How To Play Underpairs in Cash Games

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Header image, a man looks at his hole cards, a pocket pair of fives, next to stacks of poker chips
BetMGM Sep 26, 2023, 11:37 AM

In the world of online poker, cash games offer players a thrilling and dynamic opportunity to test their skills and build their chips. Cash games provide a unique set of challenges and opportunities for players looking to sharpen their skills and increase their winnings.

Unlike poker tournaments, where players compete for a fixed prize, cash games allow you to play with real money on the line in each hand. This creates an atmosphere that demands strategic thinking, adaptability and a deep understanding of strategy. However, a common theme among both beginners and intermediates is the struggle to understand how to navigate underpairs effectively. We explain how to play them effectively and economically.

What Are Underpairs?

Simply put, an underpair is a pocket pair below the lowest card on the flop. For instance, if the flop produces a 7 of hearts, jack of clubs and queen of clubs, the underpairs are 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5 and 6-6. In other circumstances, say, the flop is 5 of clubs, 10 of hearts and queen of clubs, the underpairs are 2-2, 3-3, 4-4.

Although they can be challenging to play because your opponent is likely to have a higher pair or a higher-ranking hand, it’s worth noting that holding a strong hand doesn’t mean you’re always going to win.

Take poker tournaments as an example. Here you’re playing against numerous players over several hours. During this time, you’re likely to witness rounds being won by hands of various rankings – with some being victorious on a humble high card.

Moreover, holding a low-pair can sometimes lead to higher hand combinations – and this is where it gets exciting. Imagine holding a 4-4 and the flop produces a 5 of hearts, 4 of diamonds and 5 of clubs. It means you’ve gone from a low-pair to a three-of-a-kind and are one five away from completing a full house.

The Importance of Playing Underpairs Effectively

Regarding how to play low-pairs effectively in cash games, there are a couple of questions low-level players regularly ask. From whether you should cold call cash games to being undecided whether to play tight or loose, a lack of clarity on these issues may hinder your ability to make optimal decisions when you’re playing low pairs.

Although it initially presents challenging situations for players, once you’ve come to master the basics, you’ll begin to turn low-pairs into profitable opportunities. And while they may seem weaker compared to higher pairs or stronger hands, underpairs can still hold significant value if they’re played strategically.

For example, by understanding the strength of your hand relative to the board and your opponents’ likely holdings, you can make informed decisions to maximize the pot. Through an evaluation of the board texture, you can identify situations where your low-pair may be the best hand or, at least, have a significant chance of winning. When the board appears dry, your low-pair gains value and becomes more likely to win. Recognizing these opportunities and capitalizing on them can help increase your overall profitability in cash games.

Of course, all of this should be read against the backdrop of other, more general tips for winning poker cash games, including maintaining a level of spontaneity in your betting and playing tight during the early stages. This aims to let others make the mistakes and thin out the table. After all, the fewer players there are active, the higher your chances of winning are.

How to Play Underpairs in Each Round

With four phases of betting per round – pre-flop, flop, turn and river – the strategy with which you approach each phase should be different. As more community cards are placed on the table, you’ll begin to get a sense of hand possibilities and identify what the nut hand is. From here, it’s about dissecting your opponent’s playing styles relative to where they’re positioned at the table. The best poker players in the world are those who are able to extract as much external information as possible. Below we discuss how you should go about this in each round.

Pre-flop

During the pre-flop, your positioning at the table should influence your next move. For instance, if you’re in an early position, low-pairs become riskier to play as you gain little to no information about your opponent’s hands. So, be sure to consider the bet size in comparison to your stack size. If you’re in an early position with few chips left, it may be best to fold.

Flop

Once the flop is revealed, it’s time to analyze the three community cards laid out by the dealer. Your focus should be on evaluating the cards, assessing the board texture and determining if you’re in a favorable position to proceed. Additionally, it’s crucial to observe the actions of your opponents who are still involved in the hand and try to perceive if their betting during the round aligns with their playing style.

Turn

With an additional card added, it’s time to see what implications this has on the nut hand, hand possibilities and the board texture. Remember to be constantly monitoring your opponent’s behavior to get a sense of the hand they may be holding 

Moreover, if you’re feeling optimistic but don’t want to check a high raise, it’s a great moment to control the pot by checking or staking a small bet.

River

With the final card exposed, it’s your moment to get a full scope of the players still active, community cards placed down and how your hand ranks among the hand possibilities of the cards placed down by the dealer.

Overall, each round requires you to adjust your strategy in accordance with the board texture, active playing styles and the community cards. If you’re able to successfully monitor each of these, you’ll find that your strategies begin to unfold seamlessly in front of you.

Test Your Game on BetMGM

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.