Playing small pocket pairs can be a very challenging aspect of poker, because while they can form a monster hand if a set forms on the flop, which will happen about once every seven and a half times, they are also very easily beat by players who hold overcards and improve their hands with the community cards. Small pocket pairs are also weak if a big hand forms on the board, such as two pair, as the small pair is likely to not be a factor as the playerâ€™s hand will be the community cards, while giving the playerâ€™s opponent many chances to win, with either a full house or a card higher than the non-paired board card. Even when you do make your set on the flop, victory is not guaranteed. Small pocket pairs must be played carefully, and with foresight.
What pairs can be considered a small pocket pair? Twos through fives are very definitely small pairs, but sixes, sevens, and even eights can be considered small pairs depending on the type of game, whether it is a cash game or a tournament, and how tight the table is. You should define what a small pair is to you, but keep it loosely defined, because you donâ€™t want to be stuck considering pocket sevens a small pair when the table is very loose with opponents playing ace-rag constantly. In that type of game, pocket sevens is a decent hand if you can isolate your opponents so that you are only playing against one or two other players, although given the looseness of the game, you may want to throw pocket sevens away even though they are a decent starting hand compared to the junk your opponents are holding.
The first thing to consider when youâ€™ve been dealt a small pocket pair is your position. The only time position is not much of a factor is when you are hurting for chips and decide to go all-in. If you are in early position, throw your cards away. Donâ€™t even think about playing them. If you raise you will be out of position against any callers, which is exactly where you donâ€™t want to be with a weak hand. If you limp with them there is a good chance another player will raise and force you to either throw away your hand or call hoping to get lucky, which is not a good play.
Whether or not you play from middle position depends on the other players at the table. If the table is tight, you could consider coming in for a raise, trying to get the rest of the table to fold, and having only a couple of callers at most.
When you are in late position, though, you can limp in if there have been several limpers before you get to act, although you should only limp if you donâ€™t think you will have to call a raise from the blinds. If you are the first to enter the pot, you can come in with a raise and put pressure on those still to act. If you donâ€™t win the pot right there, you will have a good chance of taking the pot on the flop.
When you do choose to play small pocket pair, you will want to force out as many players as possible so that there is a smaller chance of your opponents getting the cards they need to make their higher pair. You will only want to keep opponents in if it looks like there will be a lot of players seeing the flop, in which case you will want to see the flop as cheaply as possible, hoping to get your set and win a big pot.
You should realize though, that the strategy for playing small pocket pairs changes when you are playing no-limit Texas Holdem. In no limit the value of a hidden set is much stronger than in limit holdem. This is simply because you can increase the size of your bet and get paid off when you hit your set. However, while keeping the value of a small set in mind, you should also consider that it is very possible to lose an enormous pot when another player also hits a set. By avoiding small pocket pairs in no limit, you are hedging your risk about losing to a larger set.