Raising with Small Pairs in Poker - Aggressive Holdem Strategy

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Raising Poker - When small pairs can be brought in for a raise

Earlier this week I was watching Greg Raymer win this year's World Series of Poker from David Williams with a pair of 8's and I found the commentary particularly interesting. He noted that the strength of his hand was hidden since he didn't reraise preflop when David Williams put in a strong raise with A/4. The flop came all small and David got trapped for all his chips as he paired his 4. The point is that pairs can be very deceptive if you flop a set or if your pair is higher than the board. Raising in poker can often give away your hand.

Generally, you should raise in poker

In short handed play, (for our purposes let's say 6 people or less) quite often no one has anything. It's not that often that people have a pair, or even an Ace when you get down to 2 or 3 people. You're also going to need to play more hands short handed since the blinds come around faster. You can't just wait for pocket Aces and Kings. They key is to not loosen up so much that you're playing everything but rather to play the hands you do have more aggressively. This means that raising in poker is often the best strategy as betting and stealing are necessary. Much of your winnings in short handed play will need to come from picking up the blinds (dead money). Tricky play with hands such as pocket Aces all the way down to jacks can often be beneficial as well.

Poker Aggression - It pays to raise

In the 6-handed $10-20 game that I play in I find it very important to be extremely aggressive. This includes play such as a reraise out of the big blind with A/J when the button attempts to steal my blind and a probable bet on the flop no matter what. I try and win the small pots with aggressive stealing since in these games it is often heads up and frequently no one will make a hand.

Should I raise with Pocket Aces?

One exception to this fast play style is when I have big pocket pairs (pocket Aces, Kings, Queens, sometimes Jacks). With these hands I'll often just check/call the flop and vary my turn/end play primarily based on the aggression level of my competition. By slow playing these big hands I can often trap my opponent who is often trying to push my quick "poker raise" steal strategy himself. Should I get really lucky (maybe I flop a set of Kings against a hand like Ace/Queen on a flop like A/K/4) against a super aggressive opponent I might be able to get a ton of bets on the turn and end.

A notable weakness of this strategy is your position if an overcard hits (ie. an ace high flop when you've got pocket Queens), or a flush hits, etc. This is an example of how concealing your hand can work against you. It's important to not get too stubborn in a pot just because you've got 2 black Aces when the board is King/Queen/Jack all diamonds. Remember if you're going to play a hand tricky don't trap yourself into losing bets by tricking yourself into thinking you've got the best hand.

Raising in poker with small pairs

I tend to play my medium (7's thru 10's) and smaller pairs (lower than 7's) a little more aggressively in a short handed game. By playing them soft you're putting yourself in a position where you're often going to have to call bets with a pair that's under the high card on the board. I don't like to put myself in that calling position, it's a losing one. So I might raise with these hands or throw them away. With these hands I'm going back to the aggressive small pot stealing style.

Playing out of the Blinds

One exception is when I'm in the small or big blind. If I'm in the big blind and there's a raise and a couple of cold callers I'm probably going to call with any pair. If I flop a set I'm in good shape (see Pot Odds), otherwise I'm probably going to throw my hand away. You must be aggressive but not overly aggressive with your raises.

As always, these are just guidelines. I'm likely to mix up my strategy frequently. For example, if I had just taken a couple of bad beats and I raise preflop with pocket Aces my opponents are likely to think I'm on tilt. All the better. Let them call me with that dumb pair they hit all the way to the end. As you can see, pocket pairs can be played in a number of ways which are not limited to what you see here. Hopefully this article can be a good general outline to get you thinking about the different strategic possibilities.

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