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Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE - by TheMightyJim2k

Discussion in 'Poker Strategy Articles' started by TheMightyJim2k, Feb 12, 2008.

  1. TheMightyJim2k

    TheMightyJim2k Faux Clay Nation

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    Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE*
    By themightjim2k

    Most experienced and successful 6max NLHE players will agree that you can profitably open for a raise in NLHE with any pocket pair from any position. That means that we can expect to see a profit in the long run even when opening it up with 22-66 UTG. The reason we can expect to see a profit with these hands is that they play relatively easily postflop. If you flop a set you know you can play a big pot, if you miss the flop you can either continuation bet and shut down, or you can check and fold in some cases.

    Most players will also agree that you can call a reasonable preflop raise (2-5xbb) with one of these hands preflop if you have at least a 100bb stack. You expect to hit a set on the flop about 1 in 9 times, and that is where we expect most of our value to come from. However we need to be careful about making the inference that we should be calling preflop anytime we have slightly better than 8-1 implied odds with a medium or small pocket pair.

    A good example illustrating this point is: you open a pot preflop with a small pocket pair, and another player makes a pot sized reraise (a 3-bet). Usually when this scenario happens you are getting around 11-1 to call, so it seems that calling to spike a set might be a profitable play. However making these calls consistently will be a big leak in your game, especially if you are out of position.

    The first problem with making this call preflop is that if your opponent has a wide range then you are unlikely to get her whole stack if you do in fact spike your set. It would be quite frustrating if you made a bold call with your 55 only to see your opponent shutdown after a ½ pot c-bet when you spike a set. Opponents that 3-bet with wide ranges (a relatively common occurrence in aggressive 6max games online) will often miss the flop entirely. When that happens they’ll still win with a c-bet when you don’t spike a set, but they won’t pay you off when you do. This situation alone makes calling 3-bets with small pocket pairs unprofitable in most cases.

    But you might say to me "Jim my opponent was a total nit. He would only 3-bet me with QQ, KK, or AA. So in that case I’ll almost always stack them when I hit my set. Easy call, right?" Unfortunately, even against a nit this is an unprofitable call. In order to explain I’m going to have to go into a little math, so please bear with me.

    Let’s assume the following things about the example hand:
    • Game is NL200 and we have $200 effective stacks (100bb)
    • We open in MP/HJ with 5c5s with a standard $7 raise
    • The SB reraises to $26.
    • It will cost us $19 to call, and there is $35 in the pot.
    • We know that villain has QQ, KK, or AA
    In order to determine the expected value of the call we need to look at the three possible outcomes:

    1. You flop a set, get the money in, and win.
    2. You flop a set, get the money in, and lose.
    3. You miss the flop, and give up on the pot.
    <TABLE cellSpacing=1 cellPadding=7 width=571 border=1><TBODY><TR><TD vAlign=top width="16%">Outcomes</TD><TD vAlign=top width="13%">Flop set</TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%">%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="16%">Win w/ Set?</TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%">%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">Total %</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">NET</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">EV</TD></TR><TR><TD vAlign=top width="16%">Set + Win</TD><TD vAlign=top width="13%">Y</TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%">12.0%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="16%">Y</TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%">81.5%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">9.8%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">+$209</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">$20.44</TD></TR><TR><TD vAlign=top width="16%">Set + Lose</TD><TD vAlign=top width="13%">Y</TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%">12.0%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="16%">N</TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%">18.5%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">2.2%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">-$193</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">($4.28 )</TD></TR><TR><TD vAlign=top width="16%">No Set</TD><TD vAlign=top width="13%">N</TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%">88.0%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="16%">-</TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%">-</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">88.0%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">-$19</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">($16.72)</TD></TR><TR><TD vAlign=top width="16%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="13%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="16%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%"></TD></TR><TR><TD vAlign=top width="16%">SUM</TD><TD vAlign=top width="13%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="16%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="11%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">100%</TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%"></TD><TD vAlign=top width="12%">($.56)</TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>

