big pocket pairs

How to Play Big Pocket Pairs in Cash Games

Big pocket pairs will usually be your biggest money makers…

…but, as you probably know all too well, they can also cost you an entire chip stack.

To help you get max value and avoid costly mistakes, you’re about to learn some key tips for playing the three biggest pocket pairs in No Limit Hold’em.

Let’s start at Pocket Queens and work up to Pocket Aces.

5 Quick Tips for Playing Pocket Queens

The following tips are from this in-depth guide to playing Pocket Queens.

how to play pocket queens

Tip #1: Don’t slow-play if you have an overpair multiway (especially when there is a weak player in the pot)

Suppose you raise with Q♠ Q, get 3 callers, and the flop comes J♠ 8 3♣.

In this spot and ones like it, it is best to make a small bet to force out some of the other players and get some value. If you bet and face a raise, proceed very cautiously.

Tip #2: Use big bets in heads-up pots when you have an overpair

Overpairs are great hands with which to bet relatively big. This is because they block only a few combinations of top pairs — and you really want your opponent to have top pair when you have an overpair.

That being said, if the board is very dry, it’s still best to go with a small bet size to force your opponent to call with very weak hands (see: this article on flop texture).

Tip #3: Do not slow-play when you hit a set multiway

It might be tempting to slow-play your set of Queens in a multiway pot on a flop like Q-J-6, but that is basically gifting a lot of free equity to the other players. Imagine checking and letting a player with 98s or K9s bink their gutshot straight for free — that would be a disaster!

Unless the board has no flush draw possible and no straight draw possible, do not slow play. Just bet and thank me later in the comment section!

Tip #4: If the turn makes your hand into second pair, you should usually check

When the turn is an Ace or a King, the value of your hand drops significantly. So, instead of continuing to bet, you should most often go in pot control mode by checking. Should you face a bet, you should probably bluff-catch at least one street.

But you can still bet sometimes…

When there are still a lot of worse hands in your opponent’s range that will likely call a bet, then making a small bet is probably best.

For example, suppose you 3-bet from the Button versus a Cutoff open. The Cutoff calls and the flop comes 9-5-3 with a flush draw. You c-bet when checked to, get called, and the turn is an offsuit King. In this scenario, your Pocket Queens are often good enough to bet for thin value. Your opponent will have a lot of worse hands that can call a small bet (9x, TT, flush draws, etc) and you also deny equity (from hands like Ace-high) by doing so.

Tip #5: You can slow-play when you hit top set in a 3-bet or 4-bet pot (heads-up)

When you hold the top set, you heavily block the range with which your opponent would call a bet on the flop. When you add the fact that the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) is much lower in a 3-bet/4-bet pot, then increasing the size of the pot right away drops in the priority list. You can always just start betting on the next street and still get all of the money in by the river.

3 Tips for Playing Pocket Kings on Dreaded Ace-High Flops

The following tips are from this in-depth guide to playing Pocket Kings.

pocket kings

Tip #1: In 3-bet pots, you should almost always c-bet

I won’t sugar coat it — this spot sort of sucks!

You’re not going to put much money into the pot after the flop barring a King on the turn or the river, but that doesn’t mean you should check on the flop.

You need to focus more on your whole range, and Ace-high flops are extremely advantageous for you as the 3-bettor.

Remember to bet small, as you want to force your opponent to continue with weaker hands than yours. You are not bluffing! Rather, you are making a thin, range-driven value bet.

Tip #2: In 4-bet pots, you should almost always c-bet

Very similar to 3-bet pots, Ace-high flops massively favor you as the 4-bettor both whether you’re in or out of position. For this reason, it’s best to fire a c-bet with your kings.

The upsides of this play include:

  • Keeping your range uncapped
  • Realizing some equity (because you are very likely to see the turn)
  • Getting some value from worse hands
  • Denying some of your opponent’s equity.

As uncomfortable as it may feel, putting in a very small c-bet is your best course of action on A-high flops in 4-bet pots.

