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How To Play Small Pocket Pairs In Cash Games

Aug 18, 2007
I play a lot of no-limit cash games online and one of the hands I most like to see is a small pocket pair (ie 8's or under). This is because if you're lucky enough to subsequently hit trips (or better), and you play the hand well, you can earn yourself a big payout.

As with all hands though, there is a right way and a wrong way of playing these hands. You have to remember that a small pair by itself isn't that great a hand (unless you're heads up against someone), but it's more of a speculative hand.

Your aim is to hit your card on the flop and make three of a kind or better. Statistically, you will find that on most occasions you will miss, and in most cases no longer be in front, so you ideally want to see a cheap flop and take it from there.

If someone puts in a big raise pre-flop, or two or more players are raising, a small pair is not a hand worth persevering with as there's every chance you'll be up against a higher pair, and therefore be a big underdog.

So assuming you've seen a cheap flop, how do you play the hand from here?

Well if you've missed, then your small pair will probably now look slightly pathetic, unless there's two or three undercards on the board, so it's usually best to check and hope you see another free card, or fold to any raise.

If, however, you hit your three of a kind, the fun now begins. There's every chance you're now well in front, so you have to work out how to extract as much cash as possible from your opponents.

This is often position dependent, but a good way of playing it is to check in early position or put in a small feeler bet and hope you get a raiser or two. Slow playing can pay off big time, particularly if your opponent thinks they have a big hand, for instance if an Ace is on the board and they think they have top pair.

You have to be careful though, and look for the danger signs. If there's a possibility of a straight or a flush being made, then slow playing is generally not the best option. Instead you should either bet strongly after the flop, or wait for an opponent to bet and then re-raise strongly, to try and take the pot there and then and eliminate these possibilities.

So if you can, try and get away with slow playing this hand and earning a big payout, as it's virtually impossible for your opponents to put you on three of a kind, but avoid doing this if there's any possible straight or flush draws. Never underestimate a small pocket pair, because if you can see a cheap flop and make three of a kind after the flop, you suddenly have a monster hand.
About the Author
James Woolley is a regular poker player and the author of a poker blog which is a complete guide to internet poker , and contains the very latest tips and advice to help you become a better poker player.
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