    So the above chart shows the related math behind each of the possible outcomes. You will flop a set 12% of the time, and subsequently win your opponents stack 81.5% of the time. You will lose your whole stack (via set over set or your opponent sucking out) 18.5% of the times that you flop a set. You will flop nothing and give up 88% of the time. Knowing these numbers we can quickly find our expected value (EV) which is the money we expect to make in the long run with this play. EV is simply the net of an outcome multiplied by the % of times that that outcome will occur (Total % X NET in the above chart). The EV of the call is then the sum of the EVs of the various outcomes. In this case we can see that the expected value of our preflop call will be -$.56. Meaning that every time we make that call we are flushing $.56 down the toilet, and this is by far our best case scenario. If our opponent makes a slightly smaller raise with the same hand then we can profitably call, but only if her range remains that tight. So calling a min-raise would obviously be profitable (and you should always call min-raise preflop with pocket pairs and 100bb stack sizes). But if our opponent makes a pot sized raise, even with a tight range we can’t profitably call.

    It is also important to realize that few, if any, opponents will have that tight of a 3-betting range preflop. If we expanded our opponent’s range and took into account the times when an A or K flops and we fail to get their stack with our set, our EV goes down considerably. So a more realistic scenario, wherein our opponent has a wider range, our EV would tend to be even worse against a typical pot-sized reraise. Also in the example I gave us position which certainly gives us an edge in postflop play as we can best determine how to get stacks in postflop when we flop a set (this becomes drastically more important as the villain's range widens). Most of the time you get 3-bet preflop you will be out of position, which makes a preflop call (for set value) have even worse expected value.

    So what can we draw from this information? Despite being able to profitably open small pocket pairs for a raise from any seat at the table, we can’t typically profitably call pot-sized 3-bets when stacks sizes are effectively 100bb. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule if you are closing the action and one more other players have called the re-raise, but in general this will hold true.

    A good rule of thumb would be to not call a raise or re-raise with a small pocket pair preflop for more than 8% of our effective stack size. If you keep this rule in the back of your mind you can determine based on the size of your opponents re-raise whether or not you can profitably set-mine with a small pocket pair.


    * It is important to note that I am only talking about NLHE in this article. You should never fold preflop in limit hold’em to a 3-bet. You will always be getting sufficient odds/implied odds to make the call for 1SB.
     
    #1
  2. JoseRijo

    JoseRijo Well-Known Member

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    Re: Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE

    I can't tell what I learned more about from this article: pocket pairs or three-betting!

    Either way, it's a winner. Nice job, Jim and thank you!
     
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  3. aquaman

    aquaman Creativity Alliance

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    Re: Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE

    Very good article Jim (as if I would know what a good poker article looks like). I realize that the math would apply for tournaments and cash games the same, but would different aspects of a tournament allow for a call or a raise to a 3 bet when you're holding a small PP? <----that doesn't sound right: wrong forum maybe :embarras:

    Also, I found it interesting that you referred to your opponent as "her" a couple times. Do you play against a lot of women? Or, psychologically, do you see your opponents as your (no offense to the ladies) little b1tches, thus giving you some form of prehistoric domination over them? Just a thought :wink:
     
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  4. TheMightyJim2k

    TheMightyJim2k Faux Clay Nation

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    Re: Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE

    in tournaments you are generally a) not as deepstacked and b) playing full ring so that definitely impacts how you play small pkt pairs. Often in tournaments you will fold the worst pkt pairs from early position (unless you are so low that you shove with them) and look to either call a small bet or limp with them from late position. Because stack sizes are greater, and people can usually get a better read on your betting patterns (better players who have more time to play with you w/o table changes) you can't afford to vary your pf opens in most cash games online (live is a different story). You need to be opening to the same amount pretty much every time whether you have AA or 22. At full ring you should play a little tighter and probably only open like 66+ from early position. From middle position you can open any pkt pair.

    As to calling 3-bets, just keep the 8% rule in the back of your mind. If you open in a tournament for 3xbb with 55 and a 25bb stack and a player reraises to 9bb should you call? Well you would have to call off 6bb of your remaining 22bb which is a little more than 25% of your effective stack. So thats a fold. You can also run all the math like I did before, but usually you are just going to want to fold in these spots.

    As to my pronoun choice, that is purely my liberal arts education from Duke coming through. We were encouraged to alternate between him and her when writing papers in my political science courses. That way you remain gender neutral. Sometimes I end up using him/he or her/she consistently when writing instead of alternating, and I just forget to balance it out.
     
