I’ve been asked countless times if I have a favorite starting hand in no limit hold’em. I usually respond with a confused glance and the obvious answer, pocket aces. That is the logical answer. That is the correct answer. Any other answer would be absurd. Pocket aces are, as a matter of fact, the best hand to start with in NLH. However, I must confess to feeling a peculiar affinity towards A2s. I don’t know if this feeling can be traced back to the sheer number of players I’ve busted with it, the fun and challenging situations I’ve found myself in with it, or the shocked look on my opponent’s face when I take his whole stack with such a seemingly benign couple of starting cards.
How many times can you really remember taking a player completely out of a game with aces? How much skill is really involved when you do? It doesn’t take much nerve to risk it all before the flop with the pre-flop nuts, does it? (If it does, maybe you should take up bridge). Now, how many times have you struggled to conceal your excitement as that third heart or diamond hit the felt. It’s absolutely breathtaking, isn’t it? Am I suggesting that A2s is a tier one hand or making a claim that the hand is better than wired aces? I wouldn’t entertain such a preposterous thought for even a moment. I will, however, assert that A2s is a much more captivating hand to play. Remember, that’s why we started playing in the first place, it’s supposed to be fun.
A2s has the potential to flop a well concealed monster or a draw to the nut flush. It can turn into a straight or two pair. It is also a favorite against hands like KJs and KQo. Before you start getting excited along with me and donk off all your poker chips making re-raises before the flop with her, let’s put in some pre-flop considerations. Ace deuce suited, regardless of her elegant appeal, is a speculative hand and has to be regarded as one. You can’t play every suited ace you pick up, in every spot and hope to profit. Ace deuce suited is a hand you would like to see cheap flops with in the early rounds of a tournament or in a cash game. You would prefer to play A2s against a good number of players. You’ll generally want to take flops from late position with A2s. The hand plays best at a table full of helpless fish. I know what you’re thinking: “what hand doesn’t?” My point is that this hand in particular goes up in value against loose-passive players. It also loses a lot against your garden variety tight-aggressive type. You’d like to see a string of calls and no raises ending at you on the dealer button.
Playing this hand doesn’t require a degree in statistics, but a certain level of math sense could take the hand from a 0 EV (break even) starting hand to a long term winner. When you play the hand in deep money (small blinds compared to stacks) you can sometimes call a small raise. You’d really rather just limp in and take a look at the flop. I would generally not call a raise of more than 3 times the big blind, and I really want to be on the button with a big stack if I’m calling a raise. I also need the player who put in the raise to have a big stack to make it worth the risk I take by calling the bet. I think the potential reward begins to compensate for the initial risk of 3XBB when you have at least 15 times the amount you have to call off. As a pretty general rule, I’ll call off no more than 5% of my stack with any speculative hand, but if the conditions are right I might be inclined to risk as much as 7%. To risk that large a chunk, everything has to be perfect. I want at least three other players in the hand, no savvy competition contesting the pot, and I want at least one or two exceptionally loose players to be involved. The only other time it’s profitable to get involved with A2s is when everyone has folded to you on the button and the players in the blinds are reasonably tight. Your hand rates to be the best of three, so when it’s just you and the blinds, I say fire.
Most of the time you will go into check or fold mode after the flop. You want to see the flush or flush draw, two pair, or a straight. If you hit one of your cards, you’ll either have bottom pair top kicker or top pair bottom kicker. Both holdings are pretty weak actually; don’t even play this hand if you can’t fold top pair when it’s appropriate. Even when you flop two pair, you have to be very aware that your second pair will be counterfeited if the board pairs. Don’t bet your “three pair” for value at the end. If you did raise before the flop from the dealer position on a steal attempt and you got called, you’ll probably want to put in a continuation bet after the flop. When I raise before the flop there is a very high likelihood that you’ll see me continue the aggression after the flop if it is checked to me, particularly when I’m stealing blinds. That’s what I mean by “continuation bet”.
When you flop the nut flush, you can definitely think about slow playing. I like to let someone with a smaller flush draw have a chance to make his or her hand so I can bust someone. When you flop a draw to the flush you’ll have to be careful not to make a math error and call off too many of your chips drawing. That’s why the hand loses so much against savvy and aggressive players. There is no point in playing speculative hands if you’re going to get priced off of your draws when you are lucky enough to flop one. My rule of thumb is half the size of the pot. I’ll call a $50 raise into a $100 pot when I’m chasing the nuts. You do actually have some other valid options though. If you limp in from middle position and one player calls in later position you might be able to check-raise with your powerful draw. When you check the flop you are trying to get a free card, you would like to see the next card before you put any more money in. When the player in late position bets, he removes that option. One way to respond is to raise him. If the player was simply making a position raise he’ll likely abort the mission. If he does have a strong hand he may call your check-raise, but he’ll have a difficult time betting out again if you miss on the turn. This technique is called “buying a free card”.
When you flop a straight with A2, you have to remember that you have the small end of the straight. Many times you’ll hit your straight, and another player holding a 6 will have a draw to a higher straight. Be careful not to lose all your chips in these spots. Don’t pay to draw to the low end of a straight either. You’ll only concern yourself with your “wheel” (A2345) when you hit the whole thing on the flop, I wouldn’t feel to comfortable slow playing the wheel. It’s a hand that can be out drawn and when it is you can really lose a ton of chips.
I think good drawing hands can be the most entertaining hands to play. You’ll have to do a lot of problem solving and math, and you might have to get creative. To me, that’s when the fun begins. I love to win money, but I still love to play poker mostly for the poker. I hope I’ve added a bit of luster to A2s, but not too much, as it’s still just a speculative hand. Until next time, Good “luck!”