It's possible that no hand is tougher to play after the flop than a middle pair in your hole cards.
Oh sure, you can try to hit a set and if you don't, just pitch it. But that's probably not going to be profitable in the long term, given that you won't hit your set very often.
Instead of surrendering, it's best to put your opponents to the test. It's still a made hand, and your opponent will only hit his hand in some way a third of the time. Unless he's got a bigger pair, which isn't as often as it seems, your hand could be good to the river.
I'll show you what I mean in an easier format. I'm playing $2/$4 Limit Hold 'Em in an effort to rejuvinate my game. It's easier to play middle pairs in limit, but it's good practice for No-Limit as well.
All right, this is a PokerStars game, and I've got $76 in chips. My opponent has the same amount. Stack sizes don't matter as much in limit, though they can play a factor (if his stack size is small, for instance, you can widen his hand range, even in a cash game).
I've got 8-8 in the small blind. I don't like that I have this difficult hand to play when I'll be out of position the entire hand, but I'm going to play it. If I do hit my set, I could get paid off.
Plus, 8s have been good to me in the past. Yes, that's a little superstitious, but there is SOME luck in poker.
There's only one caller, the button, so I call my $1 and the Big Blind checks. Should I have raised here? Well, you could make a case for it, but I've found in limit that it's extremely difficult to push anyone out of a pot, so an isolation raise probably won't work. All I'll be doing there is building a pot when I've got a hard hand to play, and I'm out of position to boot.
So I choose to see what a flop brings. I note to myself that no one has shown any strength, so it's probable I have the best hand here.
The flop comes - - . Rats. I didn't hit my set.
But let's look at this flop again. Even with two players in the hand, it seems probable that my hand is still best. Yes, someone could have hit a set, but that's unlikely, and I also doubt someone has a Jack, given that no one raised. I think someone would have raised with A-J and possibly even K-J. J-10 is also a possibility here, but I can't put a player on a specific hand like that and play scared.
Also, given the lack of draws on the board, when I do bet, I can be fairly confident that someone indeed might have a Jack if someone calls me. Why else would they be calling?
Anyway, I do bet my $2, and the Big Blind folds, but my other opponent calls.
OK, this could mean anything. A lot of players, I've found, don't like to fold with position in a limit game. It's almost like you have to prove to them that you've got a hand before they will fold. Hey, I play the same way. I make my opponents prove it as well. The pots generally are too big at that point to fold for a measly $2.
The hits the board. OK, I don't like that card. If someone was calling me with paint, it's now possible that he just hit his hand. I don't know where I am at this point. I do not explicitly fear a King, given the lack of any preflop raising, but still, I've decided to be cautious. I still may call if he does bet, but the beauty of limit is I can control the pot size somewhat by checking because he cannot raise me at this point.
When he checks behind, I begin to believe my hand might be good. It's tough to put me on a King in this spot, too - wouldn't I bet my King? - so if he had a Jack, I think he'd bet it.
When the hits, I don't think that changes anything. It doesn't complete any draws that I can see, and if he hit his set with a pair of 5s, well, then, congrats.
In limit it's important that you earn as many bets as you can and save as many losses as you can. Those small margins are the difference between a winning and losing player in limit.
I think my hand is good here, and so I bet. He might just call because it could look like I'm just trying to take the pot.
I bet the $4, he calls, and my 8s win the pot. He shows - , so he was, in fact, suspicious that I was trying to take the pot. I don't like his play there, but I can't completely blame him for calling.
And rather than just give up after I didn't hit my set, I scoop a nice pot that helps me book a winning session.