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  5. Savior17

    Savior17 Faux Clay Nation

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    Re: Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE

    Jim,
    Great article. I have faced the 3 bet when I raised from MP with an SP and basically chose to call or fold based on villain stats, table image and the whole host of factors one considers. There have been a few times where I actually 4 bet big or AI having a SP when I was either in the CO or BTN and the villain was the BB. I chose to 4 bet based on a few factors - I do have a hand and the BB may think I am just button raising light, the villain is multi-tabling and has a pattern of 3 betting light out of the BB, or I have a fairly loose image over a few hands and the villain thinks I am taking advantage of position and I think my hand is a favority. Again, this is rare, but I believe warranted. I want the villain to understand that SHE shouldn't attempt to 3 bet me constantly when I raise in position.
    Any thoughts?
     
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  6. TheMightyJim2k

    TheMightyJim2k Faux Clay Nation

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    Re: Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE

    calling is usually wrong. You just can't do much on most flops and will be in bad spots usually. But 4-betting is not always wrong, and may in fact be the correct play depending on villain and your previous history. I wouldn't recommend this play often, but there is certainly a time and place for it.

    I am considering writing another article on 4-bet situations in NL, but that would be much more in depth and I'm not sure that I could adequately cover it in one article.

    jojo- thanks for the remarks. I'll edit those later. Let me know what I need to do to get the article through the review stage and published.

    Thanks everyone, and please keep the comments coming.
     
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  7. jamby

    jamby Creativity Alliance

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    Re: Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE

    Outstanding article Jim and I totally dig your pronoun choice. :wink: Best part for me is how understandable you make the math.
     
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  8. Poboy

    Poboy Well-Known Member

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    Re: Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE

    Not sure I agree with the set mining assumption, but good article.
    It gets a little more interesting when you aren't necessarily going to give up the pot post flop. Position is absolutely critical if you are going to contest the pot post flop. If you are out of position and don't flop a set, yet still get into the pot, you are bluffing. That turns your hand into any two cards.


    I like the Andy Bloch shortcut of calling with half his raising range. A typical TAG RR (not a nit, but the type of player who knows what he's doing in 6max) is going to be 99+, AJ+, KQs (and an occasional suited connector, but rarely). A LAG is going to have something like 77+, A2s+, KQ-KT, QJ-Q8s, JT. A nit, JJ+, AQ+.



    The power of small pairs in 6max is definitely in being the prf raiser, not the prf caller. As a raiser, people will put money in when you flop a set on a small board, expecting big cards. People will put money in after slowplaying bigger pairs, like T's when they flop an overpair. And when people miss, they fold their KJ to your non-set flop c-bet.
     
    #8
  9. TheMightyJim2k

    TheMightyJim2k Faux Clay Nation

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    Re: Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE

    you are missing the point with your comment about not giving up postflop. I think I made it pretty clear I was focusing on SMALL pocket pairs :wink: 77-99 really aren't small pairs. Those are medium pairs. I think most players probably shouldn't call a 3-bet with 77 or 88, but calling with 99 is certainly reasonable, and with position I would probably call with 77+ against a LAGs 3-bet. Then again I probably have a little more experience than most of the folks reading the article, and I don't think it would be incorrect for them to fold pf with 77 or 88 against a LAG 3-bettor, even with position.

    But as previously mentioned, the article is about small pairs that really can't continue postflop if they don't flop a set. 22-66 just don't have enough pair value to continue after the flop in order to be profitable preflop calls. I'll consider adding a clarification to the article so that people realize that med pairs can be played with position against LAG preflop 3-bettors.
     
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  10. Poboy

    Poboy Well-Known Member

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    Re: Playing Small Pockets Pairs vs. a 3-bet in NLHE

    I'm not talking about 77-99 either. I'd call with 55 in position if it was in the top half of the re-raiser's range (not very likely). Obviously, a tag or nit's range is not going to include 55, let alone a bunch of hands worse. Most LAG ranges aren't going to let me play 55, but some will. And against those, I don't necessarily have to flop a set to continue. It's much like any other marginal holding, like flopping middle pair with an avg. kicker.

    The large majority of the time, no one's RRing range is going to be big enough to allow for small pairs to call, I just was mentioning there are circumstances when you don't need to assume you're set mining.
     
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