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Poker Q&A: MTT Variance, Playing Small-Medium Pocket Pairs, a Hand Review


Sky Matsuhashi

on December 8, 2021

In this poker Q&A, I answer questions about expected MTT variance with small samples, playing small-medium pocket pairs and a turn calling decision for all the chips!

Listen to the Q&A as you follow along below:

Action First, Learn Later

You are about to see my answers to 3 different questions. But I want you to imagine you're the one being asked these questions. You're the teacher here, and each question comes from 1 of your students. Put some critical thought into your answers and maybe even write them out in your journal or voice them aloud. Then see how my answers jive with yours.


Question 1: Good Turn Call?

From Firaga:
Here's a hand I played and I want to know, was it right to call the turn shove based on pot odds, despite the signs pointing to him having a set?
No Limit Holdem ($0.10/$0.25)
Button: princedarkness ($73.41)
SB: Dhali ($18.30) {Villain}
BB: Joey Logano ($27.60)
EP: Amurica ($10)
MP: bkr194687 ($6.80)
CO: xnotic ($27.94)  {HERO}
*** HOLE CARDS ***
xnotic: dealt [Ks Kd]
Amurica and bkr194687: folds
xnotic: raises $0.75
princedarkness: raises $2.50
Dhali: calls $2.40
Joey Logano: folds
xnotic: raises $7
princedarkness: folds
Dhali: calls $5.25
*** FLOP *** [9d 8h 6d]
Dhali: checks
xnotic: bets $4.26
Dhali: calls $4.26
*** TURN *** [9d 8h 6d] [Jc]
Dhali: raises all-in $6.29
xnotic: calls $6.29
*** RIVER *** [9d 8h 6d] [Jc] [Qh]
*** SUMMARY ***
Pot: $37.39 | Rake: $1.72 | BBJ: $0.24 |
Board: [9d 8h 6d Jc Qh]
Dhali won $37.39 (+$19.09) [Ts Qs] Straight, Queen High
xnotic lost -$18.30 [Ks Kd] One Pair, Kings

My Answer:

There’s no way I could get away from this hand on the turn because:

  1. His tiny stack at the time.
  2. His super fishy preflop plays.
  3. The extremely wide 4bet cold calling range he started with.
  4. All the worse hands in his turn shoving range.

A fish who starts the hand with 73 big blinds and cold calls a 3bet then a 4bet has a super wide and weak range.


Preflop, your KK has 77% equity against Dhali. When he check/calls your cbet, your equity drops to 62%. But, you're well ahead of all the pairs and draws he called with:


Then on the turn, the Jc completes some draws, but you still have 59% equity.

Mathematically, you just need 17% equity to call ($6.29 / $37.39) and you have at least that if he's shoving with any new TP or pair+draw or draw.

If he's only shoving with 2p+, then it's a fold. But this could easily be a desperation shove with a pair or pair+draw or just a draw.


So, I think your turn call is fine.

However, I think your big mistake was on the flop. You flopped an overpair on a wet board versus a very fishy player. The pot's already at $18 and he's only got about $10 left in his stack.

“Get value while the getting's good” and just put him all in. This player will call with any pair and any draw, so you maximize your value this way.


Question 2: MTT Variance

From Jamie:

Do you really recommend America's Cardroom? I've been playing on that site for 16 months. I've played 256 tournaments with 22 cashes but no wins. I just can't help to feel like I've been robbed by that site. Any words of wisdom?

My Answer:

Let's look at the numbers here:

  • In 16 months you've only played 16 tournaments per month, that's not even one per day so it's a pretty small sample size.
  • Your cashing rate of 8.6% (22 / 256) is just a little under a 10% expectation (sites pay out about 10% of the tournament field in most tourneys).

I don't think it's the site robbing you at all. Your results are about what you'd expect.

I recommend you review each tournament you play and find your mistakes. At just 16 tourneys per month, you've got more than enough time to review them hand for hand. The goal is to improve your tourney skills with study, then get that win rate to above 10%. has an interesting variance calculator that might help you interpret your “bad” results. This video from Alec Torelli will help you use it:


Question 3: Playing Small-Medium Pocket Pairs

From Big T:

One thing I'm struggling with is pocket pairs under TT, and even TT out of position.
I play MTTs and lost too many chips with them so now, I got to the point where I just don't play them at all, unless I'm in position and a lot of people limped before me. Then I just limp because the odds are good.
What are your thoughts about that?

My Answer:

22-TT are great to play for their set-mining value and for their ability to win without improving (especially 88-TT).

Let's evaluate your options with these pairs based on the situation you're in.

1. First to Act with a Workable Stack Size

Best Option: Open raise – this increases your overall aggression, makes you harder to read, and can lead to taking down the pot right now.

2nd Best Option: Open limp (OL) – when you open-limp with small pairs, you're doing so to set mine, so keep that in mind.

Worst Option: Fold – pairs are so valuable that the worst thing you could do is just fold them outright just because you're scared of losing.

2. First to Act with a Short Stack

How you play here is wholly dependent on your position, the players yet to act and how close you are to the money.

You can typically jam it in to steal the blinds/antes, and the later your position the better. The earlier you are the more likely a bigger stack will call with over-cards or somebody wakes up with a strong pair.

If your image is tight, you could open to 2.5bb to 3bb to steal. It might look to them like you're committed with your short stack and image.

You could also just fold especially if you're near the bubble. You don't have to risk 10bb's on 55 just before making the money.

3. Limps Ahead

If short stacked and you think the limpers can limp/fold, jam to steal the pot especially if you're in the CO, BTN, SB or BB.

If it's decent sized stacks, then limp behind to set mine or raise to steal it from them. Just make sure you think the players who limped are weak and likely to fold and there aren't many people left to act behind you.

It's okay to fold instead of limping behind if you think the players still to act will raise.

Remember the x20 rule for set-mining: You can call if there's at least 20 times the bet size in the effective stacks. For example, you have to call a bet of 100. If the effective stacks are at 2,000 chips, then you have the implied odds to make the call.

4. Facing a Raise

If stacks are big (x20 rule) you can call, but beware that your call sets up a good squeeze spot for somebody yet to act.

You could also 3bet semi-bluff w/ decent stacks if you think your opponent can find a fold.  You could also 3bet shove with a shorter stack to put more folding pressure on the open-raiser.

Before bluffing, be aware of any big stacks that are willing to call with big card hands.

To sum all this up, pocket pairs are worth playing and often for a raise. However, you need to consider your opponents, your position, your stack size and your image before doing so. They aren't only good for set-mining as they can hold up and win without improving.


Support the Show

Lee Watts, Joakim Zackrisson, NJD, Jason Taylor, Werwolf, Pierre, Matthew Rose and Shane bought the Smart HUD with a 1.5 hour webinar for PokerTracker 4.  It’s the best online poker HUD in the business! 16 elements in the HUD and 7 custom popups. This is what every online player needs to maximally exploit opponents.


Sky Matsuhashi

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