Thursday, August 17, 2006

How to play small pairs, in Texas Hold em

There's been much written on the subject of playing small pairs in Texas Hold'em. Small pairs consist of 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5 and 6-6. With so many words devoted to the topic, it's obvious that there are opposing theories regarding the best way to play them.

Here are my suggestions.

Unlike higher pairs, small pairs should not be played in all situations. Several factors determine whether you should enter a pot with a small pair: position, chip count, number of players, and cost to play.

In a typical ten-handed game, playing a small pair from early position simply won't show you a profit at the end of the year.

Your chip count and your opponent's stack size are also important considerations when deciding to call. If a player raises to 600 and only has 500 left, it's just not worth trying to catch trips on the flop, since you'll only be able to win an additional 500.

If, however, both you and your opponent have 30,000 in front of you, it makes more sense to see a flop for 600. If you're lucky enough to catch a set on the flop, you'll win a monster pot.

The number of players needs to be a considered, too, especially in a structured, limit game. Small pairs fare fine against one opponent, but generally don't do well in three or four-handed pots. However, if there are five or more players, you'd be getting excellent value. Go ahead and try to hit your set.

Small pairs want to see the flop as cheaply as possible. If someone just calls the big blind in front of you, then you can limp along for the minimum bet, hoping to capitalize after the flop. However, if the blinds are, say, 100-200, and an opponent raises the pot to 1,500, that's just too large a bet for you to stick around.

Once you've actually gotten to a flop, how you proceed depends on the number of opponents in the pot. If there are several players remaining, you should only continue if you flop three of a kind.

Against one or two opponents, though, you've got my green light to take one more shot at winning the pot. When choosing to do that, flop texture is of the utmost importance.

Suppose you're in a three-way pot and the flop comes Qh-10d-9h. This is a horrible flop for your lowly pair of fives; if anyone bets, fold. Even if they don't bet, you shouldn't try a bluff here, since it's far too likely that one of your opponents has something to go with that flop, like J-10 or Q-K.

A better texture would look something like Q-Q-3 or K-7-2.

With these flops, you can go ahead and bet your small pairs. Your opponents will probably fold unless they have a queen or king. If you consider yourself an aggressive player, you might try raising with these hands on occasion.

The best time to raise is when you're looking to steal the blinds. This strategy only works if no one has entered the pot before you. Also, being in late position increases the chances of the play being successful. If you raise from early position, there are too many hands to act behind you that might call.

When you raise with a small pair in position, you must play it strong after the flop. If an opponent in the blind calls your raise, then you must bet on virtually any flop -- even a flop as ugly as A-K-Q! Because you raised pre-flop, he'll think that you improved your hand. If he has a hand like Q-9, you'll probably win the pot with an aggressive bet.

Here's my rule of thumb: When playing small pairs, play them cheaply if you can, and only continue after the flop if you hit your trips.