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.
Middle Pairs – Tricky And Dangerous
When it comes down to the middle pairs – and in this instance, we are talking about pocket tens through pocket sixes – you can find yourself in a very tricky and dangerous circumstance. You are starting with a pocket pair, but it is very susceptible to being outdrawn. Unless you hit the set (in most games, as you will see), it is a hand that will often be beaten by players who sit on face cards or Aces. The proper approach, dependent on the game, will help you to maximize the value and, when you are in a difficult situation, get away with the least amount of chips lost.
In Texas Hold’em, the pocket pair can be wielded pretty easily. When you have the middle pair, though, you have to delicately walk through the board. Unless you catch that set – about a one in eight chance – you have to be able to read the board correctly and judge whether you are sitting good or have to muck the hand.
Pre-flop, pocket tens through pocket eights can be played for a raise with some semblance of confidence. The pocket sevens and sixes, however, don’t have the same level of strength that a player should look for when raising a hand. This doesn’t mean that you should throw these hands away, though; all of the middle pairs are worth calling a raise, unless there is a huge amount of action in front of you, and you can at the minimum take a look at the flop.
After the flop is where things can get a bit tricky. If the flop comes down with over cards to your pair – and especially if the flop contains one or more face cards or Aces – you have to definitely consider the playing style of your opponent and judge whether to continue on in the hand. This is a spot where conserving the chips, either through check-calling or folding, will work out well for your future at this particular table.
If the flop comes under your middle pair, you have to find out where you are at very quickly. A bet or raise should get the information you are looking for here and, if you are raised or three bet, then you have to make a decision as to whether your opponent is pushing his big Ace or has actually caught a set against your pair. It is a hand that you can go to the river with but be sure to control the betting on future streets.
If you catch your set, a player has a multitude of options available to them. You can either slow play the set and look to draw some more chips from your opponent or pound the board with bets (especially useful if you are against an aggressive player). Be mindful, though, as to the board texture and be on the lookout for either straights or flushes that come to light.
With Omaha, the middle pair is even more problematic than playing it in Texas Hold’em. This is a game that, if you don’t catch a set on the flop – or at least the turn – you are looking at getting rid of the hand because you more than likely won’t take it down with your middle pair. When you add in the factor of playing High-Low, then the decisions take on another turn.
While hitting the set in High-Low may be good enough to take the high half the pot, you really are looking for the board to pair to make a boat (and try to dodge an opponent who is sitting on their own pair that makes quads). Caution should be at the forefront of your mind here as you can get into a betting war that depletes your stack when you are sitting there with the second best hand.
If you have pocket eights, sevens or sixes, you have to take a look at your other two cards to judge whether you can make a solid low hand. Unless you have a suited Ace to go along with one of your pair cards, you shouldn’t be looking at making the low and even then you don’t have what could be considered to be a playable hand. This is a common mistake that players will make in the Omaha game – continuing to play the hand when they should have gotten out long before the river – and you should look to conserve your chips for a position where you have much better holdings.
As we talked about in Volume 1 of this series, pocket pairs are something that definitely need to be avoided in Razz. With the middle pairs, however, there are some options that open up for bluffing and/or for taking the hand outright.
Pocket tens through pocket eights should be avoided at all costs, but there is potential in the pocket sevens and sixes. You should preferably be gated – with one of your pair in your hidden cards and the other showing – and have your opponents all showing cards higher than yours to make a move on the pot. If you have your pair hidden, you would need an Ace, deuce or trey showing to be aggressive.
In Razz, however, you have to remember that you have to almost draw perfectly over the next four cards to catch the low hand. If your pair hits another like card on Fourth Street – for example, (7-7) 2-7 – then you need to run quickly away. If, however, you are drawing with a (6-3) 6-2-A, you can continue cautiously to Seventh Street to try to catch your low cards. As always with the game of poker and especially with non-community card games, be aware of the potential that your opponents are displaying and get out when it looks as though you are beaten.
Seven Card Stud and Seven Card High-Low
In these games, the middle pair can be a very effective tool, especially if they are a hidden pair. If you are fortunate enough to be able to pull a third card on one of the streets, you can be aggressive with them and often get players who have two pair to come along with you to the river. In this instance, your payoff would be quite large. But there are some factors that you have to keep in mind before you start counting those chips, however.
If the two other cards to your pair are part of the face up cards, then you have to consider whether it will be wise to continue on with the hand. If you are holding pocket sevens, for example, and both of the sevens you covet are up, the best you are going to be able to do is two pair (barring hitting trips somewhere over the next four cards). In most cases, the middle pair is not going to be enough to win the hand, as someone else will have built a much better holding.
You also have to consider the texture of an opponent’s displayed cards and judge whether you can beat what they are showing or, in some cases, insinuating that they have. If someone is showing four suited cards or has two pair already in the up cards, your measly pair should have already been in the muck. Remember that you want to be able to have some ammunition when you have your larger hands; calling along and looking to hit aren’t going to conserve your chip stack to be able to do that.
In High-Low, you have to consider the same options that you did in Omaha. Unless you catch a card to make the set and take the high, you shouldn’t be in the hand. If you are looking at the low hand, you have to have that Ace, deuce or trey in the mix to allow you to go on in the hand. Always remember your goal in a High-Low game is to scoop the entirety of the pot rather than split it, though.
The middle pocket pair can be one of the sneakiest hands in the game of poker. Played correctly, it can score a nice sized pot into your chip stack; played incorrectly, it can wreck not only your chips but your confidence. Be sure to wade into playing the middle pairs carefully as the same hand in different games is sometimes not the best hand to be playing. In the next segment of this series, we will take a look at the baby pairs and how in different games they can be highly useful.
By EARL BURTON