Pocket Pairs are some of the trickiest
hole cards to play. A player who enters a pot with one of these hands must recognize the potential of winning big or going broke, and be
prepared to make critical decisions on later streets. The predominant concept of playing any mediocre pocket pair is ĎWin More/Lose
Lessí. In other words, when playing Pocket Pairs, you want to put yourself in situations that promote large pots when you hit, and limit
the pot size when you donít hit (or when youíre not sure of where you stand). If you can learn how to play a pocket pair in Holdem
comfortably, you will be much more at ease when these hands come up.
A player must be willing to take responsibility as soon as he/she mixes it up with a pocket pair. Deciding whether or not to raise (and
how much to raise) pre flop should depend on how you view your opponents. Principally, you want to be on top of the situation and ready
to maximize value after the flop.
When the flop comes out, youíll most likely be overjoyed or disappointed. Barring any no-brainer situations, a player will have to
decide how to proceed with keeping the pot under control while gathering information on opponentsí holdings. Post-flop play with naked
pocket pairs is quite difficult, but there are certain moves any player can make in order to gain more value from playing these hands.
One very important rule I always follow is ďDonít be afraid to ask.Ē What I mean by this, is that you want to ask your opponent for as
much information as he/she will give you. For example, letís say you raised pre-flop with 88 and got one caller in the blinds to see a
rainbow-flop of KJ2. Your opponent checks or bets here; leaving you with a couple of options. The first option is giving up on the hand.
If you have no read, or if itís apparent youíre beat (and your opponent is unwilling to fold), then there should be no problem with
mucking the hand.
Folding a loser is a great way to ďLose LessĒ. However, a player should consider another often-overlooked option, which is asking your
opponent just how much he likes his hand. Keep in mind that you would prefer for the chips to be deep and blinds to be low when playing
back at your opponent. Letís assume weíre playing the early-stages of a tournament and blinds are 25/50, and each opponent has about
2,500 chips. The pot was raised to 175 pre-flop, and called by one person. Our approximate pot amount is 400, and our opponent leads out
with a bet of 250. Generally speaking (there are exceptions), youíd better either ask your opponent to give you an answer or fold your
hand. In this particular situation, Iíd immediately raise if I felt there was a good chance to take the pot down right there. Calling
(without having a reason to call) is a sure-fire way to lose value on your hand.
The last thing you want to do is play a guessing game on later streets. By raising, you put pressure on your opponent, which will very
often force him/her to arrive at a more logical decision. There have been countless times when Iíve gotten my opponent to come over the
top of my raise; thus providing me with a very elementary decision. There have also been many times when my opponent simply wasnít
willing to put any more chips in the pot, and folded the hand.
Above all, you must make an effort to stay on top of things in these situations. Playing Pocket Pairs can be troublesome because many players
get sucked into post-flop situations where they get trapped. You want to avoid getting pot-committed if youíre unsure of the situation.
One of the most common situations in the above scenario, is facing an opponent who flops mid pair Jack and value-bets all the way to the
river while the person holding the pocket pair auto-calls. Donít let yourself get into undesirable situations like this where you feel
you must value-call Turn and River bets.
By raising (or re-raising) the flop, you take control of the pot and force your opponent to make a move one way or the other. Even if
your opponent calls, your flop raise will many times freeze the action and allow you to non-chalantly stroll your way into a showdown
unscathed (where youíll gain valuable information by viewing your opponentís hole cards). You Lose Less in the long-run by keeping a
close eye on the situation and playing the hand on your terms.
One other point thatís worth mentioning is adjusting to the way you are playing pocket pairs as blinds increase. Your options are very broad
early-on in tournaments. The value of seeing a cheap flop with just about any hand is much higher when the chips are deep and blinds are
small. 22 is a wonderful hand if you can see a 3-way flop by getting in dirt-cheap. Just be careful and be willing to muck the hand if
you donít hit. Thereís no reason to get into an ego contest when you can find much better and clearer situations to make moves. But once
the blinds start increasing a little, youíll have to adjust your game and bring all your ability to the table in order to have a shot at
consistent success. Donít forget that every single player must deal
with the pressure associated with ever-increasing blindsÖ youíre not alone.
With experience and familiarity, an improving player can use situations like these to take control of an entire table. The idea isnít to
project the image of a maniac, but rather to let your opponents know that theyíll actually need a hand to play back at you.
The point I want to make in this article isnít to influence you to act in a certain way. Feel free to play these hands in any way you
feel comfortable. However, players with positive expectation should seek out opportunities to accumulate chips in situations where
others dare not tread. For those who ultimately refuse to stray from formula-oriented pocket pair strategies, Iíll say thisÖ donít
forget to fold if youíre not going to play the hand.