The Value of Pocket Pairs

After years of play, the masters of the most popular poker game in the world, 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.

cards_aces_and_manThis is the time of the game where the most important decisions are made. You have to evaluate position; whether the game is loose or tight; the skill level of your opponents; and the number of players who have already called. All of these components, along with those two cards face down in front of you, will determine whether you get in or get out.

Because five of the seven cards dealt in Hold’em are community cards, the game is about what you have in the hole, not about chasing pairs. The reason? If you improve your hand, your opponent usually will too. If you don’t consistently start with higher cards than your opponents, no matter how many years you’ve put in at the tables, you will not come out a winner.

If you draw pocket pairs, where odds run 16-1, consider yourself lucky, and in a good position to grab the pot. But you still have to know how to play them correctly, whether you’re sitting with a pair or deuces or a monster pair of aces.

High Pairs

If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, pocket aces are a Hold’em players’ soul mate. You have a huge advantage with this pair, and the first thing that should go through your mind is maximum profit.

But don’t get greedy and scare away the entire table away. You want at least two to three callers left to pluck before the flop. Anymore callers than that and something strange might occur by the time the river comes up. In other words, a big pair plays well against a five-player table, but loses steam to a 10-player table.

Second to aces, of course, are pocket kings, which are almost as powerful. Your main concern here is letting in drawing hands with an Ace suited. You’re still coming from a strong position because an ace will flop only once every eight hands.

A pair of queens is nervous time. You have the confidence of a monster hand, but the trepidation of getting hit with a king or ace over card, a card that opponents will more than likely play. Jacks can be played like queens, hitting the table with a big raise, betting on the flop, and then hoping everyone folds.

Low Pairs

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 you do decide to play a small pair, your ultimate goal is to flop three-of-a-kind, also known as a set. If you have 5-5 and the flop doesn’t produce the third 5, start thinking of an exit strategy. You have to think economy class when getting to the flop, playing your small pair as cheaply as possible.

The cost to see the flop with a small pair should be no more than a single blind bet. And since it’s rare that a set will be beaten by a higher set, having two’s in your pocket is only slightly worse than a set of nine’s. As with any hand, your 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 okay in a loose game and, if you’re aggressive, a raise if you’re near the button.

The most important advice when playing pocket pairs? “Never marry small pocket pairs.” This means you must be ready to fold if you do not make a set on the flop.