Playing Small Pocket Pairs From Late Position
Aug. 5, 2011, Posted by Wesley.R.Young
When I first started playing no limit Texas holdem poker I had a hard time figuring out the best way to play small pocket pairs. It seemed like every time I limped with them someone behind me would raise and I would have to either call a larger bet to see the flop or fold and feel like the limp was a mistake. Then I would try raising with them and have two or three callers. The flop would contain at least one high card and I wouldn't know what to do. It took me a long time to learn the best way to play these hands, but now I play them profitably and you can too.
The way I play small pocket pairs from late position is as a trap hand. In my mind any pair 99 or below is included. Playing from late position gives me the added advantage of seeing most of the other player's decisions on the flop before I have to act. Depending on the skill level of my opponents and the action at the table, I fold many of these same hands from early position. The exception is if the table is very passive and I have a good chance to see the flop for cheap.
My goal when playing from late position with small pairs is to be able to win at least eight times my original call when I hit a set. Mathematically if you can do this you can afford to see the flop and fold when you don't hit a set. This lets you call raises from an earlier player if their stack is deep enough. For example, an early position player who you know is tight and aggressive raises to 100 pre flop and has 900 left. You can put them on a top hand like AA or KK so your odds of getting their entire stack are good when you hit a set. Notice that you also need to have at least 800 left behind to make this call correct. On the other hand if they only have 400 behind, you need to fold.
You will end up folding six or seven out of every eight times that you see the flop, but you will make up for this when you take an opponents entire stack when you hit a set. The nice thing about being in late position is you will also be able to win some pots when you don't hit a set. The most common situation where this happens is when you call an early position raise when they hold QQ or KK and there is an ace on the flop. They are afraid of the ace and this gives you the opportunity to steal the pot with a bet on the flop.
Like most situations in poker the more you know about your opponents and how they play the better you will be able to play against them. But even if you don't know anything about your opponents, by understanding the math behind playing small pairs you can profit in the long run.