When to go to the pot with small pairs

Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 1:00 a.m.
Some pros look at small pairs and believe that raising is an option because it might thin the field, perhaps chasing out a middle pair or an ace-rag hand.
Others prefer to call and hope to flop a well-hidden set that wins them a lot of money. Still others just toss them away, believing they're too dangerous to get involved with, fearing set over set.
T.J. Cloutier, a legendary tournament player who was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame last year, almost never plays small pairs. And those times when he does venture into a pot with a small pair, he rarely plays it for a raise.
"I don't like them, because what if you get called by 6-7?" said Cloutier, winner of six World Series of Poker gold bracelets. "You're only an 11-10 favorite. Any two overcards are only an 11-10 underdog to a small pair."
But at the $25,000-buy-in World Poker Tour Championship at Las Vegas' Bellagio last April, with blinds at $25-$50, Cloutier drew pocket 5s under the gun and put in for the minimum raise of $100.
"In different positions and shorthanded, I'll play them differently," said Cloutier, who has co-written several authoritative books on poker. "It was just $100. I was just trying to see a cheap flop. I knew I'd throw it away if I got raised. When you have $30,000 in chips, $100 isn't that much.
A player in middle position raised it to $600. The player behind him made it $1,700 to go. The action was back on Cloutier.
"I throw the two 5s away," said Cloutier, who has more than $8.5 million in lifetime tournament winnings.
The flop came 5-8-8.
"So, I would've flopped a full house," Cloutier said.
The two remaining players continued to bet at the pot. By the river, all the money got into the middle.
Fourth street came the 3 of clubs. Fifth street came the 5 of hearts.
"I would've made four 5s in this hand," Cloutier said.
And he would have lost.
The player in middle position was holding pocket 8s. His four of a kind beat his remaining opponent's pair of queens. He also would've busted Cloutier with quads over quads.
"I got away from four of a kind for $100," Cloutier said with a laugh. "I would've been out of the tournament."
That's one reason Cloutier stays away from playing small pairs. Where he lives in Texas, he likes to say, a small pair is two queens.
"You can't stand a reraise with small pairs," Cloutier said. "What if you don't flop a 5? You've got nothing.
"I'll let them play their style, and I'll play what I know."
  • TABLE TALK Quads: Four of a kind.
    Steve Rosenbloom is a sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune and the author of the book "The Best Hand I Ever Played," now available in bookstores. He can be reached at srosenbloom@tribune.com.
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