All of us are capable of making a profit with a pair of Aces or Kings, but it’s what we do with marginal hands, like pairs below 8-8, that can make a big difference in the overall profitability of our game. You may wonder why I specifically chose a pair of eights as my “line of demarcation”. I do so because eights are the median cards in a deck; median meaning half the cards are of lower value (2s through 7s) and half are higher (9s through Aces) – six of each with 8s making up the 13th card. So, it follows that half the time you hold a pair of 8s, any opponent that also holds a pair has you beat. However, the nice thing about pair versus pair matchups is that they are rare. The odds that one of your opponents at a full table has a pair when you have a pair is roughly 30 to 1, but if you have 2-2, you’re almost certainly beaten. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the bet I’ll be describing here.
In my experience, in the early stages of a tournament, be it single- or multi-table, players will limp into a lot of pots when given the opportunity to do so. Of course, many players will limp with trash hands and a pair Aces alike, so if you’re in late position (Cutoff or Button) and you also limp, you’re never really sure where you stand. One of my favorite sayings is, “Expect anything in an unraised pot.” The way to handle that is to put in a nice healthy raise if, say, at least four players have limped in and you’re in late position with a hand that can win on its own. Obviously, that means any pocket pair, but it can also mean a hand with an Ace or a King, suited or otherwise. Yes, most likely you’ll have to hit something on the flop to win if all you have is A-x or K-x, but a pair of Aces or Kings will often be a winner, so that’s what I mean by “win on its own.” I would not include Q-x or lower in this category.
So let’s say you have one of these qualifying hands and the blinds are 5/10 in the early stages of a sit & go tourney. With four limpers and the blinds, the pot will be 55 when it gets to you and you should raise the bet to at least 70. That means it will cost the Small Blind 65 more to get in on a pot of 125, giving him nearly 2 to 1 pot odds, so don’t be surprised by his call, which will raise the pot to 190. The Big Blind will have to put in 60 more which will be 3 to 1 pot odds, so again, don’t be surprised if he calls. Of course, you don’t really want to see this hand to a showdown, but if the two blinds do call, you’ll have 70 chips invested in a pot that is now valued at 250, which is better than 3.5 to 1 pot odds. Should you hold a pocket pair, your probability of success with a pair of 2s against two random hands like the blinds is 31% (just under 2 to 1), but the pot is offering 3.5 to 1. If you hold 7-7, your probability of winning is 44%, which is just under even-money. (For a good look at your probabilities against the two blinds, see Lesson 13.) Of course, other limpers may also call, but that will only raise your pot odds, although you’re very likely facing a “real” hand if they do. If someone re-raises, you should probably fold if your hand is lower than 8-8. I say “probably” because in an online sit & go tourney, you may not have much of a read on that player and he may have limped with a big pair like As or Ks, in which case you’re about a 4 to 1 underdog or he may have A-x or K-x, in which case you have the best of it. So, if the pots odds warrant a call, you’ll have to use your best judgment, but I lean toward folding. A re-raise is the worst-case scenario, but what you’ll generally find is that everyone will fold to your raise except one other player and that person will just call, which makes any other $$$ in the pot “dead money”, thus the name of this bet.
Of course, every hand is different, but if I raise preflop and the remaining player(s) check to me after the flop, ninety percent of the time I’m going to bet at least 75% of the pot at that point. Remember, your preflop raise basically said, “I have a pair or two big cards” so if an Ace or King comes on the flop, just about the only player who can call my post-flop bet is someone who either has an Ace or a King, a pair that made a set or a drawing hand. If the flop misses me completely, I’m still making that bet and hopefully my opponent will fold. I only start to worry if I’m called. If I’m re-raised, I just drop the hand and that’s that, but a caller is very likely slow-playing me. Now remember, I’ve got “position” in this example and get to act last. With a hand like 2-2, if my opponent who called then bets after the turn card is placed on the board, I’m going to fold unless it’s a third 2, in which case I’ll re-raise. If my opponent checks on the turn, most of the time I’m going to check too and I’ll get to see the river card for free. The river will take care of itself; I’ll either be able to call a bet or I won’t.
But the vast majority of the time when you make this bet, the others will fold and you’ll have made a nice profit at very little risk. The tighter your image, the better this works. Only relatively sophisticated players will see this bet as a “steal”, but even they’ll be surprised a lot of the time because very aggressive players will make a bet like this with any two cards and you’re doing it with a pretty good hand. Remember, even 2-2 has the best of it against two unpaired overcards.
If and when you find yourself with one of the larger stacks at the table, you naturally don’t want to tangle with anyone who has a bigger stack than you unless you have a super-premium hand. But that doesn’t mean you should just sit and wait for pocket Aces to show up. If there are several players to your left who have a chip stack equal to ten or fewer Big Blind bets and the pot is unraised when it’s your turn, put out a bet that’s five or six times the BB, even if you have a “marginal” hand like A-9o, K-Js or a pair of 2s to 5s. Such a bet puts a lot of pressure on those with smaller stacks and most of the time they’ll fold, especially if you’re all close to getting “in the money”. Beware of the big stacks – ideally they have already folded – but don’t do this if one of them will be acting after you. In the later stages of a tournament, the blinds and antes can be a significant amount, and, so long as a 5x raise isn’t more than 20% or so of your stack, this technique can pick up quit a few chips at a critical time. Plus, it makes you look like a “bully”, which is a good image to have when you’re really a fairly tight player. Holding a less-than-premium hand makes it easy to fold if someone re-raises you. But before you fold, see what kind of pot odds you’re being offered and whether or not the re-raiser has gone all in; they may be just acting out of desperation and it might be profitable to make the call.
I’ll see you here next time.
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