Playing Small Pocket Pairs in 6-max NL Games

As I’ve discussed in a previous article on this subject, the key to successfully playing small pocket pairs in 6-max games is aggression. Since there’s already quite a bit of aggression at these tables anyway, and since the starting-hand ranges in these short-handed games are so wide, one has no other healthy option but to fight fire with fire, in this case: aggression with aggression. Pocket pairs (yes, even small ones) have to be raised, even from early position, because by becoming the aggressor, the player takes control of the hand and secures more options to take down the pot. Sure, rising is nice, but it is a statistical fact that sets only happen a little over 11% of the time on such pocket pairs. What happens the other 89% of the time? What does the player do past the flop? Well, the player will still have his pocket pair, he will have a solid table image and hopefully he will start to play actual post-flop poker. The situation may not be an ideal one, but it is the best possible one under the given circumstances. The odds aren’t better than 11% even when our player simply limps along instead of raising and showing some aggression. The difference is that being in that position on the tail end of a raise and being in that same spot after a limp isn’t exactly the same.

The bottom line is that in these 6-max games, you’ll be raising with a wide range of starting hands. Continuation betting past the flop serves a double purpose. On one hand, it will lend the player an aura of intimidation and it will secure fold equity, which is basically the possibility that the player wins the pot right there and then. On the other hand – since in a 6-max game it’s probably more likely to have such c-bets called too – it confuses the opposition: a player who c-bets made hands as well as missed draws will be extremely hard to read. What this translates to is an increased likelihood of a rich payout when you do make a hand, which maximizes the implied odds.

Of course, the possibility is there that someone will raise you when you’re without the goods in your pocket, but in that case you can save face by getting out and dropping only a couple of small bets in the process. Never worry about your opponents’ tendencies to play back at you when you show aggression though. Such a tendency will only make your pocket pairs stronger in the long-run.

The sum it all up: firing out a preflop raise on your pocket pair makes perfect sense, because it offers you 3 ways to win the pot, while limping along will only really offer you one such way: by making your set. When raising preflop, you may win the pot right there, without anyone going on to see the flop, you may win it through the continuation bet that you fire out on the flop and you can win it by making your hand as planned, in which case, you’re likely to get paid better than you would otherwise.

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