Killer Pre-Flop Play – Ditching Small Pairs

Pete Clarke | 1 month ago in Cash Games

Oh, how I hate small pairs. They really are the most over-rated hands in all of No Limit Holdem. Why are they so bad? And how can you develop an attitude of disdain towards them that will give your win-rate a nice boost?

The Unblocking Effect

You might have heard about the blocking effect of a hand before. People like to 3-Bet you with A♣5♣ partially because it contains a high card. That high card removes one of the aces from the deck, which makes it half as likely that you wake up with AA and 4-bet them. It also makes it harder for you to have AK, reducing your combinations of this powerhouse hand from 16 to 12.

The unblocking effect, unsurprisingly, concerns hands that have the opposite property of blocking bad hands, making good ones more abundant in the deck by slightly increasing the amount of the time someone else will wake up with two very big cards. When you open UTG with 22 in a 6-max cash/ZOOM game, not only are you playing a hand with minimal ability to flop well with five players still to act; but you are also playing a hand that mathematically guarantees that you will be 3-Bet more frequently.

Let’s break it down. When you have 2♥2♠ there are two less deuces in the deck. This means the player to your left now has a 4/50 or 8% chance of being dealt an ace. When that ace is accompanied by another big card, or even a smaller one of the same suit, there is a very good chance of you getting 3-bet. Your hand also unblocks kings, queens, jacks, T9s, and whatever else might 3-Bet you. If the first opponent does not get dealt an ace, the next guy has a 4/48 chance = 8.3% chance. The next player has a 4/46 chance or 8.7% chance. As you can see, it gets more and more likely that you will run into a big hand as each player folds.

When you have A5s UTG however, there are only three aces left in the deck and the HJ gets dealt an ace only 3/50 = 6% of the time. This might not seem like a big deal, but it has huge repercussions when you remember that five players now have a better chance at picking up big hands.

If the EV of opening a baby pair was negligible based just on the strength of the hand, then the unblocking effect makes it negative to raise.

It is not just monster hands that 22 unblocks but also your opponents 3-Bet bluffs like A8s and KTs. The combined effect of unblocking all these hands for multiple players is fatal.

I recommend folding 22-55 from the first two seats, then folding 22-44 in the CO, favouring bigger cards. From the BU, you can open 33-55 but probably not 22 if there are two tough players in the blinds.

Do not let the paired element of these hands fool you – they are trash.

Reverse Implied Odds

Your reverse implied odds are your chance of losing big pots with strong hands by running them into stronger ones. When you flop a set with 99 on most flops, you have at least second set. With 22, however needless to say, your set is always bottom set. You will never set over set another player and will always be on the wrong end of it.

It might seem really tempting to play baby pairs in multi-way situations, but this is where they are at their most dangerous. In a four-way pot for example, people are very cautious. They think twice before stacking off with one pair, so how exactly do you propose to win a huge pot with a baby pair? Moreover, in a four way pot, it is much more likely that someone else will flop a bigger set.

Let’s say HJ opens for 3BB, CO calls, and BU follows suit. You will virtually always lose this pot when you don’t flop a set; it is almost impossible to win at showdown with just a pair of threes in this landscape. You are relying fully on winning big pots with sets to call here. Since you will only flop a set around 1 in 9 times, you will need to recoup nine times your investment just to break even – assuming you never lose with a set. Since you often do lose with sets in a multi-way pot, you will need to make even more the times your hand avoids bigger sets, straights, or flushes.

Unquestionably you should fold pre-flop here and wait for a bigger pocket pair to make a marginally profitable set mine.


  • Small pairs unblock the higher cards in the deck and ensure that you get 3-Bet more often.
  • Fold small pairs 22-55 from the first two seats. Open 55 from the CO and 33 and 44 from the BU. If you have an edge over an opponent, you can relax the late position restrictions a little.
  • Beware the reverse implied odds of small pairs in multi-way pots. You will always be on the wrong end of coolers and will struggle to get much action when your hand is good, unless your opponents are calling-stations.

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Do you have struggles with small pocket pairs you can warn others about? Share in the comments below!

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