Same Hand, Different Game Vol. 1: Big Pairs


In the game of poker, sometimes the hand you hold has differing capabilities depending upon the game that you’re playing. What would be a great hand in one form of poker will, in essence, be junk in another discipline of the game. In this continuing series of articles, we’ll examine particular hands and what strategies a player should put in place because the same hand isn’t always the best in different games.


Big Pairs – The Best (?) Hand To Get

Most of the time when you peek into your hole cards and see a big pair – and in this instance, we’re looking at pocket Aces through Pocket Jacks – you have to control the inclination to jump from your seat when you put your bets into the pot. Depending upon the game, however, you should look at these big pairs with a discerning eye. Simply put, there are times you want to be wielding the big guns and times when it is the LAST thing you want to be holding in your hand.


Texas Hold ‘Em

This is arguably the one game that, when you’re holding a big pair, you are thrilled when you look at your hole cards. Whether in a cash game or a tournament, Limit or No Limit, the big pairs are an opportunity to get your chips in action. A player has to be mindful of several options when it comes to how to play this hand, however.

Whether playing limit or no limit, cash game or tournament, I personally like the raise on every occasion when holding a big pocket pair. Especially in limit, you want to eliminate any opposition against you. Against another lower pocket pair heads up, you have an excellent edge (approximately 81/19) but, when you add in even as much as one more player with a random hand, the pocket Aces lose almost 12% of their edge. Thus, the raise is logically the best play to make.

There is something to be said for the slow playing option in the right circumstances, but you have to be wary of letting your opponents catch up with you. In addition, you have to be conscious of what the board is telling you as well as your opponents betting. It makes little sense to push your black Aces on a coordinated board that contains three or four diamonds or hearts or a four to a middle straight. You must be able to let go of your big hands sometimes to be able to survive at the felt.

Finally, you have to be mindful of the odds of a situation. The odds of improving a pocket pair of any type into a set or better is about 7½ to 1. While a pair of Aces in the hole can many times carry the hand, lower big pairs such as Kings through Jacks have to be on the lookout for a bigger card on the board and/or coordinated flops.


Omaha Hold ‘Em

Big pocket pairs as part of your four hole cards in Omaha is one of the most misplayed hands in this discipline of poker. Depending on what you are playing – be it Pot Limit, Limit or Eights or Better – the big pocket pairs can have a multitude of opportunities (depending upon the other two cards in the hand) and/or dangers that a player has to be aware of when entering into a pot.

With Pot Limit or Limit Omaha, you really want the Aces to have a big match with them, such as a King or Queen of the same suit. The drawing nature of the game is such that you want to be able to build upon your big pairs because they more than likely will not be enough to win the hand. For example, if you’re carrying A-A-K-K, Q-Q or K-Q double suited, then this is a hand you can get a bit excited about. In Omaha, though, remember that there are twice as many cards dealt out pre-flop and there is less likelihood of catching your set. If you miss one of your two outs and the board is highly coordinated against you, look to dump the hand.

With Eights or Better, somewhat the opposite is put into play. While the big pair is a nice start, you have to be able to draw effectively for the scoop of the pot rather than the split. A hand such as A-A-K-2 or Q-3 double suited will offer you an excellent chance at that scoop. Other big pairs, such as Kings through Jacks, will have to make some improvement or have two other good drawing cards to justify playing the hand to the river.

The best way to handle these options is a call pre-flop, unless you are in late position and can force any other action out of the hand. In Pot Limit, you may be able to get to that preferred heads up situation with the raise but, in Limit, players more than likely will not lay their hands down.



This is the one game in the litany of poker options where the LAST thing you want is a big pocket pair. Because the object of Razz – and other “lowball” games – is to build the worst hand possible, a big pair should immediately find its way to the muck. The only plausible option to play would be Aces with an excellent chance of building to the low hand.


Seven Card Stud/8b

Whether gated – with one big card showing and a partner hidden in the hole – or hidden, big pairs can be a great start in Seven Card Stud or Eights or Better. Where the differences come is in the building of your hand after more streets are revealed.

In Stud, you could be able to win the hand with just your solo big pair. Preferably, you would like to add to your pair with another pair or picking up the set, although your action may be killed by both options. Strong play is key here, with a raise before action on Fourth Street, and always be aware of the cards that have been shown (it would be difficult to continue on if you’ve seen the other two of your big pair discarded) and other players’ possible builds.

With Eights or Better, we once again have to look back to how we played in Omaha. We have to have a good chance of scooping the pot (although a split isn’t bad), otherwise we could be wasting valuable chips that could be put into better usage in other situations.



Big pocket pairs can be a crushing blow to an opponent. Depending upon the game, however, that same crushing blow can be administered to your stack if you don’t recognize the nuances of each poker discipline. In the next segment of this series, we will examine the middle pair and the way to attack the same hand in different games.


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Earl Burton
Earl Burton is a veteran journalist in the poker industry, having covered the game since 2004. He has played the game much longer, however, starting out playing in family games at a very early age. He has covered tournaments across the United States, including the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker and various charitable events. Earl’s background includes writing for some of the top poker news sites in the industry as well as other poker media outlets that include Poker Player Newspaper and Canadian Poker Player Magazine. Earl keeps an unblinking eye on the poker world, offering coverage of news from the industry, tournament action, player interviews, strategy and his opinions on the game. Whenever possible, Earl will also step to the tables to demonstrate that there’s more than just writing talent behind his poker game!


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