How to Play Small Pocket Pairs in 6-Max No-Limit

If you've played six-max cash games with any frequency in the past few years you'll have noticed that aggression levels have reached epic proportions.

So where in that sea of raises and reraises do small pocket pairs belong?

Pocket pairs are very strong drawing hands. When they hit, they make big pot hands. Sets are big-money hands so when you flop one, you should be willing to get it in with impunity.

Sets are such large money-winners that at lower stakes there are players known as "set miners" who do nothing but play super tight and "mine" sets, doing their best to get all-in when they hit.

This tight, super-basic strategy is even effective enough to beat the smallest stakes ... which should give you an idea of how powerful sets are.

Set Mining Isn't Enough in 6-Max

In today's low- to mid-stakes games you're going to have to do a lot more than set mining to win. These games are very aggressive. You should be too: aggressive play picks up pots.

Pocket pairs are such big hands and these games are so aggressive that when it's folded to you, you can and should bring in any pocket pair for a raise. Limping in a six-max game is a no-no.

Tom Dwan
Aggressive play picks up pots.

Six-max is about aggression and if you can't raise the hand pre-flop, you most definitely shouldn't be limping it.

Related Reading:

6-Max Games Reward Aggression

In six-max games there are fewer opponents who act behind you than there are in a full-ring game. This is why you can raise more hands - there are fewer people to wake up with a hand behind you.

Six-max games reward aggression, so if you are first in with a pocket pair, raise it up.

"Dan, your logic doesn't make sense. You tell me to raise my pocket pairs, but they only flop a set 11.8% of the time. What do I do the other 88.2% of the time?"

Well, I say to you, my young padawan, you play poker.

Fire a continuation bet. You still do have a pair; since most hands miss most flops, you will still likely have the best hand.

It is up to you to find out where you stand in the hand by putting your opponent on a range. If you think you have the best hand and your opponent will call with worse, bet. If you think your opponent will fold, bet.

Related Reading:

Play Great 6-Max Cash Games at 888poker Now!

What Hands Should I Raise with in 6-Max?

The thing about playing the TAG/LAG style is that you will be raising with a wide range of hands before the flop. You will also be continuation betting on the flop with a slightly narrower range, but still frequently.

When you're betting the flop with both made hands and bluffs, you become a very difficult player to read. When you are a difficult player to read, your opponents will be more willing to pay you off when you make your hand.

Yes; they will also play back at you when you don't have a hand, but you can then safely fold and it should only lose you a couple of small bets. When you hit and they play back at you, you stand to win several big bets - or their whole stack.

Sandra Naujoks
Raising first with a pocket pair is best.

This is why pocket pairs are so strong. When they flop, they flop hands strong enough to go to war with stacks over. This is why raising first in with a pocket pair is your best possible play with it.

You will often win the pot initially with your raise; other times, you'll take the pot down with a continuation bet on the flop; still other times, you'll win when you flop a set.

When you raise with your pocket pair before the flop it gives you the most ways to win.

Related Reading:

How to Play Pocket Pairs to a Raise

When there is a raise in front of you, you have to play pocket pairs a little bit more gingerly. Many six-max players three-bet these pocket pairs religiously. I believe this is flawed thinking.

As I discussed in the "don't overuse the light three-bet" article, three-betting a hand like a pocket pair is counterintuitive.

Pocket pairs are too strong to fold. You'd obviously like to continue with the hand, so calling is the best play. Three-betting will often cause your opponent to fold before the flop, giving you no chance to actually win his stack.

You may win more small pots, but seldom will you stack him. Also, you risk being reraised and forced to fold your three-bet and the equity you have invested in the pot.

Your best bet when playing small pocket pairs against raises is to flat-call and play poker on the flop. Three-betting them is just fancy-play syndrome and does nothing to increase your overall expectation.

Related Reading:

What Happens If I Raise and Get Reraised?

This is a tricky spot. If you raise before the flop and find yourself reraised, you should fold most of the time - unless your opponent is a compulsive three-bettor or your stacks are very deep.

Annette Obrestad
Don't overuse the three-bet.

Even if your opponent is a compulsive three-bettor, you should seldom just call. Be aware of your position and your image.

Unless the stacks are deep you are not getting the implied odds to call for set value; if you are out of position it further complicates things.

You will be out of position against a three-bettor on a flop that is often going to miss you. You are almost always going to be forced into check-folding. Instead, your best bet is just to fold and wait for a better spot.

If you're in position against a three-bettor you should still likely fold. If your opponent is a serial three-bettor, you may call with the intention of bluffing later or four-bet him as a bluff.

This should be done very seldom, and only versus a player you know you have fold equity against. The bulk of the value of small pocket pairs comes when you flop a set.

It isn't going to happen all the time, so if you're going to be playing them fast before the flop, you had better have some fold equity as well.

