middle pocket pairs in 3bet pots

How to Play Middle Pocket Pairs After Calling a 3-Bet (6 Tips)

Middle pocket pairs can feel like slot machines when you raise and someone 3-bets behind you.

You call and hope to hit the jackpot (a set). But that only happens about 10.8% of the time.

While that is definitely the best and most profitable part of playing these hands, there are some nuances that come up the other 89.2% of the time.

This article includes tips for all kinds of different situations that arise when playing middle pocket pairs after you’ve called a 3-bet.

Let’s start by making sure everyone is on the same page.

Which Are Middle Pocket Pairs?

When poker players talk about middle pocket pairs, they are most likely referring to Pocket Tens through Pocket Sixes. That said, “middling” can mean different things to different people, so it could be more like Pocket Nines through Fives depending on who you’re talking to.

These hands are usually too strong to fold versus a 3-bet while also being too weak to 4-bet. As a result, middling pocket pairs tend to comprise a significant portion of our range that raises preflop and calls a 3-bet. That’s why I’m writing this article — so you know how to play this big chunk of your range.

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The Advanced Solver Ranges for cash games — one of six sets of preflop charts in the Upswing Lab.

Tips for Playing Middle Pocket Pairs After Calling In Position vs 3-Bet

Tip #1: After hitting a set on the flop, do not raise

You’ve hit that jackpot, but don’t raise just yet.

I can hear some of you in my head right now:

But wait, Dan, in almost all of your articles you tell me to fast-play my strong hands? Why slow-play in this scenario?

Here’s why: your set is a pretty invulnerable hand and you are playing with a very shallow stack-to-pot ratio (SPR), in position.

This means that there is no immediate need to raise for protection or to raise in order to get your whole stack in by the river. With the pot already bloated, you’re very likely going to be able to get the stack in anyway.

Additionally, you are in position, which assures that will always have a chance to increase the size of the pot. That decision is reserved for you and you alone.

Tip #2: If you have an overpair, you should fast-play it often

So, you want me to NOT raise the set but raise it with a much weaker hand by comparison?

Yes. That is because these overpairs have many potential overcards to worry about on the turn/river. Think about the following scenario:

You open-raised with 88 from the Button. The Small Blind re-raised and you called. The flop comes and your opponent fires a 75% pot c-bet.

Yeah, your overpair is strong now, but what happens when a 9, T, J, Q, K, or Ace comes on the turn? Nothing good!

So in order to prevent that from happening too often, you should raise these hands for a small size in order to punish hands such as weaker overcards. And while doing this, you are also getting some value from hands like overcards with a backdoor flush draw.

This does increase the chance you get stacked by a higher overpair, but the reward is worth the risk and the solver’s play in this spot proves it.

One key note: if your opponent is a very tight player — one who 3-bets with a super tight range preflop —  I would not be as likely to raise these overpairs on the flop. You’ll simply be up against a better overpair too often. I may even consider folding right away on the flop versus such a player.

Tip #3: If you have a pocket pair with a straight draw, call (don’t raise) versus a c-bet

These hands are similar to the sets from Tip #1 in the sense that they are pretty invulnerably — i.e. there aren’t as many turn/river cards to worry about.

Example: on or .

The 4-straight completing card that may roll over on the turn, which is a scare card for most hands, is actually great for these hand types. They also don’t get enough value from the bet-calling range of the opponent. These two factors, coupled with the low SPR and the advantage of position, heavily disincentivize raising.

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Tips for Playing Middle Pocket Pairs After Calling Out Of Position vs 3-Bet

Tip #1: On Ace and King-high flops, check and fold your middle pocket pair (unless ranges are very wide)

These boards are extremely favorable for the 3-bettor, who has a much higher density of Ax and Kx hands in his range compared to yours.

This means that you will not be able to realize your equity well — i.e. you’ll often get bluffed off your hand when you’re ehad and you won’t get many free chances at your 2 outer when you’re behind. This makes check-calling very unattractive.

The only time when you should check-call is if your pocket pair is above the middle card on the board, or if you have some sort of draw to go with it.

The one caveat here is that you can consider calling in wide range scenarios. For example if you are in the Cutoff against the Button or the Small Blind against the Big Blind. In these spots, your opponent’s range is wide enough to justify check-calling on the flop, at least, if not beyond that (depending on the board).

Tip #2: After you hit a set on the flop, check-raise

Wait, Dan, so now I should raise?

Yes, and that’s because of one big factor: position.

Now you don’t have it. And what this means is that you won’t have the last say in how much money goes into the pot on each street. If you slow-play versus a flop bet, you may miss out versus your only opportunity to build the pot and you won’t be able to get your whole stack in by the river.

Tip #3: Pocket pairs with a gutshot or open-ender should be check-raised very frequently

For example, you have on .

These low boards are very favorable to the caller, so the 3-bettor should check back extremely often (on some boards they should even check 100% of the time).

That being said, most players can’t help themselves and c-bet much more frequently than they should. 

The correct way to play, which also happens to be an effective exploit against players who c-bet too often, is to check-raise frequently (for a small size) with these pocket pairs that have a gutshot or open-ended straight draw. This capitalizes on fold equity while retaining a good amount of equity when getting called.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are a few counter-intuitive lines you ought to be taking with these middling pocket pairs, both when hitting the jackpot and when missing it. By following these guidelines, you will be ahead of most of your opponents and thus end up in the green more often.

That’s all for this article! I hope you learned how to play these hands better and that you start implementing these new lines. If you have any further questions about these hands please let me know in the comment section down below!

Here’s what I suggest reading next: How To Play Underpairs in Cash Games

Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!

Note: Poker players like you are improving their skills every day in the Upswing Lab training course and community. Don’t get left in the dust. Learn more now!


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About the Author
Dan B.

Dan B.

Online grinder aspiring to reach the highest stakes and crush the toughest games. I'm available for quick strategy questions and hourly coaching -- reach out to me at [email protected].

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