How to Play Low Pocket Pairs

How To Play Low Pocket Pairs

Just look at them. They look so pretty ‘cause they’re all matchy-matchy and stuff. Low pocket pairs are hard for beginners to lay down because they’re a “made hand.” These beginners reason that low pocket pairs are strong because they’re a slight favorite over AK which is a premium hand. That makes sense right?

That reasoning might make sense on the surface, but there’s something that makes AK powerful that low pocket pairs lack – fold equity. Let me explain.
Let’s say you raise pre-flop with AK from early position and you get called by the button and the big blind. The flop comes down 9-7-3 rainbow. The button checks to you and you put in a continuation bet. The loose-aggressive button calls and the big blind folds.

This situation is common and it’s not a bad one for AK. Your opponent is loose and he’s likely to float you with any two cards on a dry flop like this one. With two cards to come, you have roughly a 24% chance of hitting your hand. Even if the turn is a blank, you might consider double barreling the board since your opponent will fold if he doesn’t have a hand. Even if you’re called again, you’ll hit the river 12% of the time and can safely give up when you don’t.

Now let’s see what happens when you have a low pocket pair.

You raise pre-flop with 22 in early position and you get called by the button and the big blind. The flop comes down 9-7-3 rainbow. The button checks to you and you put in a continuation bet. The loose-aggressive button calls and the big blind folds.

Where are you now?

Life sucks for you. There are three overcards on the board and you’re facing an opponent who could have a wide range of holdings. If your opponent hit his hand, you’re down to two outs. You’ll only win 8% of the time. Even if your opponent hasn’t hit the flop, he’ll outdraw you 24% of the time. Betting on turn is spewing chips.

Before you start playing low pocket pairs, you have to realize that they’re speculative hands on par with mid suited connectors. Here’s how you should play them:

How to Play Low Pocket Pairs in Early Position

Playing low pocket pairs is easy in early position. Fold. I know they look good and they’re probably the best hand you’ve seen in 3 or 4 orbits, but you should still fold.
Raising is a bad idea since a re-raise will chase you out of the pot and anyone who calls will be a slight underdog at best and a heavy favorite at worst. Limping is also bad because you’ll encourage more limpers and entice a late position player to put in a big raise to pick up all the dead cash on the table.

Even if you hit a set on the flop, it will be tough to extract money from your opponents when you’re out of position unless they hit a big hand too.

Playing small pocket pairs in early position is a major poker leak for a lot of beginners. Stop doing it.

How to Play Low Pocket Pairs in Middle Position

Middle position gives players a little more breathing room to play low pocket pairs. Most of the time you should limp in full ring games, though you can vary your play by raising about 20% of the time when no one has opened the pot.

Your goal is still to flop a set, but your post-flop play will depend on your pre-flop action. For example, if you limped pre-flop, you’re done with the hand unless you flop a set. If you raised pre-flop, however, you can make a standard continuation bet and hope to take down the pot.

Raising also gives you the opportunity to win a large pot since it’ll be hard for your opponent to put you on a low set when you raised pre-flop.

How to Play Low Pocket Pairs in Late Position

The way you play low pocket pairs in late position depends on your opponents’ previous actions. If the pot is raised, you should fold unless there are several callers.
If there are several limpers you should call. Raising occasionally isn’t a bad play, but you don’t want to do it too often because you’ll have to play a bloated pot with a speculative hand post-flop and it could end up costing you a lot of money.

If no one has opened the pot, you should raise on a steal. You can play your hand the same way you’d play any other stealing hand post-flop.

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Low pocket pairs may look good, but they’re actually pretty weak. They’re only a slight favorite against AK in an all-in pre-flop situation which doesn’t happen often in cash games. Rein back you aggression and start treating low pocket pairs as speculative hands and you’re win rate will go way up.