Playing Big Pairs in Cash Games & Tournaments

pocket kings at a poker table

There’s nothing better than being dealt big pairs in Texas Hold’em. This is pocket Queens, Kings or Aces. The three best hands in poker. But despite their greatness, these premium hands are, for many, overall losing money for people in the long run. The best starting hands in poker should be some of your best earners, yet many beginners and even intermediate players make foolish mistakes with these hands that lead to lost value or worse, losing money. That’s why in this article I’m going to go highlight the common pitfalls in both cash games and tournaments and provide a few tips on how to play big pairs appropriately.

Playing Big Pairs in Cash Games

In cash games, stacks are almost always deeper than tournaments. You’ll find most players are sitting with 100 big blinds or more. This is a huge difference to tournaments as you’ll have to navigate post-flop decision making. Additionally, with more money behind you, mistakes can prove more costly. Therefore, you need to adjust your strategy accordingly. Below are the most common mistakes I see players make with big pairs when playing cash games.


Some players have a tendency to play big pairs too excitedly and lose action as a result. They’ll 3-bet or 4-bet larger or bet 2/3 pot on flops when c-betting. The tendency to over-bet is mostly found at low stakes online cash games. However, it can also be seen in higher stakes games in card rooms too. Whilst this doesn’t always result in tangible money lost as a result of having the losing hand, players are losing lots of value by scaring off opponents. Additionally, they are revealing their hand to opponents by overbetting. This leak is allowing opponents to play perfect against them on the flop.

Refusal to fold

In cash games, if the betting gets big on the turn and river, chances are, one pair is no good. But this doesn’t dissuade a lot of players holding on stubbornly with big pairs. They see an overpair and will at least call the bets down. In their defence, online poker is aggressive and an over pair to the board may feel like the nuts. But, if the board is heavily connected with flush or straight possibilities or its multi-way and a lot of raising going on, you have to consider opponents range’ and whether they are really investing all this money with top pair or worse. This refusal to fold big pairs is what keeps low stakes games as lucrative as they are. Players get attached to them and feel obligated to show their hand down.

upset poker player

Tips for Playing Big Pairs in Cash Games

Here are some practical tips for playing big pairs in cash games online or live:


Consistency is key in cash games. Therefore, your 3 bet sizing and post-flop bet sizing should be consistent with the nuts, bluffs, marginal holdings and your big pairs. It can change based on flop texture, but not based on strength of holding. Staying consistent will help you as opponents won’t be able to narrow your range to big pairs as easily.

If you over-bet your big pairs, you’ve helped out observant opponents as they can play perfectly against you, which is the opposite of what we want. We’re trying to confuse and cause opponents to make mistakes.

Remember, its one pair

Big pairs are great hands but they are just one pair. By reminding yourself of this in spots where you’re under pressure, lose your ego and remember you’re holding one pair, you will find it easier to fold. Use poker self talk if it will help. Carefully analyse the scenario and use pot odds, hand reading and intuition to make the best decision.

Playing Big Pairs in Tournaments

Tournaments are a different beast to cash games. With smaller stacks and stack to pot ratios involved, you have a greater chance to get it in pre-flop. Therefore, your goal is to either get it all in pre-flop or on most flops, if possible. For this reason, fewer mistakes are made with big pairs in tournaments. There are still players who overplay and over-bet, (as above), and these do harm their bottom-line but not to the same degree as you have less chips to risk.


The biggest mistake players make in tournaments is playing big pairs the same way regardless of context.  To extract the most value with big pairs in tournaments, you need to be acutely aware of your opponents likely range and tendencies and exploit them. For instance, if a player with TAG stats has opened from early position, you know he is likely to have a narrow range and can get paid easier. Conversely, someone with a high steal % and high fold to 3 bet frequency is unlikely to call your 3bet from the button if he has opened from the cut-off.

In the first scenario, we can 3-bet and expect the TAG to continue most of the time and therefore build the pot pre-flop, with a view to getting most of our chips in soon. In the second situation, a small 3-bet or a cold-call is more likely to generate action later. As well as potentially getting paid off if our opponent hits the flop, we invite squeezers from the blinds from weaker holdings.

This touch of creativity can significantly help our chances of winning more chips but is often overlooked by beginners who are playing on autopilot i.e. 3 betting or 4 betting big pairs regardless.


Clearly, the mistakes with big pairs in cash games are more costly. Therefore, I recommend you review your HUD stats and see how well you are performing with queens through to aces. Carefully review the hands and see if you could have played them better. If you are unsure and want another opinion, book in a hand history review session with me and we can review how you’re playing big pairs.