Playing Middle PairsThis was published 23-12-2009
Texas Hold’em poker players almost dread getting dealt a middle pair because they are so tricky to play. Middle pair can get you in so much trouble and the purpose of this article is to help you make smart decisions when you have to play such hands. For all the examples used in this lesson, your middle pair will be two jacks.
Playing your JJ pre-flop isn’t that difficult because what you have to do is generally clear. The problems typically occurs post flop. The first thing that will influence how you play your middle pair is your table position. When you’re in early positions, you want to raise at least 3 times the big blinds. This accomplishes a few things. The first thing you’ll say happening when an early position player raises is that many opponents will fold their hand, and this is exactly what you want. It’s easier to win against fewer opponents.
When you’re in middle position, how to play your hand can be trickier but it usually involves a raise. If no one raised before you and most folded, then betting 3 times the big blind or more is a good play. If someone raised and everyone else folded, you can call. If someone raised, and other players called the raise, you have a difficult decision to make. If you call, then it’s likely that a big pot will grow and since there’s a bunch of players acting after you. It is not uncommon to see someone going all in under those conditions. If that happens, then what do you do? Risk it all, or give up the hand? It’s not a great position to be in with middle pair. A risky but often effective play is to be the one to raise the bar. Reraise instead of calling and make it expensive IF you can afford too. Don’t loose your shirt over it. Even experienced players will fold good starting hands after seeing a raise followed by a reraise because it usually indicates someone has a high pair.
When you have options but are unsure what to do, always consider the table image and chip stacks of the opponents that will go after you. Are you facing tight players that will likely fold or call a raise/re-raise or are you facing a reckless aggressive player with a large chip stack? Sometimes, when you have no clue what to do, or when the price of playing poker is just too high for the risks, you can always play it safe and fold your hand. There will be more.
In late position, it’s easier to play because everyone else acted before you. The safe play is to close the bet when you’re in a position to do so. That means you are the last player to act and you call, making sure no one else can raise after you. You’ll get to see the flop and then play another betting round. Another option is to raise, but because you are in late position opponents might think you’re making a move and aggressive players could be tempted to put you all in. The safe play is to call. You will rarely fold in this position because the by the time your turn comes up, the pot is usually interesting. You should consider folding in cases when you see a raise and a reraise before you for reasons I indicated earlier.
After the flop, you either hit or missed. Depending on that result, your goal is to thin the competition, or to set a trap, or to minimize your losses. The first thing you want to consider is the flop. Are your JJ top pair? In other word, are the flop cards 10 or less? If so, you might consider trapping (and assume all the risks that go with this play). But only trap when you’re facing one or two opponents. Any thing more is too much of a risk and you need to bet a significant amount, perhaps half the pot, to encourage players to fold.
If you missed the flop and high cards than your middle pair come up, then you have to analyze the last betting round to get a sense of what your opponents may hold. For instance, let’s say there’s an A and a K on the flop, and you are facing three opponents. How did they play last time? Did all three initially called a minimum bet, then you raised, then they reluctantly called your raise? That could indicate that they don’t have a high card. Maybe they have a small pair, or suited connectors for instance. But if player one raised, then the other two immediately call and you called as well, that is a sign that someone probably has a high card. Consider the number of opponents and how they played the last betting round. When you figure they likely hit the flop, don’t spend more money on it. Check it, or fold it if you have to call a bet. When you have no clue where you stand, a feeler bet can provide information but you might also be throwing money away. It’s really a decision of “can you afford to gamble”, meaning do you have the chips to spare.
Let’s say you did hit the flop and made three of a kind, that’s a great position to be in, but consider the flop. Is there a straight or flush potential? If so, you’d better try to take down the pot right away with a large bet. If not, you can act weak and trap. Let someone else make a bet, and depending on how many players are left, call or reraise. Don’t be afraid to go all in at this point, but be careful about letting opponents catch cheap cards. Again, the table image of your opponent should guide your actions. Let aggressive players bet into you.
On subsequent betting rounds, the same concepts apply. If there’s still a 3 or 4 players involved in the hand by the third betting round because they all called a bet, then you know they either hit something or had the right pot odds to chase a card. Take the time to consider what potential hands these players may have, or may be looking to get, and put them under pressure with a large bet when you conclude you have them beat.