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When to Turn Your Low Pocket Pairs into Bluffs

When you hold a low pocket pair, you miss the flop most of the time…

…but that doesn’t mean you should always check-fold your hand.

Instead of waiving the white flag, there are certain scenarios in which you can turn your low pocket pair into a bluff. It’s an advanced move, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to implement it into your strategy (in certain situations).

In this article, I will show you a few situations where it is appropriate to make this play and why.

Let’s dive in!

This article is marked as advanced. If you’d prefer easier reading, check out our introductory articles here or intermediate articles here.

Why Would You Want to Turn Low Pocket Pairs into Bluffs?

Old-school poker logic is that you shouldn’t turn hands that have showdown value into bluffs. While that is very often the correct way to play, it’s not always the case!

Sometimes, the board comes in such a fashion where:

  1. By betting with small pocket pairs, you will force folds from enough better pairs and hands that have some equity.
  2. Your range doesn’t have enough natural bluffs, so you must resort to bluffing low pocket pairs.

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Low Pocket Pairs as Semi-Bluffs

Before the solver era, semi-bluffing with low pocket pairs was not a common strategy.

But since the advent of solvers, we’ve discovered that it can actually be quite a good strategy to “semi-bluff” with them on the flop and turn in certain scenarios. (It might seem weird to call a hand a semi-bluff when it has just 2 outs to improve, but I think it’s helpful to think of them in this way.)

Let’s take a look at one common scenario in which you should bluff with the low pocket pairs at least sometimes.

Example 1: The Button raises and the Big Blind calls. The flop comes K 9 7♣.

Since the board is so connected and draw-heavy, the optimal bet size is on the large size, such as 66-75% of the pot.

By using this large size, the Button will force the Big Blind to fold hands such as 22-66. In addition to this, even some 7x hands should be folded, specifically if they don’t have a backdoor flush draw to go with it.

Take a look at how PioSolver would play as the Big Blind against a 66% pot bet:

Sim 1 for Pocket Pair Bluffs

You may notice a lot of blue on the 7x combinations, which means that the solver is often folding these hands. These hands actually have enough raw equity to call the bet, but they should still often be folded because they don’t realize their equity well out-of-position. This is because they will be unable to continue profitably against another bet on too many runouts.

If the Big Blind is indeed folding those 7x hands and also a bunch of hands that have 2 overcards to the low pocket pairs (such as Q6), it makes sense for the Button to turn the lowest pocket pairs into bluffs.

Now, let’s take a look at a PioSolver solution for the same flop as before (K 9 7♣), but from the perspective of the Button:

Sim 2 for Pocket Pair Bluffs

You can see how the solver plays each combination of 44 in the bottom right of the screenshot above. Let’s also look at how the solver plays each combination of 33 and 22:

Pocket 3s Sim

Pocket 2s Sim

As you can see, the solver prefers betting over checking with the lowest pocket pairs, especially when those pocket pairs have a backdoor flush draw/flush draw blocker.

You may have also noticed that the lower pairs bet more frequently, with 22 boasting the highest bet frequency. That is because lower pairs benefit more from protection — i.e. there are more overcards to your 22 than your 55.

Bluffing with Low Pocket Pairs on the River

Another time when it makes sense to bluff with low pocket pairs is when you can’t find enough natural bluffs on the river. Let’s take a look at one such scenario:

Example: The Button raises and the Big Blind calls. The Big Blind check-calls a 66% pot c-bet on K♣ 9♣ 2. The turn Tchecks through and the river is the 4♣.

Imagine you’re the Big Blind in this hand. What hands might you bluff with on the river?

Almost every single draw was completed — the straight draws (like QJ or JT) have hit either a straight or a pair, and the flush draws have made a flush. The only total air hands in the Big Blind’s range are the tiny amount of Ace-Jack offsuit combos that floated the flop with a backdoor flush draw.

So, with so few potential bluffs, what other hands could the Big Blind bluff with?

Low pocket pairs to the rescue!

Hands like 55-77 with a club make for great bluffs here. (As do 2x hands, but those are not the focus of this article.)

But wait, Dan, don’t these hands have showdown value?

Yes, they do. These pairs actually have quite a bit of showdown value — around 25-30% equity according to the solver’s calculation. Here’s where things can get tricky.

When considering the“perfect” strategy in a given spot, we need our betting range to contain a certain proportion of bluffs in order to create indifference in our opponent’s range (see: Bluff-to-Value Ratios).

By doing this, we make some of our opponent’s bluff-catchers, which would otherwise check back and realize their equity, become 0 EV calls (aka breakeven calls). Thus, winning the pot against those parts of his range regardless of what he does with them.

Take a look at this simulation I did for this scenario and notice that the solver is always turning these low-medium pocket pairs into overbet bluffs:

Sim 3 for Pocket Pair Bluffs

When (almost) every hand in our range has anywhere from 20% to 100% equity, we are forced to use the lowest equity hands to bluff.

Let’s be clear, these hands do not generate any extra EV for themselves. They have such a high amount of equity that it would take an immense amount of overfolding from the Button to push the EV of a bluff to be higher than that of a check.

That being said, if your opponent notices that you are not bluffing with these hands, and is good enough to understand what it means, then he can exploit your strategy hard by overfolding against your bets. That would massacre the EV of your value bets!

Final Thoughts

It’s fine to think about things in black or white terms (showdown value = check) when you are a beginner in poker. But the deeper you start to grasp the game, the more shades of gray (low pocket pairs = good bluffing hands) start entering into your perception.

You need to keep a beginner’s mindset throughout your journey because the moment you start thinking that you understand the game completely is the moment you stop improving.

That’s all for this article! I hope I managed to open your eyes to some new ideas that you might have not known about. As usual, if you have any questions or feedback please let me know in the comment section down below and I’ll do my best to answer!

Here’s another relatively advanced article for you: What is Equity Distribution & Why Does It Matter?

Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!

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