting to the flop, make sure it is as cheaply as possible. The cost to see the flop with a small pair should be no more than a single blind bet. As with any hand, position makes a difference on how to play a low pair as well. Since they’re not strong raise material, early position hurts. Middle is OK in a loose game and, a raise from late position is good if no one else has entered the pot.
The most important advice when playing pocket pairs? “Never marry small pocket pairs.” This means one must be ready to fold if they do not make a set on the flop.