In a perfect world, we would all get high pairs as starting hands, but, in truth, that rarely happens. What players will see more often are lower pairs of cards. For newer players, a pair of anything looks pretty good, but be careful, especially if you are playing for real money, when it comes to low pairs.
In general, there are no hard and fast rules that say what constitutes a low pair. For my own reasons, I consider anything below a 6 to be a low pair. As you gain experience and learn your own style of play you will be able to set your own standards as to what is a low pair and what is not.
One of the most useful tips that I can share with new players is this: 90% of the time (and this is especially true if you are holding a low pair of pre-flop cards) you want to see a cheap flop. What I mean by this is you want to see the flop for as little of your money invested as possible. Put another way, if you’re holding a pair of 3’s you want to see the flop but you do NOT want to put in a lot of money (by calling big bets or raising) in order to see that flop.
The key to remember is that a low pair has potential for becoming a huge hand if you pick up a set (another card matching yours comes up, giving you three-of-a-kind) or a quad (two matching cards come up on the flop, giving you four-of-a-kind) or a full-house, but the important word here is potential. Until you see the flop all you have is a lowly pair, and in a ten-handed game and even in a seven-handed game, that generally isn’t worth very much, and the lower the cards, the less they are worth. Keep in mind that a pair of 4’s will beat that pair of 3’s.
Again, we come back to position play and why it is important to always know where you are in relation to the Button. If you are the first person to act (meaning, you are first to either call the blind and play or fold) you must exercise caution. In fact, this is true with low pairs if you are seated anywhere on the first half of the table. The reason for this is simple. If you are the first to play (or even the second, third, or fourth) all the others players behind you will have the option to raise the bet, forcing you to put even more money in before seeing the flop. If you are playing with aggressive betters, the cost can skyrocket in no time at all. Now if you are sitting there (pre-flop) with a pair of King’s or a pair of Ace’s you might welcome that aggressive betting. But with a small pair in your hand, it can spell doom, real quick.
It is worth repeating. The key to playing small pairs is to see the flop for as little money as possible. A well-disciplined player will happily fold a small pair if the betting becomes too rich. Why will they do this? Experienced players will reason that aggressive betting before the flop usually (not always, but usually) represents a player with a strong hand, and in many cases, it may be two or three players with strong hands.
But what if you are holding a small pair and you are at the far end of the table line? Perhaps you are in the blinds (either the big blind or the small blind) or perhaps you are on the Button itself. What do you do in that case?
Well, it depends. If everyone else has folded, you would want to call the blind and see a flop. If only one or two earlier players have called the blinds (but not raised) you may want to go ahead and call yourself to see the flop as well. However, if one player has made a big raise or if several other players have called and or raised, then you go with your gut, and in most cases, your gut should be saying, “Fold”.
If you are in the blinds and can see the flop for a small additional amount of money, then go for it. If you hit your set, you will be in a very good position to probably win the hand.
If you don’t hit your set on the flop, it is time to think hard about folding your hand unless the other players check and you can check as well. If you can see a free card, see one.
It’s important to understand that you have about a 12% chance of hitting your set on the flop. Another way of looking at this is you have about a 1-in-8 chance of getting that third card on the flop.
The odds of getting that third card to fill your set decrease dramatically after the flop. In fact, the odds of seeing that third card by the River are only about 9%.
These statistics apply to all pairs and not just to small pairs.
So, if you are holding a small pair use common sense and watch your betting. Try to see the flop as cheaply as possible. If you hit your set on the flop, then go for it! If you do not hit your set on the flop, consider folding before putting anymore money into the pot. More often than not, you will be glad you did.