This article is in a series of articles that will look at various starting hands you can get in hold’em and what to do with them. It will focus mainly on preflop play, and will cover a normal 9 handed No limit game were you have an average chip size and a reasonable read on other players. While these articles do focus on no limit play, the principles can be applied to limit and pot limit games.
The first thing you have to realize about these small pairs are that they are basically drawing hands. That is they are unlikely to win you the pot unless they improve on the flop. Barring a miracle straight or flush, the only way they will improve is if you make a set or quads.
The other thing you have to realize is that you will generally only be drawing these hands to the flop. That is you are unlikely to call bets on the flop or turn with it hoping to hit your 2 outer and make a set or quads. So for example if you saw a flop with 2,2 and the flop came K,5,8 you should not call a bet from this flop hoping to hit a 2 on the turn or river. While you might win the pot if you hit that card you are more likely to not hit and hence lose a big pot then hit. Your odds of hitting the 2 on the turn or river after missing on the flop is approximately 11:1. So unless you are getting 11:1 odds which is highly unlikely you must fold on the flop if miss.
If you are likely to have say 7,7 and the flop comes down with all under cards such as 6,4,3 you could play on after the flop. You must however proceed with caution because of the potential straight draws that will be out there and also you must be aware of someone having a higher over pair then you do.
We will look at what you should do with these hands in the following 3 positions early, which is 1st or 2nd person to act, late position on the button or 1 off it, or in middle position.
This is probably the worst position to get a small pocket pair. You generally need callers in the pot to make playing them worthwhile and in this spot you are unsure of what will happen. You cannot raise here because they is a large possibility someone will call it or reraise you and then you will be out of position and in all sorts of trouble. If I have 5, 5 or above I will generally limp in here but if I have 4, 4 or lower I will generally fold. I do this because 5, 5 and above at least has a reasonable chance of being playable by themselves (i.e if I do not make a set), where as 4, 4 and below does not.
Your choices here are slightly easier. If there is one or more raises in front of you, you must fold here as you will most likely be beat unless you hit a set and you do not want to spend a lot of money seeing a flop only to fold. If there is no raise in front of me and limpers I will limp with them and hope to hit the flop. If there is no action in front of me I will limp with pocket pairs above 5,5 and fold ones below 4,4 for the reasons stated in the section on early position.
If there is one or more raises in front of me I will again fold. If they are limpers I will generally just limp with them. I might occasional put in a large raise here if I hold something like 7, 7 and hope that they all fold preflop. This is however a very risky play and will only occur if there is 1 or 2 limpers who I know are weak and would fold to a large preflop raise. If no one has entered the pot I will most likely put in standard raise of 3 to 4 times the big blind to make sure the blinds do not get a free ride and a chance to out flop me.