Tip #3: If you encounter resistance after betting, concede the pot

You had a great hand preflop, but a terrible flop came. You bet the flop, as the tips above suggested, but now you have settled into a part of the game tree where KK simply doesn’t have much expected value, and that is fine.

Don’t feel like you need to win every pot just because you had a great hand on the previous street!

Sometimes you just gotta give it up and move on to the next hand.

5 Mistakes to Avoid with Pocket Aces

These mistakes are from this article on mistakes to avoid with Pocket Aces.

how to play pocket aces - mistakes to avoid

Mistake #1: Slow-Playing Preflop (Especially Against A Single Raise)

When holding pocket aces, your best option will almost always be to build as big of a pot as possible as fast as possible. This entails raising if no one else has raised, 3-betting if someone else has raised, and 4-betting if someone has already 3-bet.

This way, over time, the average pot that you win with pocket aces will be larger.

Mistake #2: Increasing Your Preflop Raise Size

Players raising to larger-than-usual sizes when they have a strong hand is a mistake I’ve seen both online and live.

While it is your goal to play a big pot with aces, you should keep your raise sizes consistent with the other hands in your range. This consistent sizing approach will make you significantly tougher to play against.

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Mistake #3: Being Too Willing To Go Broke Postflop In Multiway Pots

Multiway pots are a different animal.

As more players enter a pot, the complexity of the situation increases exponentially. Here’s why:

  • You have much less equity vs two opponents than you do against one opponent.
  • The more players there are, the more likely it is one of them outdraws your aces on the flop.
  • The pot will be roughly 50% larger on the flop, which will make it surprisingly easy to play enormous pots.

For these reasons, when you see your opponents very willing to put a lot of money into the pot, especially on scary boards, you must be willing to make some heroic folds.

Remember that your relative hand strength is significantly lower in these situations!

Mistake #4: Playing Too Passively Postflop

This goes hand in hand with mistake #1.

When you flop a strong hand, as you usually will with aces, you generally want to fast-play in order to build the pot as fast as possible.

When you have a chance to bet, you can increase the size of the pot to your desire. Checking gives that power to your opponent. He may choose to increase the size of the pot with a bet of his own, or not. More often than not, players will bet less often than they would’ve called versus your bet.

Mistake #5: Over-Valuing Your Hand On Scary Boards

Generally speaking, wet flops with a lot of low or middling cards favor the preflop caller. As a result, you should play more passively with your entire range, including pocket aces.

For example, let’s say you raise A A from UTG and get called by the big blind. Then the flop comes:

6 of clubs, 5 of clubs, 4 of hearts flop when you have pocket aces

On boards like this, your opponent will have a higher concentration of sets, two-pairs, and even straights. Since you raised UTG, your range is concentrated more towards high cards and medium-high pairs. As the caller, your opponent can have a bunch of hands like 44, 87o, or 65.

This advantage at the top of the ranges (aka ‘nut advantage‘) allows them to put a lot of pressure on you, should you choose to c-bet.

In these cases, a nifty option is to check back with your pocket aces and look to bluff-catch on the next streets. One pair hands are generally not strong enough by the river to bet 3 times for value on these boards anyway, so checking back doesn’t even sacrifice much value.

The main reason why checking the flop works well is that aces will always be top pair on any turn, and thus will almost always be able to call a bet (or bet when checked to) on the next street. Compare this to a hand like pocket tens, with which there are many possible overcards that you don’t want to see. 

Final Thoughts

If you want to learn more about playing these hands, I suggest checking out the full guides for each one:

I hope this article proves helpful for you during your next poker session.

Thanks for reading!

Note: Ready to join 5,000+ players currently upgrading their No Limit Hold’em skills? Crush your competition with the expert strategies you will learn inside the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!


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About the Author
Mike Brady

Mike Brady

I used to play a ton of poker. Now, I'm the Vice President of Upswing Poker and only play a decent amount of poker. Read my full bio here.

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