Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Playing Pocket Pairs the Do’s and Don’ts and My Pocket Pairs for 2008

First a couple videos to educate you and entertain you.

Video of KK vs QQ vs AA

Phil on playing small pocket pairs

What are Pocket pairs? In No-Limit Texas Holdem you are dealt 2 hold cards. These are 2 cards that only you can see. Then there are 5 community cards that are dealt face up. Everybody sees these cards and can use these cards. Whoever can make the best 5 card hand using their 2 hold cards and the 5 community cards wins the game.

When your 2 hold cards pair, you have 2 cards of the same value (strength), it is known as having a pocket pair you have a pair in your pocket.

There are many different strategies on playing pocket pairs. I will review my strategy and then out line another strategy I have seen played.

I break pocket pairs in to several categories.

Top Premium Pocket Pairs AA and KK
Premium Pocket Pairs QQ and JJ
Top Pocket Pairs TT and 99
Medium Pocket Pairs 88 – 66
Bottom Pocket Pairs 55 – 44
Garbage Pocket Pairs 33 – 22

I break pocket pairs into more categories then most poker players. There are no set rules on playing pocket pairs as with any hand much depends on your position at the table, what action has happened so far, what the other players are like at the table, loose, tight, passive, and aggressive. Do you want to help create a certain image?

The below hand is a good example of how I played my pocket pair differently then I normal would because I wanted to have an effect on the table, and the player and my position set this up perfectly. Let me explain, and then you can run through the hand.

I had been at the table for about 20 hands and besides the blinds I had not played a hand. Justiceaa was very loose and called or raised almost every hand. NopTheFlutz was a very good player and very tight. So when everybody folded to Justiceaa and Justiceaa made a 4 blind raise, I knew there was a high probability that his hand was worse then mine, since most random hands are worse then TT. When NopTheFlutz just called the raise, I new he had some kind of draw, if he had a hand like JJ, QQ, KK or AA he would have raised, as I said NopTheFlutz was a good player and I am sure he knew that Justiceaa would call any raise, so if he had a very strong hand he would have raised to reduce down the number of players and build the pot. If I did not know much about these players I would have just called, but I raised for 2 reasons. 1) I knew Justiceaa would call and NopTheFlutz would fold, I was somewhat confident the Big Blind and Small Blind would fold unless they had KK or AA and maybe AK which was not likely. 2) I wanted to go to showdown, so that the table would see I am willing to make a huge over bet with pocket ten’s.

The way other players perceive you is important to understand and control, so in the above situation I was playing to win the hand, but also the circumstance was perfect to make it look like I am willing to make a very large raise after a raiser and caller with only pocket Ten’s, which under normal circumstances I would not do. But because of this play in future hands when I make a big raise the perceived range of hands that other players would put me on is now wider then what in reality I might have. View the hand and you will understand my strategy.

Let me break each category of Pocket Pairs down for you and how I would play them.

Top Premium Pocket Pairs AA and KK

Pocket Aces and Kings will win about 90%, and 85% of the time, when against one other player (heads up) in fact if you look at my statistics below you will see that last year I had Pocket Aces 260 times and won 92% and Pocket Kings 253 times and won 79%. The key here is when playing against one other player. The chances of winning go down exponentially for each additional player in the hand. So what you want to do is build a big pot, but at the same time only have one player in the hand before the flop comes.

I have seen players limp in time after time from early position with both AA and KK, only to get 8 callers to follow them. The flop then comes 3h 3d 4c and they lose their whole stack to the Big Blind who had 3c 4h. I also have seen players make a big raise from early position only to have everybody fold to them and then be all upset that they only won the blinds. Out of every 213 hands you should get one pair of Aces and one pair of Kings, so it is important you play them correctly.

Another important fact is to accomplish the above goal while concealing to the other players what your cards are. Look at the below hand.

Now Studboy1 made a huge mistake. His limp in was a bad choice. As I mentioned above limping in with Aces or Kings can be a big mistake, what happens if you do not get raised? So you only want to limp in if you know there is a loose aggressive player at the table that has a high probability of raising. This particular table was tight and had good solid players, so a raise was only coming if a player had a very good hand, pair above 10’s, AK, AQ and maybe AJ. If he would have just made a standard raise of say 3 – 5 blinds, he still might have gotten a caller (me) but I would not known where I stood.

Instead he got one raiser ar_gtam and then I called him. So why did I just call? Remember I have a few goals, build the pot, disguise my hand, and get down to just two players. By calling I am guaranteed to succeed at 2 of the goals, build the pot and disguise my hand, I have about a 50/50 chance of getting down to 2 players and I have no idea if Studboy1 would call or fold.

Now the biggest mistake Studboy1 made was making a big re-raise after I called. He was going to accomplish 2 goals, but at the same time he was telling us all what cards he had. The only cards you would limp in with and then re-raise a raiser and caller are KK, AA, QQ, maybe JJ and maybe AK. So Studboy1 built the pot, reduced the players to 2 and showed me his cards.

