Every Texas Hold’em player knows the feeling of getting a big pocket pair before the flop. Your eyes light up, and you immediately start thinking about all of the money that you could haul in with these big pocket cards.
However, there is a table full of other players who have big money on their minds too, which means you have to know how to play your pocket pairs correctly to win. That being said, here is a look at how to play each of the big pocket pairs in Hold’em.
Pocket aces are the best possible hand you can have before the flop in Texas Hold’em. With aces, you are over an 80% favorite against any other pocket pair, and over a 70% favorite against drawing hands heads-up. But the key word in all of this is “heads-up.” Against a full table of 10 players, you only stand around a 30% chance of winning the hand so it’s important to limit the number of players who see the flop.
No matter what position you’re in with aces, you need to make a raise. How big that raise is will depend upon the table where you’re playing because some tables are tight and some are loose. Against a loose table, you might need to make a large raise to knock the drawing hands out. After all, the last thing you want is to allow hands like J-10, pocket nines, and K-Q to see the flop cheaply.
At the same time, you don’t want to knock everyone out of the hand and only steal the blinds with the best possible pre-flop hand. The perfect situation is to get one person to call your big raise before the flop so you’ll be isolated with that person on the flop.
Not much changes from pocket aces to pocket kings in terms of strategy. The only thing different when holding pocket kings pre-flop is there’s one hand that could possibly beat you in pocket aces. For this reason, many people will play scared when they have kings as soon as someone else starts making big raises.
But the key thing to remember is that there is only a 1 in 22 chance that somebody will be holding pocket aces when you have kings. For this reason, you should always play pocket kings like they’re the best hand on the table. This means that if you’re re-raised before the flop, you should make a re-raise of your own. Also, be sure to isolate players and knock drawing hands out just as you would with aces.
When the flop is dealt, check the board to see what the other player(s) could possibly have before making your decision. If the board reads 9s-10h-Js, someone could have a straight already, or just a flush opportunity. If an opponent is betting like they just have a flush draw, you should make them pay to see the next card with a large raise.
Having pocket queens still puts you in a great position before the flop because you have the third best hand. But now, you have to worry a little more about the possibility that somebody could have pocket aces or kings since there’s a 1 in 11 chance of this. Even someone with A-K or pocket jacks might bet like the have aces or kings so this is a problem too.
Despite all of this, you should still play queens like they’re the best hand before the flop. Sure there is a 9% chance that queens aren’t the best hand, but you should concentrate on the 91% chance that your pocket queens are the best hand. Keep in mind though that any tight player who is making large raises before the flop could be indicating that they have a better hand.
Another thing to be mindful of is that a lot of players will call large raises with a single ace in their hand so you need to be careful if an ace if flopped. Aside from this factor, make big raises pre-flop so that you can knock out drawing hands who will be trying to hit their straight or flush.
Pocket jacks are at the lower end of premium hands, but they are a premium hand nonetheless. Having jacks should warrant a big pre-flop raise from any position on the table because, again, you need to get rid of the drawing hands.
After the flop is when you need to be careful with pocket jacks. If you’re isolated with one other player, then you are still in good shape. However, you need to keep in mind that jacks are only the fourth best pair in Hold’em so you’re not only threatened by people who are going for straights and flushes, but also by players who hold overcards like K-Q. Play your jacks aggressively, but don’t be too quick to bet the farm with them.
A-K is the best possible drawing hand you could get before the flop. With A-K, you have the top two overcards, and the potential to get the top straight. But you also need to realize that A-K is nothing more than a drawing hand before the flop. In fact, you’re at a 2% disadvantage against pocket 2’s when holding A-K in a heads-up situation.
Moving past this little fact, your goal with A-K should be to get a decent amount of money in the pot pre-flop with 2 or 3 other players in the hand. The reason why you want a few players in the hand is that, when your A-K combo hits, you want it to pay off big. Aside from this, you’re at a disadvantage in heads-up play against any pair so you don’t want to be isolated with just one player if you can help it.