Playing Pocket Pairs In Texas Hold’em

Many Poker players find that they run into a little difficulty when it comes to playing pocket pairs. Regardless of whether it’s a small pocket pair or a big one, they still manage to cause some trouble and ending up losing more money than they should.

It’s quite unfortunate, because pocket pairs can be some of the most profitable hands that you can possibly play in the game of no limit Texas Holdem, but only if you know how. Allow me to give you a quick guide to playing small, medium and big pocket pairs in Texas Hold’em.

Let’s turn those pocket pairs into winners…

Small pocket pairs.

These are the pocket pairs that most people have trouble with (22 – 66). They look great before the flop, but when the flop comes down with all those over-cards, your pair doesn’t look so attractive any more. What are you supposed to do?

From my experience, the only thing you are looking for with a small pocket pair is to hit a set (three of a kind) on the flop. If you don’t hit your set, be happy to let the hand go and move on. Trying to play a low pair with a bunch of over-cards on the flop is never fun, and it is likely to prove to be unprofitable for you.

But wait there, is it profitable to play pocket pairs with the intention of dumping them when you don’t hit a set?

Yes, it’s very profitable to play this way. If you hit your set, there is a very good chance that you are going to take down a very healthy pot, as many players overlook the possibility of their opponent having such a strong hand. So if your opponent catches a decent hand like top pair or two pair, you can expect to get paid off handsomely a lot of the time.

It’s even profitable to call up to 5 or 6BB raises with a small pocket pair to try and hit that set on the flop, simply because they pay off so handsomely when you do hit.

All you have to do to play small pocket pairs profitably is bet strongly when you hit your set and let the hand go when you don’t. It’s as simple as that.

Medium pocket pairs.

Medium pocket pairs (77 – TT) look a lot more promising than their small pocket pair counterparts, but I always lean toward playing them in almost exactly the same way. There is a smaller chance of seeing so many over-cards on the flop with a medium pair, but they can still be very tricky to play unless you have a set.

However, as opposed to resigning myself to just calling raises as I would with a small pair, I am more inclined to bet out to take the initiative in the hand with a medium pair. I’m not always expecting to be comfortable when that flop comes down, but taking the initiative in the hand gives me more opportunities to win it, even if the flop isn’t too favourable.

Nonetheless, as always the primary goal is to hit a set. This is not to say I’m always going to let the hand go if I miss, but I’m not going to be prepared to fight for the pot if I come up against any significant action.

Big pocket pairs.

Big pocket pairs like JJ, QQ, KK and AA are much more fun to play than any other pocket pair, just as long as you do not make the fundamental mistake that many players do:

Do not slow-play big pocket pairs.

At the end of the day, you only have one pair before the flop, and the chances are that you are only going to have one pair on the flop too, so there is no reason for you to sit back and allow other players to catch up with you. Start betting strongly and make sure that the other players are paying to see the flop, turn and river. Calling the big blind before the flop with AA is a horribly horrible play.

If there are no over-cards to my pair, I am going to bet out strongly to make sure that other players are paying for any potential flush or straight draws. It will be perfect if we run up against an opponent that has hit top pair, as we can expect to take home a nice chunk of money.

If an over-card hits on the flop when I’m holding JJ, QQ or KK, I am inclined to make a continuation bet to take the pot there and then. If I get called I will re-evaluate my situation, but an over-card is not a sign to clam up and run away from the hand.