This is it. The Number One leak in my game so far:

Getting married to pairs.

Especially high pocket pairs.

Actually, "leak" doesn't really accurately describe it. "Hemorrhage" would probably be a better term. If I could get back all the money I have lost by overplaying pairs since I started playing poker with real money, well, let's just say my bankroll would be in a much happier place.

Unfortunately, online poker is not Microsoft Word. There is no "undo" button (although I've desperately wished for one sometimes). Decisions on how to play pairs need to be made ahead of time. As the Langolier says, you need a plan for the hand. And I'm gradually drilling some basic plans into my head, following them, and stopping the bleeding.


Occasionally I still mess up.

Anyway, I think the whole problem is actually emotional, and stems from attachment. When we play a TAG poker style, we often have to wait a long time before the right hand arrives in the right position for us to play it. And when I am dealt AA, KK, QQ, or JJ, my emotions soar through the roof.

Bingo -- you have attachment. I've finally got something good, and I don't want to let go of that.

And it gets even worse after I've made a pre-flop raise or re-raise (which isn't wrong, I know it's almost always the +EV play), because then I feel I've "invested" money in the hand, and am even more reluctant to let go of it.

But the problem is, I have to be able to let go. In an instant. I must be able to drop that beautiful pre-flop hand like a hot potato and never look back if the situation warrants, going along on my way in serenity and waiting for the next opportunity. Because if I continue to play pairs based on attachment without logic, I will continue to lose. And often, lose BIG.

Alarm bell #1 that I have ignored repeatedly: Overcards to my pair on the flop.

After repeated incidents, it is finally getting drilled into my brain that when this happens, it is usually bad, and the more people are in the hand, the worse it probably is, for the obvious reason that queens, kings, and aces are very common hole cards for your opponents to call your pre-flop raise with. 

Let's say that there are 4 players involved in the hand.

Probabilities dictate that if a certain card is on the board, the likelihood that one of the 4 players has the mate to that card are 1 in 2.1. That means that about half the time, somebody has got that card that you are dreading.

If there are 3 players, the chances of them having it drop to about 1 in 3. But that is definitely cause for concern. Especially if you have JJ and two overcards flop. Granted, that situation gives you some chances at a straight. But it gives others chances as well.

Aces are a particular problem. At lower stakes, there are a lot of players who will play any ace, so your chances of encountering one are quite high. More educated players are more selective about which aces they play, so it's not quite as worrisome. But yes, your beautiful kings can be easily defeated by just one donk who has decided to call your pre-flop raise with ace rag.

That's the reality of the situation.

Other realities of the pair situation: It is the lowest valued possible hand in poker, with the exception of high card.

That means EVERYTHING else crushes it. Top pair top kicker is dust in the presence of something as seemingly innocuous as 3 deuces.

Does that mean I've stopped betting out on flops where I have a high pocket pair and there's an overcard on the flop? In most cases, no. Chances are better than not that I do have the best hand.

But if anyone else shows significant interest in the hand post-flop, I have learned to begin detaching myself from my pair right then and there, and switch to taking a pot control line. Because there are just so many things that beat me. I may be playing overly cautiously right now in these situations, but when I am trying to correct the hugest error in my game, I think it's okay to overcompensate a bit for now.

I've had way too many humiliating (and costly) stack-offs when all I had was a pair. Even top/top is just a pair. I'm learning to accept that.

And even the exalted and venerable "pocket rockets" are extremely fragile -- we've all seen it many times. They're like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. When they're good, they're very very good. And when they're bad, they're horrid!

I know that overplaying pairs a very common mistake for beginners. And I have improved, that's for sure. But if a day comes when I really feel I've conquered this problem, I think I'm going to have to throw a party of some sort.

Because it will drastically reduce the number of hands I lose. Drastically.