how to play small pocket pairs

Texas Hold em Starting Hands » How to Play Small Pocket Pairs

If you want to know how to play small pocket pairs, the answer is: carefully! Knowing how to play small pocket pairs--and I'm talking about hole cards that give you anywhere from 2*2 through 8*8 (some like to call 9*9 small pockets, too)--requires an understanding of pot odds, poker position, your opponents, and EV (expected value). In other words, my godlike opinion is, if you are a Texas Hold'em novice, you probably don't want to commit with small pocket pairs UNLESS you hit a three of a kind set on the FLOP.

Now, why in the world would anyone with just a small pocket pair in the hole want to stay in past the flop if they don't hit something with those community cards? Well, some people might have different personal reasons.

One reason may be you have enough audacity of hope that you're still going to get a third low card and take the big pot out from under those who play it too safe--especially when you sense that your opponent is falling on hard times trying to get you on trips (a Trip, in this context, is when a player has one card in the hole that can be matched to a pair on the board to form three of a kind).

Another reason may be that you're finding yourself with great pot odds to call. (Speaking of hitting trips on the flop, the odds are approximately 7:1). The odds get more strongly stacked against you if you chase down the river.

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But other reasons can include: you feel like you're playing with people who just lack aggression or experience and you can intimidate them by going aggressive with a small pair; you've been so card dead for several hands now that even 2*2 looks like a beastie to you; or, you're one of those players who just CANNOT give up on a pair, even a 2*2.

Some of those reasons are better than others, but it all comes down to you needing have an understanding of odds and the true poker characters of your opponents (yes, the odds are much easier to figure out).

So first off, you need to understand that small pocket pairs of 2s/3s/4s all have NEGATIVE EVs. What this means for you is that they are actually more likely to be losing hands than winning hands and, if you were to play enough hands with them (and just them), there's no chance that you would come away in the money. But--you aren't going to play them, usually. (See, that's kinda the point here.) So, if you know when to Texas hold'em at just the right time, you can take that pot of chips with them.

Knowing that as you now do, let's look at some other odds:

  1. Probability of being dealt any pocket pair, big or small: odds against you are 16 to 1.
  2. Probability of being dealt each one of the pocket pairs, including big ones: the odds are 220 to 1 against you.
  3. Holding a pocket pair at the flop -- the probability of getting a set: odds are 8.26 to 1 against you. The odds of hitting for four of a kind: 399 to 1 against you. Odds of hitting for a Full House: 133 to 1 against you.


  1. You need to be wise about your position if you don't hit on the flop with your small pocket pair. You could take more chances if you're under the gun and you want to play up an aggressive image, but if someone comes over the top behind you you need to think twice about taking it to the river. You've got to calculate the poker pot odds and think back on how the others have played in previous hands to make your determination here.
  2. Next, determine how the flop came out for you odds-wise, observe who else didn't fold/whether or not you are heads-up with one opponent. For instance, if you didn't hit on the flop, and an Ace was turned up, and you're heads-up, and your opponent check-raises, you're very likely done--unless you see some possibilities for hitting, say, a straight, and you have reason to suspect your opponent is bluffing you.
  3. If more people stay in after the flop, and you're holding a middle pair (6*6 through 8*8), you have to now pay close attention to the Blinds (assuming they're in). At this point, really meditate deeply on your position. Late positions, especially the button, have considerably more power here.

As you can see, knowing how to play small pocket pairs in poker can be complex business. These are just the basics. Practice playing with small pocket pairs online to build your experience.

Exit How to Play Small Pocket Pairs » Texas Holdem Poker

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