Iíve read articles here and there about how one should play his/her small pocket pairs in cash games. Some authors seemed to hate pocket pairs, others were enthusiastic about them, though were few of them actually offered useful advice. The bottom line is, there is just one way small pocket pair should ever be played in a cash game: set mining. Now mind you that Iím talking exclusively about cash games here. In tournaments, especially in the late stages of an MTT, the pot odds are so great they justify moving all in on just about any two cards, which means pocket pairs Ė even small ones Ė gain an entirely new significance there. In cash games though, the pot odds are not skewed by continuously increasing blinds, so your small pocket pairs will fall into an entirely different category here.
Normally, small pocket pairs wouldnít represent a mathematically correct situation to commit chips on in a cash game. Even if you happen to hold the best preflop hand, your chances of improving on the flop are minute compared to the weaker preflop but better drawing hands that your opponents may have. You have only 2 outs for hitting a set, and almost no other way to improve (straights and flushes donít like your pair and even if you happen to hit one, chances are youíll end up on the bottom end of it Ė which is a great way to drop your entire stack to someone in one go).
Thank God for the implied odds though. Implied odds is what set mining is based on and thereís no better way to explain implied odds than through set mining so here goes.
The set mining player will take his/her small pocket pair to a flop every time he can, in hopes of hitting a set. Even though most of these flops will miss him Ė which means that the approach is actually a negative EV one in the long-run Ė the implied odds will help him turn things around once he does hit his/her set. Thatís because hitting a set with a small pocket pair is kind of like a license to take down a huge pot. There are few hands that are better disguised than small pocket pairs which hit a set on the flop. Even the best players will find it hard to put you on an accurate range of hands there and if one of your opponents does land something like a top pair or a two pair, heíll probably be willing to go all in just to keep you honest.
Because youíre likely to win big when you hit your set, youíre also likely to not only make up for the losses incurred on the flops that didnít hit you, but to generate some profit on the side too. This is how the implied odds work. In order to optimize your set mining, you can impact the equation in two ways: by minimizing losses on flops seen and by maximizing winnings on hit sets.
Always remember: when set mining, it is your goal to see the flop as cheaply as possible. This can prove to be a real challenge, especially if youíre playing at a table full of aggressive maniacs, in which case youíll have to do some unconventional maneuvering to complete your objective. Maximizing the winnings on hit sets is unfortunately not entirely up to you. You wonít be able to pot commit your opponent(s) if they donít make any sort of a hand at all.
Donít let the simplicity of the above presented theory fool you though. Efficient set mining is much more difficult than it looks like at first glance. You have to take unfortunate situations into account when you do hit your set, you manage to pot commit your opponent and then he tables a straight, a flush or a boat to felt you. Always pay keen attention to the texture of the board and avoid such huge setbacks as best you can. I know it can be tough to let go of a hand that took you two hours to land, but sometimes thatís exactly whatís required of you.
When playing in cash games, itís also a good idea to sign up for a rakeback deal. Since you pay poker rake on every hand that you play, a rakeback deal (like the ones on offer at Rakemeback.com) will save a great deal of money for you. Some rakeback deals offer rebate on tournament fees too, but all of them reward cash game play a little better.
About the author:
Steve Larson is an online poker player from Canada. Visit his rakeback site for more useful tips.
[Article submitted February 2010]
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