Would you shove with a small pair against AK, AQ (suited or not)?

If yes at which stage of a tournament? Is it actually possible to avoid coin-flips?

  • 2
    You will not be able to go far in many MTTs without winning some coin flips. If you intentionally avoid any situation because it might result in a coin flip, you're probably playing a little too tight. In general, whenever you're short-stacked and can get a little fold equity to go with your coin flip, that's not a bad result. Aug 18, 2015 at 21:40
  • 1
    But you don't know it is AK or AQ. You are at best a coin flip. You could as easily be against QQ-77 and dominated. You can't avoid them but pick them carefully and be confident it is a coin flip.
    – paparazzo
    Jan 8, 2016 at 20:55

4 Answers 4


With the small pairs 22-66 you're not looking to avoid coin-flips, you're looking to avoid calls.

That is because if someone calls, you're mostly found in a coin-flip situation as there are considerably more higher cards than what you have.

In other words, if you found yourself in a coin-flip situation, like 55 vs AJo you should be glad because you're about 55% vs 45% dog to win.

In fact, there are not many cases where you're a way ahead; only cases like 55 vs A3o or 55 vs 33 gives you huge equity. And as you realize, there are not many of them since your pair is small (far less cards lower than your pair). The above answer to your question:

Is it actually possible to avoid coin-flips?

Long story short: Coin-flips are pretty good for low-pairs if you're desperate.

So, what makes you desperate? In short, your stack.

That depends on the type of tournament you're in (eg. MTT or SNG)

If you're in MTT, the blinds+antes are 100/200/25 and your stack is around 1500 then in reality you have a pretty low stack. Pros are measuring this by the following formula, which they name M:

M = stack / (sb + bb + antes)

If this M is < 5, you're in a desperate position. This is the time you shove stuff and small pairs 22-66 are just a handful of hands you should push then.

As you realize, this kind of moves are happening in the late stages of tournaments, where you blinds are big relative to your stack, therefore the M is smaller.

For SNGs tournaments, the same situation arises with less than 10 blinds.

This is a huge concept and depends on many factors, your stack, their stacks, their looseness, the big blind looseness, how far you're from blinds, how far you're from money in SNG etc.

Although, a basic rule is to have the first-in vigorish when you shove eg. you're first to act and nobody before you limped/raised. Especially if your stack is closer to blinds (and therefore a call with any 2 cards may be mathematically correct)

Finally, your first question:

Would you shove with a small pair against AK, AQ (suited or not)?

If i knew the guy had exactly AK/AQ, i would push without thought 22-66 to isolate him. I would fold if i knew he had exactly JTs. Since you never know what he has, you just shove if you're desperately low. And as said above, you're in fact looking for coin-flips.

  • Why in SNG it is less than 10BB not 5BB? @vlzvl Aug 18, 2015 at 22:23
  • @Kanan Farzali, In SNGs is more typical to measure the one's stack in blinds rather in M. The reason is simple; SNGs never last as much as MTT, therefore the antes never really gets big enough to be considered. Therefore the blinds are used typically in SNGs. But M are not blinds, since M includes sb + bb + antes, it's going to be always bigger than big blind. Therefore, M = 5 equals around 10 blinds in desperation terms.
    – user1165
    Aug 18, 2015 at 22:58
  • SB + BB + ANTES is basically the initial pot size. I always measure M even for SNGs. But your point makes sense. Aug 19, 2015 at 11:58
  • @Kanan Farzali, indeed, in fact M calculates the cost of one orbit, therefore M = stack / initial pot size and shows the number of orbits you can play before you blinded out. The reason we tend to push a bit earlier is because we have better fold equity then.
    – user1165
    Aug 19, 2015 at 21:33
  • why would you fold against JT? better straight possibility?
    – user1934
    Aug 23, 2015 at 1:37


Here is a quote from this site on ICM ...

As we have seen, the more chips a player has, the less each chip is worth. Doubling the amount of chips does not double the dollar expected value ($EV). This is referred to as the diminishing marginal return and it is extremely important that you as a tournament player understand this: Each additional chip you win has less value than a chips you already had; and each chip you lose “hurts” you more than each chip you win benefits you.