The rest is history. If he would have just called, then checked the flop as he would have been first to act and then raised us when one of us bet he might have won the hand by representing he had called the preflop bet with pocket Tens, Pocket 7’s or even Pocket 3’s. He might have gotten one or both of us to lay our hands down. Instead he lost 200 dollars.

So when playing pocket AA’s and KK’s my strategy is to get down to just one player, figure out what cards they have, and keep betting while you are ahead and check or fold if you are behind. Remember if you go to the river the average winning hand is 2 pair, so if you have just your pair of Aces at the river you are below average.

Premium Pocket Pairs QQ and JJ

These cards can kill you, while they are nice hand to have I do not like going past the flop with them and if an Ace or King shows on the flop I make sure I test for someone hitting the flop. I follow the same strategy as Aces and Kings as far as getting down to 2 players and building the pot. The one exception is I might check the flop with pocket Aces and Kings (slow play) depending on my position at the table to the other player, where with Jacks and Queens I rarely would.

The biggest difference between Queens and Jacks vs. Aces and Kings, you can fall in love (not fold no mater what) with Aces and Kings and over time you will still be ok, if you fall in love with Queens and Jacks over time you will go bankrupt.

With all four hand Aces, Kings, Queens, and Jack, If I am first to act I limp in about 10% of the time and raise 90%, I need to do this so other players can not read me. My raise is anywhere from 3 blinds on up, just depending on what I think I can get called by just one player or get a raise by a player.

Top Pocket Pairs TT and 99
Medium Pocket Pairs 88 – 66
Bottom Pocket Pairs 55 – 44

I will talk about all these hand together and give you the slight differences. The key to these hand are you would love to hit a set (3 of a kind) on the flop. While Ten’s and 99’s can stand on there own, if there are no high cards on the flop, it would be very hard for pairs below eights to win by the river without hitting a set, or be part of a straight or maybe even a flush. I raise 70% of the time with tens and nines if I am first to act and call about 30% of the time. I will call most preflop bets unless it is a huge re-raise. I will fold to an all in bet from a short stack unless I know the player and believe they might go all in with anything.

Eights to sixes, I will just call 80% of the time and raise 20% of the time if I am first to act. I will only call a raise if the player has in his stack 20 times what his raise is and I also have that much. The reason for this is that I will hit a set 1 out of 7 times on the flop. So in order to be getting the right odds to win over time, I need to make sure when I hit my set and get at least 7 times the raise added to the pot before the river. I believe this will happen about 1 out of 3 times I hit my set, this is the reason I like to see 20 times the raise in the players stack.

Fives to fours, I call 90% of the time and raise 10% of the time if I am first to act. Again I will only call a raise if the player and I both have 20 times the raise in our stacks, for the same reasons as above. You need to be very careful with pocket 4’s and 5’s as they can easily be counterfeited. What that means is you think you have a pair, but two higher pair end up on the board so your cards just become the kicker. See the below hand and you will understand, until the river my opponent had the best hand, but after the queen hit on the river the only hand he could bet was a pair of 2’s or 2 3. Any other hand beat him. Watch the hand and you will understand.

All or these hands are hands you must not fall in love with. This next hand is an example of a player falling in love with pocket tens. Remember a mistake in poker is when you would do something different if you knew what cards were in your opponent’s hand. When I made the re-raise on the flop, d3lfy gave me the right odds to call his all in. If he would have waited for the turn and it was not a spade it might have been a tougher call for me.

Preflop I called because of the great odds (4 to 1) I was getting I knew the small blind would call and I would have position after the flop. After the flop I hit my 9 but that did not mean I had the best hand and I was pretty sure it was not best. The larger then pot size raise by d3lfy said he had a hand, most likely and over pair, and I want to chase any draws away. At that point he was a favorite 51% to 48% a coin toss. If he has QQ, KK, or AA it he was a much greater favorite as 3 of my outs (q’s) would be gone. If he would have just called instead of pushing all in, he may have saved himself 18 dollars when the spade hit on the turn, he might have felt pot committed at that point, it is hard to say. Or if he did not fall in love with his Ten’s he might have put me on a pair of 9’s, 7’s or 5’s all or which would have had him crushed.

Garbage Pocket Pairs 33 – 22

Simply the name says it all, fold 90% of the time play 10% and fold or check to the river. If you hit a set someone could have a better one, if you hit a straight someone could have a better one, if you hit a flush some most likely has a better one. The follow hand says it all.
Pocket 3’s

I have seen some players play another strategy with pocket pairs they play them all the same. If they are first to act they raise to 4 blinds, no matter what the pocket pair. After the flop they make a pot size bet no matter what the flop is. If they get raised they will fold unless they have a premium pair or better, or hit a set. If there was a raiser before them preflop then they will make a 3 times the pot raise, after the flop they will do just as above. Since they play all pairs the same way it is very hard to play against them. I have not tried this strategy so I can not tell you if they make money at it or not.



P.S. Below shows my win / lose with pocket pairs for last year 2008.

HandTimes DealtWin %Amount Won

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