Playing small pocket pairs

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McTap03 | Poker Articles, Poker Strategy

According to the following chart on EV (estimated value), no matter where you are sitting at the table does pocket 2s have a positive EV. This means you will lose more money playing them, than you will ever win. So why do people play them?

For those how don’t know, EV (estimated value) is the average of what you expect to make on any particular hand. It’s important to note that EV and actual results will vary massively over any short term period. Once you have played enough hands (an infinite amount) your total actual results will equal the sum of the entire total EV of the plays you have made. So whenever you determine that a play is +EV you should make it EVERY time, otherwise you are losing money in the long run. (The above paragraphed was summarized from Basic Theory: Expected Value)

Before I go on, I’m going to expand this question to pocket 3s and pocket 4s as over half a million hands, they too have a negative EV.













Does this mean we should never play them? No! What I am saying is that no matter what the outcome of the hand; understand that you are putting your chips in as an underdog.

Knowing this, I made a small error in judgment in a recent home game. We were down to 5 players (top 3 paid) and I was UTG. Both blinds had a similar chip stack to mine, while the other 2 were the chip leaders. The blinds represented over 25% of my stack, so when I looked down at a pair of 2s, I had to decide whether to push or fold. I knew I could not limp in and commit this many chips without being pot committed if someone came over the top. I also knew that had I pushed, there was a good chance that 1 of the other 4 players would likely call, leaving me as an underdog (according to EV). I decided to fold, 1 of the big stacks limped and both blinds just called. The flop was 10-2-5 rainbow. !#@$%, I would have made trips and probably doubled up as the big blind had a 10 and took the pot down right there. I was a little frustrated for not taking my chance (and let my emotions show, which is a mistake but a totally different blog), but still managed to grind-it out to a2 nd place finish. Finishing in the money made me feel better about my choice, as I could have easily been eliminated by playing such a weak hand out of position.

Now getting back to my original question about why we play pocket 2s, 3s or 4s, JGiles and I have come up with a theory:

1) You hope to hit the third 2/3/4 and win a big pot as it is hard for your opponent to put you on trips.

2) Some people just can’t lay down any pair EVER.

3) You are getting great odds to call. Remember hitting trips on the flop is approximately 7:1, so your odds have to be close to that to call. They get worse if you chase to the river.

4) If you’ve been card dead for a while 2s, 3s, or 4s might look like a monster.

5) Tilt can make people play anything.

6) Could be late in the game and you just need to get your chips in ahead and hope nobody calls or you get a caller who doesn’t hit.

No matter what reason you use to play these dangerous hands, remember that you are gambling and over many many hands, you will lose more chips/money than you will win.

Good luck at the tables,


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3 Comments to Playing small pocket pairs

September 20, 2008

When I look at any small pocket pair I only go for trips on the flop. That 1/9 chance of hitting, so that is the odds I am going for.

I have never understood exactly why these small pairs have a negative EV over time. You are a small favorite with 22 vs AKo. 52.3% chance that you will win.
So people must just play the hand wrong. The reasons could easily be the factors you and JGiles have identified.

September 20, 2008

In tournaments I usually only play the small pairs when I am deepstacked (M>20) and up against other deepstack player. The implied odds are simply great if you hit your trips. If I have a M between 8 and 20 I do not call with small pocket pairs.
With an M under 8 I go all in with small pairs if I am first to act and hope to be up against two high cards giving me a slight advantage.

September 20, 2008

Both your points are very valid guys. The problem is the beginner doesn’t really understand M or odds, so explaining to them why their small pocket pair loses often is why I wrote this. The more experienced player will take all this and more into consideration before thinking that the pair is good against any 2 cards.

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