Playing small pairs in poker cash games is one of the most difficult things in poker. You see this everywhere, players losing their stacks by overestimating their small pairs, or missing out on great payoffs when they give up on their pairs pre-flop to easily.
Small pairs are hands from 22 to 66 and there is no simple rule that can always be applied. Given the nature of small pairs, and the fact that they can make you crush your opponents when you hit or lose a lot when you miss and just can’t let them go, there are many factors that determine how you should play these hands pre-flop.
First of all you should never play them in all situations. Your decision whether you should enter the pot or not when you get small pairs should depend on things like your chip count, position, the number of your opponents and the cost to play that hand.
There is no need to play them on full ring tables from an early position. Some players find it hard to fold small pairs and end up losing a lot of money after they call a raise from a late position pre-flop. Also, avoid playing them when your opponents raise is committing you to the pot.
Small Pairs Are Great for Late Position
On the other hand, playing them from late position, or even min-raising them could be very profitable when you hit a set. Position gives you a chance to chase away your opponents with a continuation bet even if you don’t connect with the board, which is why many professional players tend to raise small pairs from late position. It’s easier to bluff later on. But to play small pairs aggressively pre-flop you have to be a good post-flop player and know your opponents well so you’ll know whether or not to bluff if you don’t hit anything.
Keep in mind that the odds of hitting a set when holding a pocket pair are 7 to 1, so playing small pairs to often is not profitable, especially if you’re paying a raise from a tight player. If a flop brings Aces or other high cards you’ll have no options but to fold to a continuation bet, which can be quite damaging to your stack if you do it too often.
A good tip is to play small pairs against opponents that are deep stacked so you can win a lot of money when you hit a set, and also avoid playing small pairs if a pre-flop raise is more than 7 big blinds.
Understanding the implied odds when playing small pairs is crucial, which is why your opponent’s stack will be your best guide when deciding whether to play them or not.