Poker Hands Tips: When to Fold Small Pairs Preflop in Tournaments
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Poker Hands Tips: When to Fold Small Pairs Preflop in Tournaments

Small pairs preflop are decent hands, but only in the hands of an analytical player. Here are some ways to play small pairs preflop.

Folding small pocket pairs preflop in tournaments is not a sign of impulsive cowardice; in high-stakes situations, it is a sign of calculated prudence. However, such decisions should be made not based on fear, but based on a thorough analysis of the hand situation. Let us define small pairs as pairs lower than Pocket Queens. Therefore, pairs from Pocket Jacks all the way to Pocket Deuces are small pairs. Having these hands preflop places you in a delicate situation; you must consider your position, how many chips you have, and the tells you have gathered from other players all throughout the game.


1) If you get a small pair in early position and you have plenty of chips (30 big blinds or more), you can open up for a standard raise. That may drive away suited connectors that might run over your hand on a risky Board with straight or flush possibilities. Others may also think that you have a monster, so they may fold marginal hands like K-Q or A-10. On the other hand, you may be called with two overcards like A-K or A-Q, or with another pair. With a call to your raise, poise yourself up for the Flop: if an Ace or a face card emerges, then your pair is virtually valueless. Remember, preflop is the time of greatest anticipation, so you will have to sort out all possible postflop scenarios in your head during that time. Small pairs are volatile, so playing them requires plenty of thinking.

Tighter players feel comfortable folding pairs lower than Tens preflop on early position, because they would not want to get stuck with someone who reraises them or on the Flop where they may have to fold to a looser juggernaut. However, when a player has a few tournament chips remaining (15 big blinds or less), an all-in is recommended. Players from late position who realize that you are willing to stake everything from an early position will more likely fold because they will feel that you have an early position monster; that way, you can get valuable blinds. If you do get called, it may be with another pair (just hope that it is an underpair, so you will have a 4-to-1 advantage) or with two overcards, with which your small pair is a small favorite; it's pretty much a coin flip.


2) If you get small pairs in middle or late position, you can just call and hope for a set; or you can reraise if you think that raisers before you are playing marginal hands. If there are a one or two players in the pot preflop before action reaches you, the optimal play would be reraising (or moving all-in), so you can put out overcards or connectors. If you do get called in an all-in situation, expect more or less a coin flip.

However, with three or more players before you in an unraised preflop pot, calling would be the best option, because you have huge implied odds with your small pair, because of the possibilities of garnering a set that could crush everyone else.

Sometimes it is smart to fold small pairs on late position, if you feel that the raiser is tight and could have raised only with something like A-A, K-K, Q-Q, or A-K suited. With a raise and a reraise before you, a fold is almost automatic, except with J-J or 10-10, where your decision will almost always be borderline and dependent on the psychology of the raisers.


Getting small pairs could be a welcome blessing in a time when you seem not to be getting premium hands, but to maximize profits from them, they should be played with finesse.

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