How to play pocket pairs in NLHE if out of position
In poker, and especially Texas Hold’em, the position is key.
Whether you lead or follow will often determine how to enter a hand and this is especially true with lower pocket pairs.
In determining how to proceed with weak pockets, there are several factors that need to be considered.
Your implied odds need to be realistic.
If someone raises on the button, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have implied odds for that individual’s stack.
Your opponent will most likely steal a pot 30% of the time, on average, so he isn’t typically going to take a huge risk unless he has something worth chasing. A raise on the button when you’re in the small blind with a small pair should force you to reconsider continuing.
Relative position can be a good ally. When two or more players are in the action preflop and you have a pocket pair, make the call. There are two options that could lead to you taking the hand – either you make your set or you can check-raise, forcing others to fold. Most likely, the opponent following you will be the only one to check-bet, and this will give you the perfect opportunity to raise.
A good rule of thumb with low pocket pairs is to never get involved in a three-bet preflop when out of position. Three-bets almost always turn into all-in races and you can only win if you pick up the set. Odds of that happening are low and there’s no reason to take too big a risk – let the other’s battle for the hand and wait for your turn at offense.
Set vs. set is a common scenario in Texas Hold’em. This is particularly true for online grinders who attack the virtual felt thousands of times per day. If you manage to hit your set with a small pocket pair and opponents are four- or five-betting, consider bowing out, as difficult as the decision may be. The one exception is if you are stack-flush and can afford to risk a little against your opponents’ stacks.
Pocket pairs can be tricky even when they’re strong. In general, with weak pockets, the best course of action is to check-bet and hope to take the pot on folds. If no one has raised and the action comes around to you, take a chance, up the stakes and try to push your opponents out. Remember – the idea of poker isn’t to win the hand; it’s to win the game.