Small Pocket Pairs in Tournaments

Playing any hand in a tournament can be tricky. You have to
factor in everything from hand strength to the blind levels to
stack sizes and so on and so forth. Small pocket pairs are one of the
most dangerous hands that you can play in a tournament for a
number of reasons. First, pocket pairs do have showdown value,
but it can end up costing an awful lot to get to showdown. Where
in cash games you can make the best long term play and simply
reload if your read is off, you just won’t have that option in a
tournament. If you are going to commit your stack with just a
small pocket pair, you better be quite sure that you have your
opponent beat.

Another problem with pocket pairs is that they are never far
ahead of the competition. Even if you manage to get a small pair
all in pre-flop as a favorite, there’s a strong likelihood that
you are only flipping a coin anyway. Very rarely will pocket
fours be fortunate enough to run into pocket twos or threes, the
only two hands that it has truly dominated.

One final reason that pocket pairs are dangerous is because
they are the very definition of high risk and high reward. Yes,
you’ll likely wind up winning a sizable pot if you are able to
flop a set, but there’s something to be said about all of those
times where you totally brick the flop. There are many pots
where the obvious value in a pocket pair will only be derived if
you manage to hit a set, so you are taking a large number of
losses in your endeavor to hit that one set. And even then, your set might not get paid
off. Small pocket pairs in tournaments are valuable, there’s no
disputing that, but they certainly require a bit of extra care
and attention.

Small Pocket Pairs in Position

If you are in position with a small pocket pair in a
tournament, you’ll be working with a handful of inherent
advantages. First, you’ll be able to play the pot as
comfortably as possible post-flop. You won’t need to worry about
leading into or checking into a board full of over cards. This
gives you a lot of control that will save a significant amount
of money that would otherwise be used in order to test the

The other valuable element in position with small pocket
pairs is that you can set your own price pre-flop. Since most of
the action is going to be ahead of you, you won’t need to
worry that calling a raise will also trap you into calling a
3-bet or 4-bet. Of course, sometimes the small blind or big
blind will put in another raise, but this won’t happen all
too frequently.

If you are in a tournament and have position with
pocket pairs, the most obvious and profitable play is to see
a cheap flop. Don’t try and get fancy with a re-raise, because
you will usually not have enough blinds to make it work. If you
are going to attempt to float flops in tournaments with small
pocket pairs, you need to formulate a long term game plan. In
cash games, you’ll have a chance to raise and take down pots on
the flop or turn even when you miss, but in tournaments this
could result in a busted stack. Even though you have position,
getting out of line with small pocket pairs in tournaments is a
recipe for disaster. Use your position to your advantage, but
don’t extinguish the natural value in acting last by going crazy
for no real reason.

Small Pocket Pairs Out of Position

When you are out of position with a small pocket pair,
especially in a tournament, you are going to find yourself in a
lot of awkward spots. Depending upon your stack size, blind
levels, etc., you aren’t going to want to raise in many pots.
The value in small pocket pairs comes in set mining, so a raise
followed by a re-raise from an opponent could easily price you
out of the pot.

The go-to move with small pocket pairs out of position in
tournaments is to either limp or make a small raise. A small
raise can be deceptive enough that it’s able to extract value,
but it will also generally procure smaller re-raises, allowing
yourself an opportunity to remain in the pot. The last thing
that you want to do with a small pocket pair out of position is
to make a big raise. This will dilute the worth of your hand and
will disallow the opportunity to call the majority of re-raises.
Get involved with these hands, but don’t put your life on the
line. Small risk and big reward is the best approach in this
particular position.

Value in Early Blind Levels

In early blind levels, small pocket pairs aren’t going to be
used as strong starting hands. They don’t want to get all in
pre-flop and they don’t play very well post-flop in the spots
where they miss. The best plan of action in early levels with
small pocket pairs is to look for cheap, multi-way pots where
you stand a fair chance of getting paid off. A set is almost
always going to be a hand that plays very deceptively, so you’ll have pots where even a limped hand is able to win an
opponent’s stack.

The early levels are one of the few points in a tournament
where raises make sense with small pocket pairs. Though you
should still be aiming to keep the pot cheap, your wealth of big
blinds will allow for some pre-flop aggression. If a player
raises ahead of you, call and see a flop, but if you are first
to act, don’t be afraid to get the action started with a small

Value in Late Blind Levels

Late blind levels will often times force a small pocket pair
hand into either folding or shoving. The problem with big blinds
and small pairs is that they don’t work well together at all.
You won’t be able to get any value out of a raise through calls,
you can’t call others’ raises and expect to be profitable, and
limping in will just bleed your stack dry. With all of this in
mind, your only option is to try and double up or take down the
pot uncontested with a pre-flop shove.

If you are in late position and have a chance to steal the
blinds, don’t even think before you move all in. Likewise, if
you are first to act with 22 and a medium sized stack, think
carefully before you raise. As painful as it might be, there are
some spots where simply folding your small pocket pair is the
best play. With a small to moderate size stack, you’ll get
called by a lot of players when you open shove.

At this point, you are then going to be in a coin flip at best in almost every
hand. Instead of flipping coins, use the late levels of tourney
play to steal the blinds with small pocket pairs or to bully
your opponents when you have a big stack. In both of these
instances, other players will call you with hands that you have
beat. When you shove from early position, it’s usually you who
is the underdog who needs to catch up. Small pairs have value
even when the blinds are high, but you really need to be sure
that you pick your spots carefully.