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Additional Theory: Playing Low and Mid Pocket Pairs

Published October 03, 2008 - RSS/XML Feed RSS

By Sean Gibson


With the exceptional feedback I received from my previous previous article (click here) about playing low and mid pocket pairs for set mining value, I’d like to follow it up to answer your questions about the other “what if†scenarios. Remember that we’re almost always raising in an unraised preflop pot with any pocket pair from any position. There are of course scenarios where you wouldn’t want to do this to price yourself out of the hand so use your discretion.
Moving past the set mining value of pocket pairs, if you’re able to play the low and mid pocket pairs (22-99) in MP (mid position) or LP (late position) you have positional value for cbetting (continuation betting). Using our handy-dandy replayer we can show scenarios of what to do in situations where you didn’t flop the set but are in a position to continue with the hand.
Here’s a prime example of this sort of situation:
In this game using Holdem Manager we unfortunately have no substantial stats on this villain (‘Pirates cast’) other than he’s been in 100% of the hands so far (through five hands). We lead out here with our standard stealing raise of 3x from the CO (cutoff position, one off from the button). Our loose player calls preflop and we see a board of T22 rainbow. On boards like this we’re cbetting in position 100% of the time. Yes, we didn’t hit the flop, but we’re fairly confident he didn’t hit anything either. Now things get tricky when our cbet doesn’t work and he flats us. Another low card hits the board and we see that there’s now a flush draw. It’s double barrel time because we still have the best hand unless he’s slow playing a 2 (certainly a T would have raised us on the flop, and if not, good for him). The villain flats us again on the turn. So what’s his range at this point … what hand are we up against that would be consistent with this betting pattern? 
Overcards? Probably. Paired his 6? Maybe. Flush Draw with overcards? Probably. The Queen of Spades on the river was his big chance to bluff at the pot. He’s represented overcards through the whole hand, one hit, and he failed to act. His hand reeks of KJ or AJ or even A6. It’s value time and with 200% of his river stack in the pot he’s committed without realizing it. He calls with ace high and our hero takes it down.
Now we’ll look at another hand, with 88 coincidentally enough …
This hand is really tricky because the action preflop is pretty standard but post flop we’ve got a paired board and two villains, and we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Remembering we’re the preflop aggressor this is a spot where some people take their shot at the pot with a cbet (as our hero does) and then backs off the hand. We get a flat from the 39/5/1 fish (Andy Berry). For the stat lines as a reference the first number (39) is the % of time they voluntarily put money into the pot, and the second number (5) is the % of time they raise PF, and the third number (1) is an aggression factor. So this is a guy that gets into pots and plays them passively. In addition our stats show he only folds to a flop bet 27% of the time, so he loves to be the floaty type and suck out I suppose. Although the 2 is a complete brick on the turn for both players our hero properly recognizes that a K definitely would have called that flop cbet and a T would have too to slowplay. In addition our hero has to be careful of straight draws with AJ, AQ or JQ as well as a flush draw (all most likely what he’s holding). Our opponent then on the second brick (the five of hearts) on the river throws out this weird looking $5 value bet. It’s a weak bet … certainly a K or a T in this spot would want more value for their hand right? And if we think about his most likely holding of a busted straight draw or busted flush draw, the only way he’s winning the hand is with a river bet. Since he has positive equity to call, he does. The villain does in fact show his busted straight draw, and our hero takes down a nice pot with two pair.
We have one final hand here to show, which demonstrates the power of simply playing position and being able to read the board texture more than anything.
Our hero is basically stealing from the button and he gets one caller. Our Holdem Manager stats tell us he’s folding exactly 0% of the time to blind steals so he’s playing ATC (any two cards). The flop is somewhat coordinated but our hero cbets this with position and our villain calls. When you look for double barrel cards you are looking for a card that scares the heck out of the villain. If that Q completed his straight on the turn, it would take the patience of a saint to check here. He does check and our hero double barrels for the win.
To summarize:
-          Playing pocket pairs with position can look very scary to your opponents. Do not be afraid to spot good continuation betting opportunities and punish those that called you preflop.
-          If you’re out of position this becomes a lot harder and something we’ll discuss in a later article
-          Try to read your opponent’s likely range and play against it.
Check Sean's blog for updates on his poker journey at:

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