Playing small pocket pairs is a tricky business, and how we proceed isn’t always going to be the same because there are various factors involved and, like much in poker, we have to be flexible and adapt accordingly. It’s this situational aspect that makes poker such a fascinating conundrum of a game.
Table dynamics and, more specifically, the styles of our opponents, are bound to influence not only the way we might play a hand but also what we can expect to get from different types of starting hands. Small pocket pairs tend to require different approaches against different types of players. Importantly, it follows that they will also have various degrees of success depending on the tendencies of the opposition.
Today we’re going to look at the efficacy of limping in Early Position when armed with a small pocket pair against Loose Aggressive players, as this is a style we often come across in the modern game. LAGs like to use the positional advantage to keep piling on the pressure. When in the position it’s this factor that tends to be behind what follows, rather than their putting too much emphasis on their actual starting hands. They bet, raise, reraise, and bluff – anything that will help them either assume the initiative and take control or simply bludgeon their opponents into submission and take down the pot.
Not surprisingly, we’re not going to get an easy ride against this kind of player regardless of what cards we’re holding. And with small pocket pairs, we can expect to experience both success and frustration.
The extent of the opposition’s loose aggressive play and elements such as stack size are, of course, important but, predictably, we can get a good idea of what to expect by addressing position. Fundamentally, where we’re seated in relation to our opponent is key. And, as we (should) know, we’re at our most vulnerable when in Early Position
Limping with small (and lower middle) pocket pairs is the classic so-called ‘set-mining’ strategy, the point being to get to see the Flop at a bargain price because there’s only a 12% chance that our pair will turn into a set when the first batch of community cards appear. That isn’t a massive longshot, of course, and given the sheer volume of hands we play at online poker tables, we’re bound to hit at a satisfying rate, but set-mining is still a gamble of sorts, so must be done with minimum investment.
And herein lies one of the downsides of playing small pocket pairs in Early Position against LAGs – they simply won’t allow us an easy ride. The danger is that in this scenario, with a positional disadvantage, we can more or less expect our limping in to be exploited by LAGs. What compounds the problem is that our stubborn insistence on set-mining regardless of positional considerations, and in the face of continued bullying, can prove expensive. If it looks like it will be a dual between us and a competent LAG, then the odds simply don’t justify entering the pot on the opponent’s terms; the necessary value just isn’t there. In such a scenario we need to be able to accept that this route is, perhaps temporarily, not worth going down.
But there will be opportunities to see a cheap Flop, and it’s perfectly feasible – especially against LAGs who are overdoing it – to make a stand occasionally. For example, we know that they’ll be playing with a wider range that allows them to operate more freely. This means they’ll often have nothing when the Flop arrives, and so our willingness to get involved will bring with it some post-flop credibility in terms of the suggested strength of our hand. Consequently, our continuation bets have a good chance of getting through – LAGs like to bully and will reraise with air, but they also know when to keep their powder dry.
Unfortunately, this factor can be significant in a less fortunate way for us, because when we do hit big by hitting a set, we need our opponents to have a hand, too. If they’ve been playing purely positionally, with a trash hand, then they won’t be calling off any big bets.
Alas, limping in an early position against LAGs isn’t the most promising course of action when dealt a small pair. We’re going to find ourselves being bullied more than usual, and to a point that stifles this particular strategy. Also, we will win more pots with continuation bets, with fewer big wins than against other styles.