If pocket 10s are known as dimes, pocket 5s are nickels. This nickname is a fair reflection of the value of this starting hand in online poker. A pair of fives in the hole isn’t exactly going to shoot the lights out, but it’s a made hand nonetheless, which makes it much more valuable than any speculative hand. As a result, it’s possible that the nickels will be the strongest hand at showdown and win you the pot. As always, it’s all about understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your holdings. You’re likely to be dealt this hand fairly frequently in your poker career, so keep on reading for fundamental online poker tips on how to play pocket 5s to your advantage.
Pocket 5s 101
Pairs have special powers in many casino table games (e.g., you can split pairs in blackjack), but in poker, they really come into their own. In fact, “any pair” is a slogan that many poker players swear by. What they mean is that any pair is worth playing because it’s a made hand, meaning you can count on its value. Even pocket 2s are more valuable than any speculative hand at the beginning of a hand. That said, there’s a world of difference between strong pocket pairs (from 10–ace), medium pairs (6–9), and small pairs (2–5).
Generally speaking, as a small pair, 5s are relatively simple to play. Either you hit the flop or you miss. Hitting the flop means making a set, which is a very powerful hand that’s likely to be ahead of your opponent’s range in most cases. The chance of mining a set on the flop with a pocket pair is 12%.
Missing the flop typically means you’re left with a third or fourth pair, with only two outs to improve, meaning you have an 8% chance to hit a set on the turn or river.
Preflop Strategy 101
Moving from general principles to specifics, there are some fundamental considerations when it comes to playing with a 5 in the hole preflop. Your opponent’s behavior and position especially will determine whether you raise, call, or fold.
If the action folds to you, it’s correct to open with 5s from any position. However, in full-ring cash games, the rake can make it unprofitable to open from early position. As a result, you should consider folding if you’re under the gun (UTG), UTG+,1 or UTG+2, unless the rake is very low.
If a player before you raises, the correct response is very position-dependent. From anywhere before the button, the best poker solvers will tell you to fold because gap theory is against you: the opening ranges you’re facing are simply too strong to call. You might make an exception if the open-raiser is very loose.
From the button, it’s generally correct to call. This avoids the risk of raising (5s don’t do well against 4-bets), and it puts you in position after the flop, which is the ideal situation to realize the equity in your hands.
From the small blind, the best alternatives are to 3-bet a raise from the cutoff or button and fold against any other raise.
From the big blind, it’s always advantageous to call because you’ve already invested in the pot.
If an opponent 3-bets into you and you’re in position against them, always call unless it’s a massive 3-bet size or your opponent is short-stacked. Out of position, mix between folding and calling.
Against 4-bets, it’s usually correct to fold because a pair of 5s has a very low expected value (EV) in this situation.
Postflop Strategy 101
Your strategy for after the flop will depend on whether you’re the preflop raiser or caller.
In a single raised pot, if you raised with the nickels and flopped a set, you want to build the pot fast while you have the strongest hand. Ideally, you’ll have your opponent all-in before the river, mitigating the risk of having your set taken down by some random backdoor straight.
If you’re in position with an underpair, check back. Even if the flop gives you a gutshot draw, you aren’t going to make enough money to justify anything more than checking.
When it comes to blind vs. blinds play, it’s a little different. On a double broadway flop (e.g., king-queen-3 or ace-queen-7), you should always fire off a small c-bet if you raised from the small blind and the big blind called you. The reason is that the small blind has both the range and nut advantage in this situation.
Say you’re the preflop caller, and you have a middle pair after the flop. If your opponent bets into you and the bet size isn’t too big, your main line of approach should be to check-call. But if they bet again on the turn, you should let it go.
If the preflop raiser checks and you have a middle or underpair, check back. The idea is to go to showdown without putting money into the pot.
On some flops, you can consider check-raising. When the board is medium or low paired (e.g., 9-9-2 or 6-6-3), your opponent’s range will miss most of the time. As a result, your nickels will often be the best hand, so you can be aggressive. A small raise may force weak overcard hands to fold and get stronger hands to call, which builds the pot in your favor.
Reminder: these are intended to help you maximize your profits (and minimize your losses) in cash games and assume a starting stack of 100 big blinds or more. They’re also good for the early stages of an online poker tournament (when everyone’s deep stacked), but you should adapt your poker tournament strategy if your stack falls below 40 big blinds.
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