Middle Pocket Pairs

Middle pocket pairs are the hands that fall in between the range of
set mining and wanting to dodge an over card. 8s, 9s,
and even Jacks are all strong hands, but they won’t usually come out
ahead on the river without a low board or some improvement. The
trouble that many players have with middle pocket pairs is found
in their inability to make folds. There are some players who
don’t like to give up pairs no matter what. Of course, these are
usually going to be losing players as well, and your goal is to
learn from their mistakes in creating a profitable environment
in which to play these hands.

A middle pocket pair is almost always going to be played in a
pot that was raised pre-flop. The difference between these pots
and other pots, though, is that you’ll usually either hit big
or totally miss. You can raise with AQ and hit a straight or a
flush draw, a pair, etc. With a middle pocket pair you are
usually going to either hit a set or be left with your pair. You
need to try and make the most out of the chances you have with
sets while also reducing your exposure to potential losses when
you fail to improve. This balance is what tends to throw most
players off of their game.


In pre-flop situations, you should usually be making some
sort of raise with your middle pocket pairs. The only real
common scenario where a raise wouldn’t make sense would be if
there was already action ahead of you. When players are limping
in left and right, you need to raise in order to thin out the
field. You want to be playing a raised pot so that you stand to
win more when you make a big hand and also so that you can
better control the action when you miss. If you compare the
likely outcomes in a limped pot vs. a raised pot, it’s easy to
see the multiple reasons why aggression wins out.

The trickiest element of middle pocket pairs will be when you
raise and then get re-raised. Depending on the exact strength of
your hand, there’s now a good chance that you are already way
behind your opponent. In most games, players aren’t going to be
3-betting with anything weaker than AQ+ or TT+, with a lot of
players calling even with these hands. You are going to need to
evaluate whether you are now playing the hand in an attempt to
win with an over pair or simply for the purpose of set mining.
Whatever your plan might be going to the flop, though, it could
very easily change depending on the board and the actions that

There are some spots where profitability ceases to exist
pre-flop with middle pocket pairs. For example, an open raise under the gun
followed by a massive re-raise from a player in position should
usually be enough to command a fold. Not only are you being
priced out of the pot for the purpose of set mining, but you are
also going to have a tough time going forward since you are out
of position. There are just too many negative attributes to
moving on with these sorts of situations. Beyond this, however,
there aren’t too many overly troublesome spots that should
arise pre-flop with middle pocket pairs.


As alluded to earlier, post-flop with middle pocket pairs is
usually going to lean to one extreme or the other. You can’t
really connect with the flop when you have a middle
pair. The only way your hand would gain marginal value would be
if you manage to make an open ended straight draw. For example,
a flop of 567 would not be terrible for pocket 8s. But even if
you do manage to hit a straight on this board, it’s not like you
have the benefit of deception on your side. Sets are just about
the only thing that are going to win you a significant amount of
money with middle pocket pairs.

Because they are a tad bit stronger than small pocket pairs,
these hands are going to come along with greater showdown value.
Though you shouldn’t be turning every pot into a bluff catcher,
you’ll have more opportunities to call down lightly with a
reasonable expectation of winning. With hands like 2s and 3s,
you could easily lose to a stray 4 or 5 that just happened to
pair your opponent, even if they think they are bluffing. With
9s and 10s you are going to be beating these hands. Even though
there’s a lot more inherent value in middle pocket pairs, you
are still going to either be way ahead or way behind, so you
need to be on one side of the fence or the other.

You aren’t always going to be fortunate enough to face a low
board when you have a middle pocket pair. The chances are that
an over card is going to come out at some point in the hand, be
it on the flop, turn, or river. In those hands that an over card
isn’t on the board, however, you should be taking advantage by
firing out as many bets as you can. You might be surprised to
see just how many players will call down with top pair,
regardless of how low that top pair is. Things are always
relative in poker. You could have a player muck a pair of 8s on
the flop in one hand while going to the river the next. If the
board reads 82462, betting out with pocket 9s the whole way is
going to be a wildly profitable long term play.

One of the most ideal times to push hard with middle pocket
pairs is on draw heavy boards. These boards are even more
valuable when they are low. You’ll get a ton of calls from
players who are chasing their draws and you can be all but
certain that you are ahead. The key to success with these boards
is being able to slow down when the draws hit. You don’t want
anyone chasing cards for a cheap price, but you don’t want to
put more money in the pot when you are likely behind.

Another valuable element will be found in how you play draws that missed
on the river. Since you were leading out with the understanding
that your opponent was on a draw, it doesn’t make much sense to
bet again on the river if you believed they missed. You should
instead check and give your opponent an opportunity to bluff so
as to earn a little bit more from the pot. An even further
benefit of this play is that you’ll lose the least if your
opponent happened to have a monster hand that wasn’t related to
the draws on the board. Putting the pressure on your opponent is
crucial on draw heavy boards when you have a made hand, but
eventually you want them to make a mistake on their own.