Playing Small To Medium Pairs In Limit Holdem
Many times it can be very profitable to play small to medium pairs in no limit holdem, but is it also profitable to play them in limit holdem? To determine if it is profitable to play a hand you must determine the EV, or expected value, of the hand. In the simplest form, this means if you made the same bet or play hundreds of times, how much would you win (or lose) on average every time you did.
To determine if playing small to medium pairs is profitable you must first find out how often you will win with them. If we make the assumption that you will win with them when you hit a set on the flop, you will win with them roughly one out of every eight times you see the flop. This takes into account that you will win a few hands when you don't improve and lose a few when you do. This means that you need to win over eight times as much when you hit a set than what it costs you to see the flop. For example, if it costs you $1 to see the flop, when you hit a set you must win at least $8, not including everything you put into the pot.
All of this information still doesn't answer the question. The reason for this is that it depends on many factors including position, your opponents and your table image. These pairs tend to play well in multi way pots, as there are more people around to pay you off when you hit. I do not play them often against a raise, especially if it looks like it will be a heads up pot. Notice that a heads up pot is not a big detriment in a no limit game.
I also often fold pairs below eights from early position, as it is likely that I will have to call a late position raise. As you progress to higher limits, these pairs become even less valuable as more pots are contested between two or three players and the competition is better so that when you do hit, it will be more difficult to get paid off a sufficient amount. In the games at 5/10 and above, I recommend not even bothering with 22 33 and 44 unless the situation is perfect. You must also realize that occasionally you will lose to a higher set, and when you do you will lose a large pot.
I also mentioned your table image above. At times I play so tight that when I raise on the flop or turn when I hit a set that I can't get any additional action. This makes it difficult to get to eight times my initial investment. Of course when this starts happening I loosen up a bit and steal a few pots to make up for it, but this illustrates the importance of factoring in your table image. If you have the image of playing loose, you will be much more likely to be paid off well when you hit.
As a final thought, for the mathematics above to work, you must be able to fold when you don't hit your set. If you chase the turn you will invest more and will need to win more to be profitable. It is very hard to win eight times the amount you will need to put in both before and on the flop.