Pocket pairs in poker represent opportunity. At a stroke, you have a made hand before the pot even opens. With only a 5.9 percent chance of being dealt any kind of pocket pair at all, it’s practically your duty to make the most of the opportunity. When it comes to the lower pairs, though, it can be tough to know what to do. Take pocket threes, for example. Also known as the crabs, a pair of threes has a great deal of value in certain situations and virtually zero in others. The good news is that by applying and refining some general rules, you can improve your cash game performance. Keep on reading to learn how to play pocket threes in online poker.
Preflop: Raise, Call, or Fold?
Unlike online poker tournaments, the primary aim of playing in a cash game is simply to win money from other players, one hand after the next. The secondary aim is to avoid losing money. As a result, the first decision you have to make when you’re dealt the crabs is whether you’re going to put any chips in the pot at all. Many players believe that it’s always worth trying to see the flop with a low pocket pair, but they’re blinded by the fact that they have a made hand and aren’t looking at the big picture.
Opening the Pot or Not
The fact of the matter is that in a full-ring cash game, it’s only worth playing pocket threes in certain positions. From under the gun through to lojack position, your default should be to fold. Why? Simply because you’re going to come up against 3-bets too often. Pocket threes’ odds of blocking anything in your opponents’ 3-betting range are low, so chances are good that your raise will do no more than feed the pot for another player with a bigger hand.
If you’re in hijack position or later, though, it’s correct to raise if the action folds to you. The logic is that with so few players left, you’re less likely to face a 3-bet. You also have a better chance to win the pot before the flop, and if the blinds call you, you’ll be in position postflop.
If you raise and your opponent does fire back with a 3-bet, it’s usually correct to call in hopes of hitting a set on the flop.
Reacting to a Raise
What if a player before you raises? The only position it’s correct to call from when you have pocket threes is the big blind, with the aim of mining a set of threes. From any other position, it’s technically correct to fold. But before you do that, take a moment to consider the table dynamics in the cash game you’re involved in. Observe your opponents’ frequencies, table talk, and style of play. Unless they have a loose-aggressive poker style, you may be able to get away with calling their raises – especially if they’re beginners who are liable to make terrible mistakes after the flop.
If you see the flop with pocket threes, you either opened the pot from late position (typically the button) or you called from the big blind.
As the preflop raiser, you have the luxury of position. What you do with it, though, depends on the flop.
Most of the time, you’re going to have an underpair to the flop. On a connected board, the best approach here is usually to check back. Say you raised on the button with 3♠ 3♦, the big blind called, and the flop came J♠ 8♥ 6♣. The big blind raises. Absent some crazy behavior from your opponent on later streets, checking back gives you the chance to take your pocket threes to showdown for cheap.
On a disconnected flop (say K♠ 87♥ 2♣), if your opponent checks, you’ll want to maintain aggression and c-bet in hopes that your opponent will fold. If you have a backdoor flush, so much the better.
As the preflop caller, you’re out of position, which makes your likely underpair very weak. As a result, you should usually fold to a continuation bet. Of course, this isn’t written in stone. If you’re facing a smaller-sized c-bet (50 percent of the pot or less), the flop is disconnected, and you have a backdoor flush draw, you should call.
If the flop comes with a low or medium pair, it’s correct to check-raise occasionally. Your opponent’s range will not connect with flops like 8-8-3 or 7-7-4, so they’ll think twice about calling. At the same time, your pocket threes are highly vulnerable to overcards. A small check-raise may be enough to protect your hand and get your opponent to fold their overcards.
On later streets, don’t call any more bets unless your hand improves (e.g. the turn gives you an open-ended straight draw).
So what happens if you open raise, you have your pocket threes called, and you go on to flop a set? This only happens 12 percent of the time, so your default should be to bet in order to build the pot and hopefully win your opponent’s stack. If you’re in position, you can put pressure on your opponent by c-betting if they check, and you can also peel if the board is good. It’s more difficult to build the pot if you’re out of position because your opponent can check behind to control the pot size.
All of this assumes a heads-up pot, which is the ideal situation to be in and the reasoning behind the preflop plays mentioned previously. In a multi-way pot, it’s a great deal more complicated, so let the table dynamics be your guide. You don’t want to be mining a low set against multiple competent opponents, so get out of the pot if that’s the case. But if a whole bunch of fish come along, you can encourage them to call and build the pot to your advantage. Just be aware that they could always win through pure dumb luck. Well, that’s poker for you. Everybody has the chance to win some time.
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