How to Play High-ranked Pocket Pairs
Pocket pairs are one of the most common hands you will be dealt at the tables—roughly every 17 hands you should find yourself staring at one. High-ranked pocket pairs, which are generally queens, kings and aces are rare, but still come frequently enough to warrant spending some time coming up with a strategy. The great thing about high-ranked pocket pairs is they will often be the best hand preflop and can win hands outright, unlike lower-ranked pockets. Of course, they are not invincible, but high-ranked pockets can be a very successful hand if approached with caution and a bit of aggression.
With high ranked pockets, the goal should be to hit two pair or three of a kind. Higher ranked hands like a full house, four of a kind, flush and straight are still possible but less likely. Generally, your high ranked pocket pair has better odds of winning the pot against only one or two other opponents, so you will need to be aggressive right out of the gate. The longer the round continues, the greater odds somebody will hit a hand that can beat your pockets.
A play five times the big blind, plus an extra blind for every other person already in the pot, should be enough to make all but the most committed think twice about playing. Don't be afraid to re-raise if the plays are already higher; with high pockets, you more than likely have the best starting hand pre-flop. If another player refuses to back down, going all-in might be the only course of action left to you.
Limping in or slow playing can help keep your opponents guessing and offer the chance to chip up significantly, but it carries a risk of another player getting better cards. It's highly inadvisable to slow play; however, if you must, call every play until the turn, then play ten times the big blind, plus an extra blind for every player still in the pot. Re-raise any other wagers and go all in on the river.
On the flop, you should start thinking about your opponents’ cards, watch for tells, how they play, posture, anything that might give you an insight. Check the board for an obvious straight, flush, or better hand. You don't want the round to progress much further than the flop regardless; the longer it continues increases the chances of someone getting cards that can beat your high ranked pocket pair.
Make another aggressive play, six times the big blind, plus, another blind for every other player still in the pot. Don't be afraid to re-raise. If the plays are already higher than this, you see an evident higher ranked hand, or there are still multiple people in the pot; you have only three options, double the current play, go all in, or fold. The goal should be to end the hand immediately. If in doubt, fold and live to fight another day.
If you are lucky enough to hit two pair or three of a kind, follow the same strategy and play aggressively. However, if you find yourself with a full house, four of a kind, straight or a flush, start slow playing. Only call plays, wait until the turn or river, and push all in. Try to avoid slow playing unless you hit a full house, four of a kind, a straight or a flush.
Unfortunately, just because you are dealt good cards doesn't mean your opponents will be keen to play and grow the pot. If nobody is betting, then try to entice more people to put their chips in the middle with small plays, only two or three times the big blind. The modest wager will hopefully be enough to stop everyone from outright folding, stay in the hand and grow the pot. In this scenario, try and end the hand on the turn with an aggressive play, eight times the big blind or more. Grow the pot a little but don't get greedy; game changing cards can come out on the river.
By the turn, if you're still sitting there with only a high ranked pair, your options are limited. Continue looking for tells to get insight into your opponents’ cards. Do not slow play beyond the turn even if you have hit three of a kind or better; either play, re-raise, or fold. Aim for ten times the big blind, plus an extra blind for every opponent still in the pot. Double it or go all in if another player has already raised beyond this level. At this stage, if nobody is betting, and there are no apparent signs of better cards on the board, make another small play, double the big blind to try and entice other people to put chips into the pot.
If the plays are getting high, you see the makings of a straight or flush on the board, or multiple people are still in the hand, it might be time to fold and live to fight another day. Laying down a high ranked pair is hard, but it's better to be cautious in this kind of situation. Despite the perception around pocket aces and kings, they are not invincible. With multiple people still in the pot, odds are not all of them are bluffing, don't risk it all on a pair.
You should know exactly where you stand on the river. There are only two options left at this stage, go all in, or fold. If you are still slow playing, now is the time to go all in; if you made a better hand on the flop, or turn, go all in. If multiple players have followed you to the river, and there is no straight, flush, or better hand on the board, go all in. High ranked pockets will more than likely be enough to win the day, or at the very least, the aggressive move will make everyone else think twice about continuing.
If nobody is betting, and there are no apparent signs of better cards on the board, make another small play, double the big blind to try and entice other people to put chips into the pot. Sadly, you can have the best hand on the table, but if nobody else has good cards they probably won’t play. There is nothing you can do but feign weakness with a small play and hope they try and bully you out of the pot with a large wager.
Keep in mind, high ranked pockets are a great hand, but they are not invincible. Eventually, you will find yourself in a situation where the only option is to fold. In the event there is a straight or flush on the board, with multiple players still in the pot making large plays, you may need to lay down your pair. Again, don't fall into the trap of thinking they are invincible and risk your entire stack on a pair.
There you have it, our guide to playing high-ranked pocket pairs. Now get out there and have some fun at the tables.