Playing Mid Pocket Pairs Preflop in No Limit Hold'em

Mid Pocket PairMiddle pairs (77-JJ) are strong hands but they are troubling for many poker players. The problem with these hands is that we know they should usually win the pot, but they are difficult to play. High cards often show up on the board and we have a tough time figuring out whether we are ahead or not.

You can make life a lot easier by playing these pairs correctly before you even get to the flop. Remember, you get to choose when and where you play middle pairs. If you want to make consistent money with your pairs, play them on your own terms. When choosing when and where to play your middle pairs, consider the following factors: position, your table's aggression, and stack size:


Position is the most important aspect of preflop play. Before you make any other decision, you need to decide if you’re in a good enough position to play your middle pocket pairs.

Late Position

In late position, it's a given that you can play your middle pairs. Unless there has been major preflop betting action, you can always play your middle pairs in late position. If several people have limped in, your best bet is to limp in behind them and try to hit a set in a big pot. With the upper end of the range (TT and JJ), you can raise the weak limpers and try to play your hand against only one or two opponents.

If the pot has been raised in front of you, you can play your middle pair as long as the raiser has a large stack. You do not want to call raises from small stacked opponents because the pots you do win against those opponents won't be large enough to make up for all the times you call and miss your set.

Middle Position

It's fine to play your middle pairs in middle position, but you'll have to proceed with a little more caution than in late position. The correct action will depend upon what the preflop action has been like so far.

If you are the first person in, you should come in with a raise. Open limping is a weak play and it will allow more aggressive opponents to control the hand. Additionally, open limping teleports to your opponents exactly what kind of hand you have: a small drawing hand.

If one or more person has already limped in before you, you can limp in behind those players also. If it was just a single opponent, you can consider putting in a raise to kick everyone else out of the pot. That way you'll have it heads up against the limper who probably has a weak hand.

Against raises, you should fold 77-99 in middle position. With TT and JJ, you can either call or re-raise, depending on the playing style of the original raiser. If the original raiser is fairly tight, you can just call and reevaluate after the flop. If the original raiser is loose, you can 3-bet him and get the pot heads up against him.

Early Position

In early position, you should almost always open with a raise if you have TT or better. With the other middle pairs, however, you'll have to consider several factors before making a decision. Sometimes you will want to fold your middle pairs in early position and other times you will want to come in with a raise. What you should never do is open the pot with a limp.

You can come in with a raise if the table is generally tight and straightforward. Your opponents at those tables will know that for you to be raising from early position, you probably have a strong hand. As a result, they'll play tight against you and be more willing to concede the pot after the flop.

Against a smart, aggressive table, you should fold the pairs 77-99 before the flop unless you are confident in your ability to outplay your opponents after the flop. In most cases, this won't be possible simply because of the disadvantage of being in early position. Smart, aggressive opponents make it very difficult for you to win pots from early position without strong hands.

Playing Style of the Table

You should always note the playing style of the table when choosing whether or not to play your middle pair. Generally, you can play your pair from all positions at an easy, passive, or tight table. At tough tables, you should generally only play your middle pairs in late position, with the exception of the occasional early-mid play to mix it up.

Stack Sizes

Stack sizes are an important consideration when deciding whether or not to call an opponents' preflop raise with your middle pair. When you call a preflop raise with a pair, you are generally playing to hit a set and crack whatever that opponent has. For this to be a profitable move, your opponent needs to have a large stack.

Against medium and small stacked opponents, you can't profitably call raises and then hope to hit a set. You'll spend too much money calling/folding for the occasional set to make up for it. Against those opponents, you should either take the pot by force or fold.

To Raise or Not to Raise?

The easiest way to decide whether or not to raise is to base the decision on the action before you. If you are the first person in the pot, you should come in with a raise. If several people have already entered the pot, you should limp in behind them and play your hand cheaply.

You can also occasionally raise limpers if there’s a good chance you'll thin the field. When you raise in that situation, your goal is to take an easy pot after the flop. You might or might not have the best hand, but you'll usually win the pot in either case with a bet.

Your final decision will affect the way you play after the flop as well. If you come in with a raise, you will usually want to continue that aggression after the flop so you can take the pot. As a limper, you will generally play a tight game, hoping to hit a set before putting more money in the pot.

Now that you know how to play middle pocket pairs preflop, learn how to play middle pocket pairs postflop.

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