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Playing Premium Pairs in No Limit Hold'em
High pairs such as aces, kings and queens do not come around too often. Though it is possible to win a big pot with these premium hands - many players make strategy errors which lead them to lose chips instead. This article looks at how to play high pairs correctly in no-limit Holdem full ring games, to ensure you are winning the maximum amount of chips.
We start by looking at the best possible scenarios before the flop for your premium hands. Next we will cover some common errors in playing these hands that your opponents will make. Finally we bring stack sizes and post flop play – as well as the tendencies of your opponents – into the equation.
Premium pairs do not like multi-way pots. Against a single opponent with a lower pair you will be 80% favorite before the flop, with several opponents holding hands such as pairs and suited connectors you will reduce your winning chances considerably.
The ideal scenario is thus to play the flop heads-up with a single opponent who also has a strong hand such as Ace-king or a high pair that is lower than yours. This is best achieved by playing your high pair strongly – raising and re-raising regardless of position and number of players in the pot.
Limping and Mini Raising
The biggest error opponents will make with high pairs is to limp at a passive table. Limping from early position with aces (for example) can be a good way to vary your play – but should only be attempted when you are fairly sure that there will be a re-raise ahead of you. If the table has many ‘callers’ then you may end up second or even 3rd best on the flop in circumstances in which it will cost you many chips before you find out for sure.
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A second and equally costly error is to make a ‘mini raise’ with high pairs. This mistake is compounded when players only ever make this move with those high paired hands.
People who do this are basically telling their opponents what they hold – at exactly the same time as giving anyone who calls the correct odds to try and outdraw them. Opponents will small pairs know that if they hit trips they will win a big pot – and so call safe in the knowledge that they can fold when they miss.
A final mistake involves playing kings and queens on an ace-high flop. If you took the lead in the betting before the flop then a continuation bet will often take the pot. However if you are called then an all-in bet on the turn is only likely to be called by hands that beat you. A better strategy here is to exercise some pot control by checking behind on the turn, you’ll have the added advantage of being able to snap off a river bluff from an opponent on many occasions.
Stack sizes are important when playing high pair hands at a full table. If either you or an opponent has a short stack then you may be able to raise an amount that commits your opponent to the pot pre-flop.
The idea is that they will be getting such good pot-odds after the flop that they will have to call the rest of their chips. Stack sizes also factor into your bet sizing throughout the hand, if you want to keep an opponent in the hand then dividing your bets into easy to call ‘chunks’ that get the money in over several streets may be the optimal play.
Finally you need to factor in the tendencies of your opponents. Against an aggressive opponent you may get enough chips into the pot on the flop with a check-raise to make going all-in a formality. Timid or passive opponents may be more likely to call a series of small bets with their medium strength holdings.
To summarize, playing high pairs in no limit Holdem at a full ring table is most profitable when against a single opponent with a strong yet inferior holding. Your betting and raising before the flop should ensure that you do not play a multi-way pot – especially when out of position. Stack sizes and opponent tendencies should be factored into your play after the flop to ensure that you get maximum value from your hand.
Read this article to learn how to play pocket pairs at shorthanded tables.
Ready to Play?
Now that you know all about playing your premium pairs, you're ready to hit the tables. If you want to play online, then make sure to check out our best site for no limit Hold'em page which ranks the top no limit Hold'em Internet poker sites.