Related Reading:

Small Pocket Pairs are a Drawing Hand

Small pocket pairs are a drawing hand. Always remember that. You cannot call large three-bets pre-flop if you want to have a positive expectation.

Most of the value in small pocket pairs comes from when they flop a set, which will only happen 11.8% of the time, as mentioned. The rest of the time you will be left with an all-overcard board, which is why it is better to be the aggressor.

When you are the aggressor, you have significantly more ways to win - you can win pre-flop, on the flop or at showdown with the best hand. Pocket pairs are big hands when they flop sets, but are also very troublesome for newer players.

Play them strong like you would any other good drawing hand and you'll do fine.

Related Poker Strategy Articles

Related Articles

Unibet Poker Open 2023
Unibet Open Bukarest 2023 – Here we go!

Unibet Open Bukarest alkoi pari tuntia sitten, pahoittelut että blogi pääsee vauhtiin myöhässä. Syytetään Lufthansaa, joka onnistui eilen jättämään matkalaukkuni Frankfurtin kentälle. Nyt on laukku saatu tänne Bukarestin Marriottiin ja…

November 30, 2023 | Juhani Tyriseva
Unibet Poker Open 2023
Suomalaisten chip count, Event 1

Ville Mustonen 65K Aleksi Naski 265K Samuli Hietala 330K Jarno Jokiniemi 85K Max Avela 260K Kai Lehto 105K Feras Abid 130K Topi Palenius 95K Atte Franssila 85K Markku Vihavainen 50K…

September 16, 2023 | Juhani Tyriseva
Unibet Poker Open 2023
Voitonjako on selvillä

Ensimmäisen sormuskisan WSOPC Event 1, voitonjako on nyt selvillä. Turnauksen palkintopotti on 183.360€, ja 47 parasta pääsee rahoille. Turnauksen voittaja kuittaa mukavat 38.510€, ja min cash on 1.100€. Tällä hetkellä…

September 16, 2023 | Juhani Tyriseva
WSOP banner
WSOP Schedule 2020

The 2020 World Series of Poker kicks of in Las Vegas on May 27th. With a time frame of more than 7 weeks and 100 tournaments this will be the…

August 21, 2023 | Arved Klöhn
WSOP banner
Pikku tauon jälkeen jatketaan

Pidettiin pieni tauko, nyt peli jatkuu tasolla bb ante 4K, blindit 2K/4K. 111/573 pelaajaa.

July 25, 2023 | Juhani Tyriseva
melvin shroen live reports from The Festival in Nottingham 2023
PokerListings set to do Live Reporting from The Festival Series in Nottingham (13-19 February 2023) 

Melvin Schroen - Live Reporter For the first time in the history of The Festival Series, an event series is being held at the Dusk Till Dawn Pokerclub in Nottingham.…

March 22, 2023 | Melvin Schroen
PokerListings Awards 2022
PokerListings Operator Awards – Winners 2022

Since 2020, we have been awarding the best poker operators and innovators in the poker business with our PokerListings Operator Awards. Every year the operators are nominated and awarded in…

January 11, 2023 | Bjorne Lindberg
Oliver Hutchins Wins the Trophy in the €500K GTD PPC Malta Main Event (€71,000)

Oliver Hutchins Wins 2022 PPC Malta Main Event United Kingdom's Oliver Hutchins won the trophy in the €500,000 guaranteed PPC Malta €550 Main Event for €71,000 after a back and…

April 7, 2022 | Jason Glatzer
All Poker News
2009-07-22 12:20:00

Interesting article, I was convinced to give it a try. Now here how it goes in my view as an on-line small stakes player: You bet your pair and somebody calls you. Flop gives you the so much wanted set. It also gives your opponnent the top pair-top kicker or even two pairs. You bet it hard but guess what! He can;t even imagine you may have a set and you beat him. He calls your bets or even reraise you. You are so happy you got the right sucker at the right time. The turn makes his TPTK two pairs and now the possibility to leave you the pot becomes tottaly zeroed (or below zero). He calls your even more huge bet (come on man leave it you paid me enough!!). And then the river gives him a full (better of yours of course!!!). Kkthxbb. Happened twice in 20 minutes of trial. Thank God the second time the poor guy got the pair, he defended it harder and gave me more 🙂

2008-10-05 17:19:00

I’m a beginner at six-max NLHE, but I play a lot of the other games, which there’s plenty of articles on.

2008-09-25 19:54:00

umm, if you’re a beginner, wouldn’t you maybe think you’re the one who’s off and not the articles? just tossing the possibility out there.

2008-09-25 03:33:00

This is a very good article for a beginner like me. It definitely confirmed my speculations about small pocket pairs, and I’m now more confident I’ve been doing the right thing. Some of the articles on this site are a little off, but I think this is spot-on. Well done.

Comment on that

Your message is awaiting approval