Pre-Flop Perils: Low Pocket Pairs

Posted January 10, 2013


low pocket pairs

Anyone who has ever found success playing live or online poker has a few stories to tell about hands that either earned or cost them a lot of money. Yet when it comes to how to play a starting hand, the similarities start to fade away. A player's gaming style is as unique as the individual behind it. While many pros obtain comparable amounts of success, the kinds of hands that a loose aggressive player Gus Hansen would bet on would be instantly thrown in the muck by tighter pros like "Action" Dan Harrington.

One hand that has many in the poker community unsure of their impending actions during a game of Texas Hold’em is the low pocket pair. Cards that might find classification as 'low' range from 2s to 7s, as half of the 13 cards that could comprise a pocket pair are below pocket 8s (also known as snowmen) and half are above them. These cards are particularly tricky to play, as while they may be the best hand pre-flop, anyone who calls will likely have one or two overcards, which could spell serious trouble for aggressive players who like to lead out during poker tournaments.

Play Your Position

If you're in a weak position, then it might be wise to go ahead and muck low pockets from the get go. Everyone to your left is still to act, and you don't want to raise the flop only to be three-bet by someone holding pocket jacks. That being said, don't be afraid to check raise if you have position, or are in the blinds. Don't be afraid to re-raise and to put new pressure on your opponents. At this point you're hoping to chase out any marginal hands that may have limped along with a relatively unremarkable hand like jack-ten, who may have been hoping to skate by for a cheap flop. Remember when re-raising, however, your goal is to intimidate the raiser, so bet big enough to make them uncomfortable. Your bet should silence the rest of the table all the same.

Come Out Strong

If you are determined to play a low pocket pair, the worst thing you could do is simply call. Whether the pot has been raised or not will make your decision significantly easier, but never just sit on a low pocket pair or call a raise. The only acceptable plays with low pockets are to raise or fold. With such weak cards, even if they are a made hand, you probably just want to steal the blinds, so a raise is the best play when your position is strong. You want to chase out as many players as possible with this marginal hand, as the more draws that exist around the table, the more likely someone is to hit a pair that can trump yours.

Don't Feel Married to the Hand

At the same time, a substantial raise should be enough to put you off your hand swiftly. Whether you're sitting in a casino or hitting the virtual tables on your favorite poker site, you should be able to read other players' actions well enough to know that a raise suggests strength. Although there is a lot of bluffing to be found in poker, you have to decide whether or not that pair of fours is worth the risk.

Keep an Eye on the Odds

While you may feel bold to see a flop with a low pocket pair, it's important to understand the risk you run. The odds of hitting a set or better on the flop are 8.5 to one, or roughly 10.5 percent. The chances that you might flop a full house are a staggering 136 to 1 (0.73 percent), and the even more unlikely scenario of flopping four of a kind is a dismal 407 to 1 (0.25 percent). Recognize that missing the flop is real trouble for low pockets, as that there's a very strong chance that someone else caught something or at the very least will bet it. At that point you're faced with the unenviable task of calling a rather daring bluff or mucking your cards after what was, if you're following the strategies laid out in this article, probably a substantial opening bet.

That being said, not all of the odds in this scenario are against you. Pocket pairs have a 19.2 percent chance of improving by the river, making it a strong hand to bet aggressively during poker tournaments. A key element of tournament play is stealing of blinds, and that is undeniably the goal when playing a low pocket pair, as you're looking at a coin flip scenario if the hand goes to the flop. In the event that you find yourself in that position, be prepared to either bet big enough to scare your opponent out, or toss your cards in the muck at the first sign of a bet.


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The Pre-flop Perils of Big Slick

The Best Hold’em Poker Tips

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