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Learning No-Limit From Scratch ­- Playing With Ducks, Profitably

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Apr 27, 2016


Roy CookeOn Wednesdays, after the WPDG discussion group, my Real Estate partner, Bea, and I, together with some WPDG group members, sometimes head over to the Orleans. It’s a low-limit local cardroom that’s well-run with a low rake and gets good action.

We play $1-$3 no-limit hold’em there in a fun and friendly environment. The play is softer than the $2-$5 games on the Strip, and it requires strategic adjustments. With the softer competition, the chances of getting your stack in are greater. And, because the overall play is more passive, the odds of being raised preflop are much less. Those factors increase your implied odds on any given hand, making marginal hands that can make big hands much more playable.

I picked up the 2Heart Suit 2Spade Suit UTG, a hand I’d normally fold in that position in a tougher, tighter, and more aggressive environment. But this hand increases in value in high implied odds situations, and the current game was one of them. Many players weren’t folding top pair hands to large bets, and there was little preflop raising. Therefore, I limped. Three players limped behind me. The small blind called, and the big blind knuckled. We took the flop six-handed with $18 in the pot.

The flop came the JSpade Suit 7Spade Suit 2Club Suit, giving me bottom set. It checked to me, and I bet $14. Two players called, and the pot grew to $60. The turn was the 7Club Suit, pairing the second-highest card. I sought to size my bet to retain calls from weak Jacks and flush draws. Both those hands were a sizable portion of my opponents’ calling ranges, and both would be high-equity calls for me, since both possessed limited to no outs. And if someone held a seven, I might get a raise. I bet $28, and once again, both called, swelling the pot to $144.

The river was the 4Spade Suit, a great card for me, as any flush would call a large bet. Feeling that one of them likely had a flush draw and wasn’t the sort to fold it, I decided to bet the pot and fired $140. The first player folded; then the second player tanked and called. I turned over my deuces full; he sighed and showed me KSpade Suit 5Spade Suit.

Small pairs do well when the stack sizes and players’ tendencies provide you the appropriate implied odds to play them. You’re a 7-1 underdog to flop a set. But you may get raised preflop and have to fold or call additional monies. Additionally, no opponent may hold a second-best hand with which to give you the required amount of action, and your hand may not win. In all those scenarios, you’ll lose equity. So, a 7-1 implied odds ratio on your preflop bet isn’t enough to turn that situation into an overall winner. You have to win enough money/equity the times you do acquire large bets with your hand to counterbalance the negative equity of the times you lose equity.

The value of your small wired pairs is a function of your opponents’ stack sizes and their propensity to call large bets with weaker hands. I’ve heard some poker “experts” set “rule of thumb” guidelines for how a deep an opponent(s) must be in order to profitably play their small pairs. But they neglect to take into account their opponents’ calling propensity, the odds of being raised off their small pair, or price adjustments because of a preflop raise. All factors beyond the effective stack sizes that have a huge bearing on the value of your small wired pair. Having several opponents in a passive game, who will call large bets with top pair, but are only 15 times the initial preflop bet deep is usually better than facing a single opponent who has 50 times the preflop wager deep, but who probably won’t call a significant wager with one pair. Gauging the right price is difficult and a best guess estimate, but if you practice these estimations, you’ll acquire a better feel. In situations where you know an opponent has an overpair and won’t ever lay it down, getting 12-1 stack depth over your preflop call provides you with a positive bet. But that is only right if you’re last to act against one opponent with a 100 percent chance to stack your opponent if you flop a set. The overlay beyond 7-1 is because your opponent might flop a higher set with his pair or otherwise beat you. You can use that 12-1 as a guideline and adjust accordingly to the texture of the current situation. That said, those action requirements speak loudly to the high level of action required to make those small pairs positive preflop calls. In most cases, you’ll have to extend those 12-1 odds significantly.

The situation in which I played my deuces was equity-rich. I was fortunate that one opponent made a flush on the river, which increased my betting capacity. But even if the flush never came, my opponents tended to call liberally and raise infrequently preflop and also call substantial bets post-flop with marginal hands. In the right situations, small pairs can be highly profitable, but you have to evaluate the situation correctly. If I was in a game where my opponents aggressively raised preflop and didn’t call liberally post-flop, I would have mucked my ducks.

Be cautious when playing small wired pairs. Make sure your implied odds will be there should you hit your set. And don’t place yourself in situations where you’re likely to get trapped by aggressive preflop raisers.

And if you do that correctly, your small pairs will show a good profit! ♠

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas Real Estate Broker/Salesman. Should you wish any information about Real Estate matters-including purchase, sale or mortgage his office number is 702-376-1515 or Roy’s e-mail is His website is Roy’s blogs and poker tips are at You can also find him on Facebook or Twitter @RealRoyCooke