This also means that while you can do coin-flips in cash-games, 50%-50% flips (and sometimes even 60% – 40% confrontations) in tournaments such as Sit and Go’s and Double or Nothing’s are -$EV: even though the cEV might be positive, the $EV is negative and you will lose money in the long run by risking your chips in such marginal situations.

Original Post

I play a lot of online poker, and if you have spent any decent amount of time doing the same you will know how scary going all in with any hand is considering the crazy insane impossible unbelievable, let's call it "variance" that occurs on most online sites. I won't get into how some sites even admit to their recreational poker model which "produces the outcome that is most beneficial to the poker eco system" (aka makes the casino the most money), as that is another topic entirely.

Anyway, I digress. With regards to tournament play, if I'm really trying to make the final table (or the top 3 in a single table) then I play a style where I make as few moves as possible. I have made 1st place in large MTT with crazy stats pre-final table like 0 calls, 5 bets, 10 raises, 200 folds. The thing I ask myself before playing any hand is "Do I NEED to play this hand."

If the answer is NO, I dump it. I don't care what it is, what position I'm in, what action came before me, how many people behind me, nothing, dump it. AK, AQ, dump it. AA, KK dump it. Who cares. You'll get those hands many more times in your poker playing life, so don't worry about it.

If the answer is YES, meaning I'm "desperate" as the other answer explains, then you need to gauge the situation. You will have to take whatever your read is on the table and players in the hand and that is just something no one can really teach you, but assuming the table is strong and/or no maniacs/loose players behind you, and no TAg players have raised in front of you, you will have to make a judgement call. As the other answer says, ideally you want this to be a fold, as small pockets percentage goes down the smaller they get but basically you have a very small edge on a coinflip if that, so not that great of odds to put your whole tourney.

This is the reason I'm posting this because I do not understand what is up with people doing this. I see so many people go out of tourneys on 66 or 33 or even 22 and it's like "Dude, you realize it's just a pair of deuces. If you had a 2 in your hand and paired the board, you would fold that right? Of course. So why are you shoving with it?" IMO not even worth the risk of getting called. Always lean toward the side of folding. The game should be called Texas Fold 'Em because to win you really want to just fold fold fold. And then fold some more. ABF, Always Be Folding. Do you already fold a lot ? Fold more. No really. Fold more.

I have come into final tables as the shortest stack by far, lets say 3k chips and the rest have 20k plus with chip leaders at 100k+. And i have folded my way to 2nd place, then taken down the last guy with some lucky all in action (with the help of the recreation poker model of course). But even if I end up in 2nd or 3rd, that's fine with me because any one of those hands i folded, if I had played it, could have been the end of my tourney. And that's what you need to remember every time you think about shoving. I don't even shove with AA, yeah it trips me up sometimes when someone catches a straight or flush, but you can usually tell that by the board and how they are betting and just fold. Rather than make the mistake most make of trying to "force" their hand to win. You can't force your hand to win, and that's a mistake a lot of people make with PP, even 22. It blows my mind. People over value the pocket pair way too much. At best it gives you a slight edge pre-flop which can be quickly taken away the second those cards come out. At worst your beat by another pair, or you hit your set and go all in only to find out they have a PP too and have also hit their higher set. Rough stuff and it happens all the time. Best to just fold it.

Sorry this is long and kind of all over the place. This is a very interesting issue to me, great question. Maybe I should post a question asking "Why do people think pocket pairs are so great?"

I'll take a flopped house with T2 over pocket rockets any day of the week.

Anyway, hope you could get some info out of this. and remember... Fold more.

No seriously. Fold more.


Forgot to put the cash game section in. Got so carried away with my lecture on folding haha. And on that note, that is not to say that's the only style, it really depends on what table image you have at the time.

Sometimes I play tourneys and my VPIP is like 75 and I'm owning it all day (thanks RP Model :) cracking rockets with 72o and all that. And I'll wipe up a tourney and come in 1st before any of these people even know what hit them.

Those are actually pretty fun, but the risk involved when playing an MTT that has gone into freezeout, is just not worth ending a tourney you have probably spent hours in.

So I opt for my strategy of more than tight, maybe I'll call it puckered. haha.

