When you are at the poker table you can play a pair of aces or 7-2. American players even say “it’s a no brainer” (which can be translated as “it’s obvious”).
But, other hands are more complicated to play at a poker table. This is the case with suited connectors (ex: 87 of spades, 76 of diamonds) or small pairs.
How to play these last? A novice player fears or overestimates them, while the discerning player sees in these hands a devastating potential to be played with mastery.
What are small pairs in poker?
Before I tell you how to play a small pair, I want to make sure you understand what it really is.
A small pair equals the following hands: 22, 33, 44, 55, 66.
For your information, we speak of an average pair for 77, 88, 99, TT (TT, or “ten ten”, is used to write a pair of 10s on forums and poker books).
The high pairs, called “overpairs”, are the figures such as JJ, QQ, KK, AA.
How to play well small pairs in poker?
Do not die with
Since getting a pair in hands already gives you one of the potentially winning poker hands , you can tend to overestimate it.
On low stakes in cash games, if you have one player raising preflop before your turn, a second raising, a third calling, chances are your small pair is behind.
However, if you go all-in with a small pair against a higher pair, you only have a 1 in 5 chance of winning.
Therefore, you should be aware that a small pair is not unbeatable.
Understand their strength in HU
However, I would like to quickly qualify my remarks. A pair remains a “hand made”. Against a wide range of hands, you are generally in a good preflop position.
This means that when you are in HU (= heads up, heads up) only a few hands can be ahead of you before the flop.
For this reason, all tournament players never hesitate to hit the stack when they have a low stack with a small pair when another player raises. Likewise, they sometimes follow rugs with a small pair.
If you have 22 against AK or AQ, you are very slightly favored with a 52% chance of winning the hand!
Look for the right odds
The other way to play a small pair is to take advantage of the odds and hope to hit a set on the flop and win big.
Let us take a concrete example. You have 55 and are playing against a very tight player who is only raising their big hands and playing them hard. You have a stack of 10,000 and so does he.
You raise to 300, he raises to 750. You only have 450 to add for a pot that is over 1150 + the blinds. The odds remain high, but knowing that if you hit your set, you have a good chance of taking everything, you have to pay.
If he has AK and the flop is A85, he will have great difficulty not offering his full stack!
On the other hand, if he raises to 1500 or has a stack of 3000, the odds get worse and you’d better fold to his reraise.
Be aware of your post-flop skills
The “push or fold” technique (stack or discarded cards) is often appreciated by good players at the end of the tournament with a small stack and a small pair.
But, if you have a big stack, you’re not going to send 100 blinds with your small pair. The only hands that would pay would be the better ones.
Post-flop play then becomes necessary. It is not always easy and beginners often end up lost. It is important to quickly develop “ranges” of hands for your opponents. The range is a panel of hands he can have.
Then, determine the continuation of your game according to this range and the bets. Sometimes you will call three bets to detect a bluff from your opponent, sometimes you will fold on the flop with only one card higher than your pair.
Post-flop skills are the most difficult to develop. Starting to play small pairs is a good way to acquire them. But, never forget the previous advice: don’t overestimate, don’t underestimate and think about the odds.