How to Play Small Pocket Pairs

Small pocket pairs are trouble for sit n go beginners. They’re trouble because on one hand it’s a made hand, but on the other it’s not usually the best hand by the time you get to the river. Too many players struggle because they take a hand too far, and spend too much of their stack figuring only to find out that their hand is second or third best.

That’s what this article aims to solve. Below you’ll find an outline of how I play small pocket pairs in sit n goes without getting into too much trouble. I think it will help you, too.

Limping Pocket Pairs is OK

Despite what you might read on other blogs or forums, limping pocket pairs is okay.

In fact, if you don’t know how to play post-flop very well then limping your baby pairs is going to be your best play. The primary reason for that is because most pots are going to be multi-way pots (at the micros). No one is going to care that you should have the initiative postflop. Not only that, but there is going to be too many players involved in the pot postflop to effectively (and profitably) c-bet anyway.

So at the micro stakes just limp or over-limp your small pairs (call up to about 60 chips) with the intent to setmine. If you miss your set, just fold your hand to any action.

If you happen to see a turn for free then it’s going to be situational as to what you do. If you face a small bet and it’s from a fish, then calling to see a river might not be a bad idea, assuming you don’t think you’re going to have to call another bet on the river. Making one call isn’t that bad because you do have showdown value.

Note: That doesn’t give you an excuse to make a call with a pair of 4s in the hole when there are 3 over-cards on the flop and you’re facing action. Common sense will go a long ways here.

At the higher stakes my strategy is to raise my small pocket pairs because fewer players will be in each pot, and most players will have the capability to fold. So c-betting is more effective.

However, if another player opens in front of me I will usually over-limp my small pocket pairs. If it’s a reg that opens in front of me then most times I’ll just fold. Most regs will be good enough to not pay you off if you hit your set, so you won’t have the implied odds to call preflop. The exception to this is if they hit top pair or better. You’ll probably stack them then. It just doesn’t happen enough to justify calling, though.

Hit a Set? Bet for Value

If you hit your set the mistake that you don’t want to make, that a lot of other players do make, is choosing to slow play it. The problem with slow playing your set is that, for one thing, players at the lower stakes will call with all kinds of trash. They just call-call-call. So why not take advantage of this, bet and get value for your set? And another thing — you don’t want to give them the opportunity to outdraw you.

One exception to this is dry flops, such as K-4-2 rainbow. In these cases you won’t be able to bet for 3 streets of value. It’ll be too obvious that you have a really good hand. Only the real bad players will miss that sign. By checking back the flop and betting the turn and river, you give your opponents the opportunity to catch up or develop draws for them to chase. You’re more likely to get value for your set then.

And in regards to folding a set, that will just be situational. Versus a reg you could make an argument for folding your set if there are 4 cards to a flush or up/down straight. Or if the action screams a flush draw got there — two cards to the flush on the flop and the villain check/calls the flop, turn and raises the river. Then you could probably make a good argument for folding.

Versus a fish, eh…, I’m not so sure. It’ll depend on your stats. Against a very loose fish I’ll more than likely stack off every time. You just don’t have the room (stack-wise) in a sit n go to justify folding good hands very often.

The Bottom Line: Don’t Get Carried Away

Overall, you just don’t want to get too carried away with small pocket pairs. There is a level of common sense that goes into playing them, as well as a little bit of experience.

If you’re a beginner, I definitely suggest taking it slow and mostly setmining to begin with. If you miss, just fold to any action.

However, as you get better at playing (postflop) poker, you can definitely avoid playing your small pairs so passively. Make calls to try to get to the river or float with the intent to turn your hand into a bluff. I know many players that do this and are good at it. But it all comes down to your experience and skill level. So it’s important to honestly assess your abilities and just take it from there.