Playing Mid Pocket Pairs Postflop in No Limit Hold'em
(This article is a follow up to "Playing Middle Pocket Pairs Preflop")
Playing middle pairs after the flop doesn't have to be as difficult as many people seem to think. All you have to know is what type hand and what type of pot you are playing for. The answer to those questions is largely dependent on what the other players at the table have done so far up to this point.
Against opponents who raised preflop and appear to have strong hands, your goal with middle pairs is to hit a set and win a big pot. If you don’t hit the set, you can fold and get out with minimum expense. This is the simple definition of “set hunting.”
When you play your middle pairs against players who limped in, your goal is once again to hit a set and win a big pot. If you miss the set, all you have to do is fold. There’s no reason to get involved if you don’t have a strong hand. If it looks like nobody is interested in the pot, you can throw out the occasional probe bet and see if you take the pot down.
When you are the one who raised preflop, you’ll have to play your hand a little differently. Although sets are welcome sights, you don’t necessarily have to hit a set to continue on in this situation. What you’re looking for when you’re the raiser is to take down an easy pot after the flop. You’re the one who showed strength before the flop so it’s easy for you to take the pot postflop.
Keep the Pot Small Without a Set
Always remember to keep the pot size in line with the strength of your hand. A middle pocket pair isn’t the type of hand to get involved in a large pot. If you have an opponent give you any trouble and you don’t have a set, you can assume you’re losing to everything except a bluff.
Middle pairs do win more than their fare share of pots, but that doesn’t mean they are strong hands in big pots. The only time a middle pair should be played for a large pot is when that pair hits a set. In all other cases, you need to practice pot control and patience.
This doesn’t mean you have to be a complete nit, though. It’s OK to place bets on the flop, and even on the turn, but only if you realize that your hand is not the nuts. These occasional bets are good because they keep you from becoming too obvious.
Any time the pot starts to grow beyond your control, you should fold your middle pocket pair. These hands simply do not do well in large pots. Even pairs like TT and JJ don’t do well in large pots because your opponents will rarely be willing to go all-in with anything less than a middle pair.
Bloat the Pot with a Set
When you hit sets with middle pairs, your only concern is how to collect the most money. The way in which you go about that will largely depend on the playing styles of your opponents and the board texture.
The weaker and most passive your opponents are, the more you should lean to betting right out on the flop, turn and river. By starting the betting out on the flop, you can bloat the pot early so that you can collect with big bets on the river.
Against tighter opponents, you may want to slow play your set for a street, depending on the board texture. On a dry, unconnected board full of low cards, you’ll probably want to slow play due to the low likelihood that anyone else has anything. On dangerous, drawy boards, you should start the betting early for two reasons:
- If any of your opponents have a draw, you don’t want them to draw for free.
- If any of your opponents don’t have draws, they may think you are semi-bluffing the draw
If you divide your middle pairs into two categories (set or not-a-set) after the flop, you’ll know exactly how to play them. Middle pairs that don’t hit a set should be played cautiously and should rarely see a showdown. With missed sets, you either take the pot by force or fold.Middle pairs that do hit sets should be played to win the biggest pot possible. You should still be on the lookout for draws but you’ll generally have free reign to play your sets in whatever manner you wish. Your main goal in this situation is to get as much money in the middle as possible.