How to play small pockets? A question pondered frequently.
Well, this is a topic which has mixed opinion through-out the community so I will try to present my opinion with examples. I would love to have it criticized by intellect crowds with reason. It will help us all to come down to a better conclusion.
1. Does position matter?
Position matters the most in poker and above anything else. Even if you have aces, the better position helps you maximize the profit and minimize the risk as you get the best control over the pot. For example, if you have 33 against two opponents and you are in position, if checked to you, you can make a raise and take the pot with three over cards to your pair. In the same spot if you are out of position, your best option is to check with three overcards and usually the guy with position bets if checked to and you have to fold. Hence position matters and pairs, however low can be played out of position profitably.
2. Math behind playing small pairs:
One of the reasons to play small pairs is to flop a set and earn the dividend. Let's see in what scenarios it works best. What is the probability of a pair flopping a set? There are two outs in the deck and two cards in your hand and three cards to show up on the flop. So we can say it's about 15% which means you will flop a set once in seven times hence your +EV should be seven times your regular investment on pocket pairs. Hence you need to have more then one opponent in the pot to maximize value. Also considering the fact that flopped pockets have an average of 75% of win rates as there are other straight or flush or top sets drawing which sometimes thrash your pockets bad and ruin your EV on pockets. So you can conclude it is best to have more than one but not a lot of people looking at your flopped set. I believe two opponents is best and three is 'not out of line but almost there'. Anything more than three opponents is risking to have a drawing hand to your set. In a limp pot, you mostly get four five limpers and more often than you want, you will have a guy with small two gap suited hand will crush your set and will get the best value out of his limped trash.
Fold Equity involved with small pairs:
When you are in position with a small pair against not more than two opponents, you are more often than not checked to and more often than not any pair on the flop is a good hand. So you can bet when checked to and pick up the pots and earn in fold equity.
Conclusion: to get +EV and to profitably play the pocket pairs, the best way is to raise the pot if out of position so as not to have more than three opponents looking at your flopped set and to call a raise when you have at least two people in the pot already. If you have a pocket and that too against just one player, even limping has a negative EV and hence it's better to muck it.
An example pocket hand (55) and how I would play it.
Never from an early position, rarely from middle position, never in an unraised pot and mostly against two players with sometimes three. Never with a short stack and never against a short stack. You anyways would shove your pair post flop if short stacked or not play the hand at all.
I would generally call a called raise and see the flop. If I have been checked to, I bet half the pot and mostly take it down then and there. If not, just one opponent remains. If there is a bet before I act, I reraise and try to win the pot then and there. And if my reraise gets called. I get a cheap card for a chance to hit my set and if they reraise I fold. if checked to again I bet half pot. If they fold I take it right there or if they call I see another card hoping to hit my set. If they bet I fold, if they don't I place a value bet even when I hit my set or not. This confuses most opponents and they think their ace high has a showdown value and they call or they think their medium pair is beat now as they didn't improve their hand on later streets and it's probably beat. And even if they call, you have some showdown value.
I think the above will be the best way to play pocket fives or any small or medium pair. You have the best position, great pot control, you have a high fold equity, the pot swells up for you in case you hit your set on later streets and a decent showdown value. And above all you have the option to fold the moment you see aggression in opponents with minimum damage to your stack.
Please feel free to comment on this and to put your inputs so as to improve my understanding of this topic too.
To understand odds
, position, fold equity, EV, etc read my thread 'poker math for dummies'.
Good luck at the tables.