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The hypnotic effect of pocket pairs.

I suppose we're all familiar with the following situation: in an online poker tournament, some guy goes all in preflop, followed by two more 'daredevils' only for the three of them to show down AA, JJ, and QQ respectively...

As a matter of fact, we've probably seen this happen so many times, that after a while it's become a commonly accepted fact that if someone went all in preflop, he'd most probably hold a pocket pair. What is this thing with pocket pairs? Are they really the almighty weapon they're hyped up to be, by all these guys going all in, at the mere sight of one?
Not exactly...

To me, pocket pairs seem a lot like a gutshot straight: dangerous. Why is a gutshot straight dangerous? Simply by virtue of the fact, that it will keep the player's hopes alive right up until the moment when it's too late. (High) pocket pairs have this potential too. They look good (who doesn't like the sight of a JJ, QQ, KK, or AA in the pocket?) They look as if they were screaming for a third card of the kind to join them. This is what makes them dangerous. You only need one card to hit a potential pot-winning combination, and some players will decide to chase that card all the way down the stretch.

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But let us take a closer look at the possibilities a player holding a low pocket pair is faced with: let's consider the worst kind: pocket 2s.

There are four 2s in a deck altogether, so, by already holding on to 2 of them, the possibility of a third one surfacing on the flop is cut into half. Nonetheless, if the preflop betting doesn't escalate, it is always worth to take a peek at the flop on such a pocket hand.
If the flop doesn't hit, just think how much it'll cost you to see the turn and the river, measure that up against the odds of a third 2 turning up and make your own decision.

What if a 2 does turn up on the flop? You'll get trips, which you'd normally have to be insane not to take all the way. But you need to know that any other player holding trips will have you beat, also, if the texture of the board foretells a straight or a flush you'll be on the short end of what I like to call a 'perfect hand'

Of course, quads could always save the pot for you, though I think I needn't go into details about the likelihood of them occurring.

What do you really stand a chance for, when holding pocket 2s? Straights and flushes are naturally out of the question, so pretty much all you're left with, is trips. This is valid for every pocket pair, not just 2s. That doesn't make pocket pairs an overly versatile hand, does it? What you want in your pocket is a hand that can eventually amount to something good in a variety of ways. A versatile hand. That is why experts recommend you see the flop on suited connectors. Both the possibility of a flush, and straight is there, plus you can well hit trips, or two pairs with them too. Suited connectors are versatile hands, pairs aren't.

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Of course we all know poker is a game of cards as well as a game of betting. Betting is the thing that eventually wins or loses a pot, not the hands themselves. Thus, the above should be viewed as a strictly mathematical analysis of the pocket pair situation. In the hands of a good player, a weaker hand can beat a stronger one belonging to a weak player. This is part of the beauty of this game. There's a lot more to it than just strong and weak hands. Board texture, table selection, opponent manipulation, plus a bunch more, are all going to have a say in the way you play your hands. Pot odds and pot equity are also vital to making positive-expected-value decisions.

Pot equity is also important from the point of view of the house as it's an accurate measure of the rake each player generates and thus of the rakeback each player will (or would) be entitled to receive.

Bottom line would be: pocket pairs are good, but they tend to be far overrated simply because of the fact that they look better than any other pocket hand.

Next time you take a look at the fresh AA dealt to your pocket, don't just see how well they can win the hand, don't just see the good in them, but try to spot the dose of evil they carry, too.

- by Joseph Pierce

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