The Small Pocket Pair Shove

Shoving small pocket pairs… You see it a lot, especially late in a game, especially from the small stack.

Good move? Well, it’s about a 50-50 shot, usually, and if you’re down to your last 10BB or so, it might be your best chance to double up.

Personally, I don’t think it’s the best thing to do with the hand, but then I’m not usually one to shove unless I have a strong, nutty hand and expect to get called… or if I’m hoping not to get called. If I’m hoping not to get called, and I’m right in assessing that I’m likely not to get called, then it doesn’t really matter what cards I’m holding, but a small pocket pair is better insurance than a lot of other hands. When they flop a set, they become especially strong, and can improve to a full house. When they only make two pair, they can be weak, though.

Depending on position, stack size, and my read on the opponents still in the hand, I might do one thing or another, sometimes limp, sometimes raise, maybe even shove, sometimes even fold.

Here’s two hands involving 44 and all-in, with two different outcomes. I came out on top in both of them.

Here, I raise K6o into the BB, who responds by shoving pocket 4s. We’re close in stack size, but he has me just barely covered. I call. I flop K26 for 2 pair, and the river brings out J J, for KKJJ over JJ44, nearly knocking him out, doubling up, and gaining a dominant stack.

Good play? Or lucky play?

For my opponent, I think it was a good response to shove back with 44 against my raise. Shoving at me should have put me off calling with anything but very good cards. K6o isn’t really good enough to call a shove here. The smart move here is to give him credit for a strong hand and fold K6o.

I’m not sure why I felt OK calling here, going back to the moment, I’m sure I felt like I had some read on my opponent to think that I might be OK. I’d have to go back through the hand history to read what else happened at this table, but if this was a case where this player had employed the shove numerous times, I might have put him on a wider range, and that might have influenced my decision. I didn’t put him on a weak pair, and if I had I might have folded here. Once the cards are face up, I’m glad I have two overcards, since pairing either of them would put me ahead, and pairing both of them at the flop made me feel even better, although I was still vulnerable if another 4 hit the board. As it wound up, it was Top Two pair vs. 2nd Two pair, and this shows why holding the under pair of a two pair hand isn’t usually a good thing.

Earlier in this game, I went up against this same player, Idareloader, where I had the low stack, the pair of 4s, and sat on the BB, and shoved into two suited overcards, Qd9d. But in this case, the board completely missed my opponent’s cards, and ended up with 3 deuces, giving me 2’s full of 4s, to double up. Just goes to show these situations can go either way. Pairing either the Q or the 9 would have put me in big trouble, insurmountable without another 4 coming in to save me.

Good play? Lucky play? A little of both. In this situation, I’m the small stack, and not feeling like I can last much longer unless I won a lot of chips, and 44 was a hand worth gambling on. I could have just stole the blinds, and if that’s all I did here it would have been good value for my 4s. If I get called and beat here, well, I’m still out in 3rd place, winning chips for the tournament, and that’s OK. Winning here, suddenly I go from the short stack to the chip leader, a stunning reversal that looks like a brilliant play. Really, I just won a coin flip.

What’s good about the preflop shove in a situation like this is, it forces your opponent to commit to the showdown if they call, with a lot less information than they would probably like to have to be able to make the right call. Once their decision is made, there’s nothing else to be done but see how it pans out.

Were I to limp or raise here, suddenly I’m looking at 228 on the flop, and wondering: Does he have a 2? Does he have an 8? Does he have a higher pocket pair? My ability to bluff is weakened, both because I have fewer chips left to bet, and because he has more chips committed. And he has more information on what his hand can hope to improve to to make the decision.

If I do bluff-shove the flop, he folds and I don’t have as many chips for the same risk, so the payoff is worse, and I’ve risked the same number of chips but given him more information to base his decision to call on.

If I don’t bluff the flop, either he bets or checks, and if he bets I fold, if he checks, the Turn brings a 3rd 2 to the board, and I have a full house that I feel uncomfortable about, still worried that he has a 2 and is slow playing quads.

From his perspective, looking at me betting on the flop, he has to wonder whether he can call.
Flopping only one diamond to his draw, and facing a pair of deuces that might have matched one of my hole cards for a set, or possibly facing 8x or 82 or 88 for a strong 2 pair or full house, he should get away from the hand here if I bet, but if he bets, this flop hasn’t hit me either, and I have to assume he either hit the 2 or the 8, and can’t call, and end up losing a good chunk of my stack, on a hand I was really ahead on.

So, from that standpoint, good play or lucky play, I think it’s a good play. It still requires luck to come out ahead, but denying my opponent maximum information and applying maximum pressure with the all-in bet, is the strongest way to play this hand. It doesn’t mean it will always work, but the times it works will bring more opportunity than I will lose by the times this play fails.

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puggywug you write a great article!! Enjoyed reading it.:blush:

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If you’re going to shove preflop with small pocket pairs in these relatively short-stacked spots (10-15BB), you HAVE to shove with your large pocket pairs. If you play JJ+ and AK as a minbet, with your smaller pocket pairs as a shove, that creates a strong incentive for other players to call you with overcards and take the coin flip.

Let’s imagine that I’m holding KJo, sitting on 20BB in the big blind, facing a 10BB jam from the cutoff, and everyone else has folded. If the cutoff will only jam with 22-TT, then I’ll probably call, since I have about 47% equity, and need 44% (ignoring ICM distortions) to call 9BB in order to win a pot of 20.5. However, if I could also be facing the higher pocket pairs and AK, my equity against your range will drop below that 44% threshold, so it makes more sense for me to fold.

This doesn’t just work when I have KJo - it also applies when I’m holding a low-to-mid pocket pair myself. If I know you are capable of jamming all of your pocket pairs, then I should fold 22-77, calling only when I have 88+. However, if you remove JJ+ from your preflop jam range, then I should only be folding 22-55. This allows you to get more fold equity from some of the low-to-mid pairs, which will in the long run should outweigh the extra value you’ll get by using a smaller bet size with the top of your range.

Interesting point, and in the same situation I agree. If you’re in a situation where it makes sense to shove 44, then shove 99, JJ, or AA as well.

Not all situations are the same, though. So factors that change things are: position, your relative stack sizes, number of play at the table, or still in the hand, the size of the blinds, if it’s a tournament if you’re past the bubble, etc.

If in your game plan those factors add up to you shoving small pairs, you should also shove stronger pairs as well.

In a normal world shoving small pocket pairs is much more profitable than it is here. People here will call your shove with garbage like K8s, QTo, J9o and so on. A huge factor in whether to shove or not comes from expected fold-equity. I’m becoming less inclined to shove 22-55 when I know a player who has already limped in before me is going to call, period. I’m more inclined to shove as 1st to act now, even though that wouldn’t be the case in most other games where the dead money becomes part of the decision making process. I am especially leery of shoving these hands when I’m pretty sure I’ll get more than 1 call.


Pairs play decently heads up against an unpaired hand, even small pairs. But not so much multi-way – especially smaller pairs. The odds of someone else hitting an overpair are too good, and then you need a Set to prevail. So this is good thinking.