If you have a good table image of being super tight and folding all the time (I forgot to mention this), you can throw in w/ your low PP and have a better chance than if you were VPIP 20-30+. People will respect your bets and fold to you, but you really have to maintain that super tight table image to get that small edge.

And since you have the low pocket, if you call, as long as you don't get owned by higher pocket, your probably up against AK at worst, or some trash like Q5 at best.

However, even then, they can still suck out on you and it's a coin flip. So I dunno, IMO not worth it.

Usually, I will throw out "steal" sized raises in a situation like that. Then if someone comes over the top of me, fold it.

IMO having dynamic betting range is much more effective than a fold/shove mentality. I play HU and 3player hyper turbos to increase my betting range efficiency.


I play mostly 6 player tables, I find that you can have a little more confidence in your hand at 6 player. In 9-10 player, take what you were feeling about your hand and knock it in half.

Anyway, if I'm OOP, pot already raised, or maniacs behind me, I'm going to dump that low PP 9 times out of 10. (The tenth time being my turn to be the maniac haha).

But if I have position, the pot is open, and no donks behind me, I'll shove every time. Because it's cash, so you don't have to worry so much. You should be playing 20x+ deep BR so even if you bust, who cares!

Ah cash games, so much less stressful. :)

Anyway, I would recommend trying out a few play styles and when you get low pockets kind of keep a spreadsheet of what you did and what the outcome was for each playstyle.

I will sometimes switch it up when I get bored and go for a more loose Ag approach.. Or even Loose Passive. Sometimes I play all low hands and make crazy bets that make absolutely no sense on purpose, basically playing a fish / donkey / whatever. I consider maniac style in the same group but minus the fishy smell, calculated risks that appear reckless.

Also, I just try being a calling station for a little while and just call everything and see what happens. All of this research will usually will cost a few bucks, but in the long run, the knowledge gained is worth much more.

  • 1
    I see you're on the tight side ;) You'll make a good SNG player then rather than MTT which requires far more pushing ;)
    – user1165
    Aug 19, 2015 at 3:18
  • @vlzvl You make an interesting point. My stats on SNG are basically a line straight up. But MTT is a big line down, then a big jump up, then a big line down, then a big jump up... How do you get over the damn fear of going out every time you bluff or semi-bluff, that is my issue i think. Aug 19, 2015 at 3:37
  • One thing I will miss since quitting ACR is the On Demand SNG .. after like 6 people register, there is a 30 minute late reg and sometimes get up to 5 or more tables by then, so kinda diffferent. Have not seen that anywhere else. That's kind of SNG and MTT all in one. I usually win big on those. Aug 19, 2015 at 3:39
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    the cardiograph statistics is typical of MTT due to brutal variance; you'll win far less there (although, big) than in SNG, which has far less variance (although, winning less). Both types have their difference, but frankly can't stand the MTT variance, their 5+ hours of play just before you bust. In addition, requires a laggy style, definitely not my style ;)
    – user1165
    Aug 19, 2015 at 3:47
  • 1
    @KananFarzali How did it work out ? Aug 20, 2015 at 4:43

I would recommend reading Aston Hardins essential math for poker may sound boring but it gives you examples of exactly this very early in and whole lot more depending on how serious you take poker.


You can't avoid coin flips and you don't know it is AK or AQ. You could as easily be dominated by QQ.

How do you avoid them? Be the big stack. Big stack can take the risk and you have more fold equity.

In the cuttoff with big stack I can push with 55 and probably get KT to fold. I you are getting both more fold equity and not risk being eliminate.

If I am short stack in late position short stacked and push with 55 then I am going to get looked up by a range of of hands and probably be a coin flip at best. On a short stack you have very little fold equity.

A big stack with even a JJ might get pushed off an all in by a bigger stack but they are going to look up a smaller stack almost every time and a short stack every time. Again you are not going to know AQ from JJ as they will (often) get played similar.

If you are not short stacked these are hands you should only play from late position in an un-raised or moderately raised pot. https://www.partypoker.com/how-to-play/school/basics/starting-hands.html

A 99 is a way different hand as now you dominate 88 - 22 and you are 3:2 against A-8 suited. And you took away 99 from a lot of potential straight draws. If 99 fills in a straight you are more likely to be in a hand with action.

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