how to play pocket nines

Texas Hold em Starting Hands » Pocket Nines

Regardless of your poker image or style, understanding how to play pocket nines comes down to this: play them like a small pocket pair and hope to hit a set (three-of-a-kind). Pocket nines are actually a middle pair, but playing them as if they are a small pair is the key to your best success with them.


As I just said above, you will play pocket nines as if you've got a small pair and go for the trip-up to a set. Having said that, what are the finer details of this strategy and how do they get used by different playing styles?

  • Well, you can always limp in pre-flop. Now, the truth is, 9-9 is a strong enough starting hand that you could have been aggressive and started raising with it, for the odds are decent that you have just been dealt the best hand to start off the game, although of course there are five possible better hands out there and nines are vulnerable to getting beaten down by overcards on the flop and turn. So if you limp in with pocket nines you could set your opponents up to underestimate your hand, sweeten the pot for you, and end up giving you a good portion of their bankrolls. This would be especially true if you got what you hoped for and tripped-up on the flop (or the turn if you stay in to see it). A lot of players love to limp with nines for just that reason. But, sometimes this is a positional move only. If you're in one of the blinds or under the gun that's an ideal time to limp with this pocket pair, but if you are in a later position and you've been getting limping and no crazy raise action pre-flop, you should seriously consider instead playing your nines as if they're Aces with aggressive raising in the hopes of building that bank (the pot) and winnowing down the competition. But just remember: if you take this approach and don't trip-up on the flop, don't try to face down anyone who stays or becomes aggressive against you. They probably really do have you beaten and you need to fold and cut your losses.
  • If you started off limping in with pocket nines and the flop comes with two overcards and no third nine, you should probably utilize your fold strategy immediately. Now, don't be fooled here. Players who limped in before may continue just checking or calling, yet this is prime bluffing time for anyone who started the game with any Tens, Jacks, Queens, Kings, or Aces but had a weak second card such as anything from deuce through 7. Do not overestimate your nines in this situation.
  • Some poker players insist on playing nines pre-flop based solely on their poker position. If they're in early position they play them for value, but if they are in a later position they go for the throat with raises hoping to really get a steal on the flop.


If you're a habitually aggressive player--and there's certainly nothing wrong with that, as I've written of elsewhere--just don't overvalue this solid, but not great, starting hand. You're only going to hit that set on the flop approximately 30% of the time, and in true aggressive style if you don't trip-up on the flop after your pre-flop raising you might just want to fold. But I know that's not for everybody, so there are variations on this theme that you can pursue as your strategic plan instead.

If you're aggressive, you should just decide as soon as you turn up those corners and see that 9-9 that you're going to raise--even if you're one of the blinds. The best aggressive player's strategy is to enter the game as if you're playing pocket Aces, not 9-9. Increase the pot, diminish the number of opponents, strike fear into opponents' hearts. You could even decide to go for a pre-flop pot victory if you don't see any scary moves by any opponents after you have put in your first raise. In the case of aggressive players, if they don't trip-up on the flop (if it gets dealt) and there are overcards, but they see the possibility of nailing a straight (or in fact do), they would likely be best served if they continue raising with the same strategy as pre-flop, and see the turn if anyone's left.

But just remember, folding early and folding often is part of every aggressive player's repertoire. Watch other players' moves and consider your position very carefully. If you know how to play pocket nines well, you'll have a lot of fun and have some great advantages over mere Holdem mortals.

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