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by Bart Hanson |  Published: May 29, 2013


March 26, 2013 – When determining the best course of action with a small pocket pair in early position, ask yourself “what are the table dynamics?”

One of the most common discussions that I have with students regards playing small pocket pairs from out of position. Like most everything in poker, the approach to this topic depends on your opponents. But in this situation the best course of action is actually quite complex.

You see, when you raise with a small pocket pair and get called in several spots, if you do not flop a set you are usually forced to continuation-bet bluff on the flop. You may very well have the best hand, but it is usually very difficult to get called by worse.
Let us take a look at an example. Say, in a $5-$5 game, we raise with 3-3 under the gun and get two callers. The board comes out KClub Suit 7Diamond Suit 2Spade Suit. When we bet, is it possible to get called by a worse hand? Usually not, but does that mean that we should not bet? Of course not. This type of flop is what I like to call an A-plus board texture. It is very difficult for anyone to continue on, especially against a reasonable under-the-gun (UTG) raising range, with anything less than a king. If you are not comfortable bluffing good board textures, then I’d highly suggest that you not raise in early position with small pocket pairs — and under the right conditions you can even fold them. There are other boards that are favorable to these types of hands as well. Say the flop comes out 8Spade Suit 2Club Suit 2Heart Suit. We bet with 3-3 and get called. The turn is a KDiamond Suit. We bet again and our opponent folds 7Spade Suit 8Spade Suit face up. Much like raising with high cards preflop, we can use good turn cards to bluff people off of the best hand.

Now, should we be raising and bluffing multiple streets versus a table that is extremely loose and call happy? Definitely not. Well what about limping then? Limping can be a viable strategy with small pocket pairs if the table dynamics are such that people play relatively passive preflop. And this is the type of table profile of your typical $5-$5 game or lower. Usually, people are not punished for limping in from early position and up front limping will sometimes cause a cascade effect that will make others call as well — which is something that you definitely want to happen. The best case scenario is that you flop a set against someone else’s top pair — especially if they were going to fold that hand preflop to a raise, say with a hand like K-J or Q-10.

As you move up to levels of $5-$10 or higher, where isolation raises becomes more rampant, it can be very difficult to limp in from up front because you will be always facing a raise from out back. And, against tougher competition, it is very easy for good hand readers to realize that you have a pocket pair when you limp/call. If you do not mix up your game postflop with bluffs, a player can correctly bluff you out of the pot most times when you miss and fold their value hands when you do hit a set and suddenly come to life. One of the ways that you can counter this is by occasionally throwing in a limp/reraise with a small pocket pair to dissuade players from habitually isolation raising your limps. So the next time you look down at 2-2 UTG, ask yourself “what is my table like?”

April 2, 2013 – In games with really bad players there isn’t a big need to isolate with trash. Pots can be built easily postflop

One of the most controversial strategy subjects in live no-limit hold’em is the concept of over-limping. Is there a place for it and when should we do it? Some people think that if your hand is good enough to limp from late position then it is good enough to raise. Although being the aggressor is never a bad thing, there are definitely times when over-limping is a better choice. Usually this is the case in games where people are playing loose preflop from up front and the overall quality of players at the table is relatively weak.

Let us say that four people have limped in in a $2-$5 blind game and you are on the button with 9Club Suit 7Club Suit. Let us also make the assumption that if you raise, when one player calls, everyone will call behind them. Is it better to bloat the pot up or just limp behind? The key here comes from your ability postflop to successfully build up a pot when you make a big hand. This takes skill and experience and is not the easiest thing to do. However, at the lower levels people have real trouble folding hands as weak as top pair, even in limped pots. If you find yourself in this situation, then coming in cheaply from out back can be extremely profitable and yield less variance.

The concept of isolation raising was driven into us by online training sites in six-max games. Usually, if someone limped, you could raise with any two cards and they would just fold. This is absolutely not the case in live games. Unless you raise to some ridiculous sizing, expect people to call after limping. This means that when you raise after limps you should be skewed towards more value hands and holdings that play well postflop like high suited cards. Which do you think is easier to maneuver postflop, pocket fives or K-Q suited? I will always choose the high cards that almost always have equity on all but the worst boards.

April 7, 2013 – Let the preflop mistakes of others give you confidence within your game!

Everybody hates it when they have a big hand cracked. You have been there before. You pick up pocket aces or kings and raise an amount that should never be called with a trashy hand. The board rolls out 3Club Suit 3Spade Suit 4Diamond Suit and you see your stack vanish to a guy that called a huge three bet with 5-3 suited. Obviously it stings when we lose like this, but there is another, positive way to look at the situation; one that should give you supreme confidence.

Every time our opponent makes preflop mistakes with their calling ranges we win money — lots of money — in the long run. In fact, at the lower levels of no-limit, most of the money that is won and lost comes from preflop play. The simple fact of the matter is that in restricted buy-in games players are rarely deep enough to call three-bet pots or large single-raised pots with suited connectors or gapped suited connectors. Every time that they do, you win money and they lose. It does not matter if they get lucky and beat you. You should come away with confidence in these situations. You are at a good table and the players around you are bad. What else can we ask for when table selecting? ♠

Want Card Player and Bart to provide analysis on a cash game hand you played? Send full hand details (blinds, stacks, street-by-street action) to @CardPlayerMedia. If we choose your hand, we’ll send you a Card Player subscription.

Follow Bart for daily strategy tips on twitter @barthanson. Check out his podcast “The Seat Open Podcast” on and his video training site specifically for live No Limit players ­— He also hosts Live at the Bike every Tuesday and Friday at 10:30 pm ET at