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How to play pocket pairs.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you take a peek at the cards you’ve been dealt and you see they’re pairs?

Do you start counting the chips this hand will land you? Do you feel like you have something exceptional in the pocket? If so, you’d better think again.

Take your pocket pair, and take a good long look at it from an objective perspective. Sure, if you have pocket Aces or pocket Kings, you are indeed presented with increased positive value for the hand you’re about to play, but most of the time, your pocket pair will be something like 7s, 3s, 8s or 6s.

What exactly does a pair like that mean to you? What do you need to improve a pocket hand like that? The biggest problem with pocket pairs is, that there are exactly two cards in a deck that can improve them. (there are 4 cards of the same value, two of those you’re already hiding in your pocket, so that means there will be two remaining ones left out there). If there are a whole bunch of limpers on the flop, I do not like the odds of that third card hitting the board any time soon.

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Can you make a flush or a straight? Sure, you could in theory, but if your pair is a low one your already feeble chances take a further blow.

In order for you to hit a flush with a pocket pair, there needs to be a 4-card one on the board.Whenever there’s a 4-card flush on the board, trouble rears its ugly head, because it’s almost guaranteed that several people will draw to a flush. The one holding the highest card of the required suit in the pocket will end up taking the pot. There’s no easier setup to be outdrawn on a flush than to hold a low suited card in the pocket. You may even end up worse than not improving at all, as you might generate action on your flush draw.

That said, a flush is obviously not a good setup for a low pocket pair. How about the straight? If there’s a gutshot one on the table that your cards fit perfectly, you have it made. The chances of that happening though, are extremely reduced.

If your cards fit the low end of a straight, you’re in trouble again. Given the fact that they are low cards, they won’t exactly fit the high end of any straight, so there you have it…

In conlusion: a low pocket pair is not such a great starting hand at all. Unless you manage to draw trips on the flop, there’s not a lot of value in taking them any further. Just about anything bigger than a high-card, your opponents will throw at you, will have you beat.

How should you play low pocket pairs then?

One way would be to act extremely aggressive pre-flop and make most of your opponents fold. The ideal situation in this case would be to have everyone but one guy fold, that way, your pair would give you some positive EV. This is a risky approach though, because if more than two people decide to call you, your chances are as good as gone, and so is the money that you raised.

Another thing that you can do is limp in to see the flop. If you make your set on the flop, then you have some serious EV+, if not, you can always fold.

Now, the problem with this strategy is, that the last thing you want to do is leave dead money in the pot to increase the odds for those who remain in the hand. You want to see the flop as cheaply as possible, so obviously, position will eventually decide the course of action you should take. If you’re in the BB, chances are you can take a peek at the flop for free. If you’re in a late position, you can correctly assess exactly how much the flop is going to cost you and decide accordingly.

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In early position, you don’t really want to limp unless you have a very clear read on your opponents and you’re in a short-handed game.

A pocket pair is a hand that can be drastically improved by a single card, but in the same time, it can just as well stay as it is, in which case, you can lose money on it.

Pocket pairs are among the most dangerous hands, because they create trouble. On the other hand, trouble is the single biggest money-maker in poker, as long as it works in your favor. When playing a low pocket pair, chances are, it won’t work for you though.

- written by Brad Stray

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