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Playing Big Pairs in No-Limit Holdem

Playing big pairs in NL is no easy task. If the flop doesn't help you, you still only have one pair. That one pair could be larger than any card on board, but that does not necessarily make it the best hand.

When you have the three big pairs in NL (QQ, KK, and AA), you should be doing anything you can to get the most money possible into the pot before the flop. You should usually be raising from early, middle and late position. If someone raises in front of you, you should almost always be re-raising, except in some situations where your opponent is extremely aggressive and you expect to be playing him heads-up.

You want to get as much money as possible into the pot pre-flop because with the three big pairs it is almost a certainty (with AA it is a certainty) that you hold the best hand before the flop comes out.

In certain situations it may be to your advantage to slow play big pairs before the flop. It is important that when you do this, you are doing it for a reason.

Some reasons you may want to slow play the big pairs pre-flop are:

  • You expect to be playing the hand against only one opponent
  • The table you are at is extremely aggressive (most hands are getting raised or re-raised pre-flop)
  • You have aggressive players sitting to your left

Many players like to get tricky with their Aces and limp in from under the gun. This way if someone raises they can re-raise when the action gets back to them. If you see a player make this play, there is a good chance that he has a big pair. This play should usually be reserved for the middle to late stages of a tournament, as the majority of hands will be getting raised pre-flop at that point.

If you do decide to slow play your big pair pre-flop it is important that you don't get tied to them if an unfavorable flop comes out. If the flop comes very coordinated and there is a lot of action there is a good chance yours is no longer the best hand. If you have Kings or Queens and an Ace flops, why waste chips trying to keep someone honest? Cut your losses and move on.

If you bet the flop and got called you must reassess the situation on the turn. If you think your opponent is drawing and harmless card comes, you should probably bet again. If you do get raised on the turn however, you will probably have to get rid of the hand. Not many players (especially at the lower limits) will raise you on the turn with a something your hand can beat. After all, if the turn card doesn't improve it, you still only hold one pair.

On the river your play will mainly depend on your position. If you are first to act with your mediocre hand, but you still think it is best, you may want to make a bet. Somewhere along the lines of one third of the pot should be right. This makes it so your opponent can't bet you out of the pot if you check to him. If he raises your River bet you can throw your hand away knowing it is no good.

If you are last to act and your opponent checks, you should usually check right behind him. Unless you think you can get called by a lesser hand, one pair generally isn't strong enough to bet after being checked to on the river.

Playing the big pairs in NL takes a good amount of judgment. As Doyle Brunson says: “With the big pairs you will either win a small pot or lose a big one”. The reason is if someone is willing to risk their whole stack against you, they probably have a hand that can beat your pair. Play them cautiously, but aggressively in order to win the most when they hold up, and lose the least when they don't.