Middle Pocket Pairs in Tournaments

Middle pocket pairs in tournaments tend to create a lot of
problems for players. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 World
Series of Poker bracelets or zero cashes to your name, middle
pocket pairs aren’t the easiest hands to play. The trouble with
middle pairs is that they often times turn themselves into
nothing more than a bluff catcher.

When the only hands that you
can reasonably beat are complete and total bluffs, you are going
to be grasping at straws when it comes time for showdown. A lot
of players also unnecessarily suck themselves into pots with
middle pocket pairs. The absolute key to these types of hands is
to keep everything relative and in context. Yes, they do have
natural value, but you still need to be careful how you go about
playing them.

There are many different ways to play middle pocket pairs
post-flop, and most of them are going to be dependent primarily
upon how your opponent is acting. You aren’t going to be
controlling the action with these hands in most spots as you
normally would be if you had a legitimately strong hand. This
isn’t to say that you won’t turn a middle pair into a super
strong hand from time to time, but this isn’t usually how they
play out. You have to be playing these hands for what they are.
When you try to turn a lone pair, and not even a strong one at
that, into a monster, you are going to be getting yourself into
an awful lot of difficult situations.


Pre-flop play is generally going to be simplistic with most
any hand, and this remains the case with mid pairs in
tournaments. There are going to be points where a middle pair is
the virtual nuts in pre-flop spots, such as when you are super
short stacked or are facing a shove in the blinds from a player
on the button. While these types of hands are going to be pretty
easy to identify, you are also going to have to be concerned
about the times where things aren’t so clear cut.

For the sake of this article, there are three different types of
pre-flop pots that you are going to frequently run into.
These pots would be classified as small, moderate, and folds.
The reason that there isn’t a designation for large pots is that
usually a middle pair is going to fold before it gets to that
point. If you are indeed playing a sizable pre-flop pot with a
middle pair, it probably means that you had little other choice
as in the few examples above, meaning that discussion and
strategy isn’t as pertinent.

In small pots you’ll be playing these hands in a very
straightforward manner. There’s nothing that even the most
amateur player doesn’t get about
limping in and/or calling small raises in order to see a
flop. You might even open raise and get some calls, but you are
still going to playing in a small pot. In these small pots, you
aren’t going to need to do anything overly analytical until the
flop is dealt.

In medium sized pots, the chances are that you are playing
for set mining value. This means that you are not calling or
making a raise for the natural value in your hand, but instead
for its potential. Say that a player makes an open raise in
early position and you call in late position with 88. If a
player in the blinds re-raises a fair amount, your decision to
call or fold will rely on whether the open raiser calls, the
size of the raise, and the type of players that you are facing.
If the raise was massive and it forces a fold from the original
raiser, you too would likely be folding. If it was small and the
3-bettor is known for their over aggressive play, calling makes
more sense. Medium sized pots don’t necessarily generate either
a fold or a call.


Post-flop strategy with middle pocket pairs in tournaments
can undoubtedly get quite tricky. You are going to be in never
ending situations where you are beating nothing other than a
bluff. Since these types of hands come in limitless variations,
it would be impossible to elaborate on the exact approach.
Needless to say, however, relying on bluff catching as your
primary means of profitability isn’t the most ideal approach to
poker. If you are playing middle pairs all the way to showdown
in pots that have action on each street, you should be near
certain that your opponent is weak. Without a solid read and/or
a super suspicious board and line, calling off big bets with
middle pocket pairs is a recipe for disaster.

The most common and practical way to play middle pocket pairs
post-flop in tournaments is to get to showdown as cheaply as
possible. No matter what the board reads, you are almost always
going to have some sort of showdown value. What this means is
that betting dilutes the value of your hand and being otherwise
aggressive is just unnecessary. Checking the hand down is
logical and won’t punish you beyond what you already have
invested. Even calling small river bets can be OK. Keeping pots
small and manageable is the key to success with these hands.

There are only two scenarios in which your middle pocket pair
is likely to develop into an exceptionally strong hand, and this
is when you back into a four card straight or make a set (or
better). Rarely are you going to have a middle pocket pair in
sync with a board that creates an opportunity for value betting
without one of these hands. As a result, you should lay off the
thin value bets and other moderately tricky plays. Unless you
have an opponent who you know is prone to making ill-timed hero
calls, betting middle pairs isn’t going to be profitable.
Minimize your risk and potential losses by playing mid pairs
slow when you don’t improve, but make sure you are maximizing
your chances for profitability when you are able to flop a big