What should come to mind when considering the Rolls Royce of all starting poker hands, the stone cold, pre-flop nuts? Your mental list might include the huge pots that you’ve won. Or perhaps, suckers whose chip stacks you’ve reduced to bare felt. Or the looks of terror on their faces when you beat them to the pot with all of your chips and toss those two sexy aces on the table face up.
That’s what you should think of.
Now for the reality: what do people really think about when they think of pocket aces? All the horrible beats they’ve taken. I’ve heard otherwise sane people babble on for minutes or more about how bad they hate having aces. “I never win with pocket aces.” “I’d rather have pocket queens.” “Aces always win small pots and lose big ones.” STOP IT! I’m serious, knock it off! That is all complete crap. I mean you really cannot be serious. Pocket aces are, by far, the best starting hand in Holdem poker. Maybe you’re just not playing them right. Not to worry, I can help.
Okay, first let’s just do some math and we’ll see how “horrible” this hand really is. Alright, pocket aces vs. a random hand = better than 4 to 1 in favor of the aces. Hmmm, but that’s not really a good example, is it? So, pocket aces vs. pocket kings, what do you think? Oh well, that’s about 4 to 1 in favor of the aces. What about pocket aces vs. KQs? Yeah, uh, that’s about 4 to 1 in favor of the aces. What about when you run it into suited connectors, say 76s? The answer is that the aces will hold up 4 out of 5 times, or 4 to 1.
O.K. We’ve established that pocket aces are a huge favorite against any starting hand, right? And believe me when I say that 4 to 1 is huge. What that means is that 1 out of 5 times, on average, when you call someone’s all-in with AA, what’s going to happen? Three things, at least: (1) you’re going to get angry, (2) you’re going to remember it, and (3) you’re going to tell other people about it (a lot). This really has to end if you are going to learn to keep your superstition away from the felt. You’re confusing yourselves and others. We aren’t going to win every single time we get all of our money in with aces. We’re just going to win most of the time. And that’s enough. It really is. I’ve paid for vacations and expensive toys with these edges – they will work in the long run. In the meantime, let’s see if we can learn some tricks to help us make more money with aces and lose less.
Playing with the Best Poker Hand
Before the flop, I see this hand played worse than any other poker hand. I know that when you get pocket aces your natural instinct is to go into trap mode. Most of the time that is the worst thing you can do. You can’t limp in with aces in middle position, let four people see a cheap flop, and then be upset when you get beat by some raggedy hand. For one thing, you’re letting the more speculative hands like 98s see a flop, and those are actually the ones that are the biggest threat to you.
Another thing is that by not raising before the flop you are not learning anything about your opponents’ hands. If you raised and got re-raised, then you smooth called the re-raise to trap, at least you’d have some ideas as to what strength your opponent is representing. Maybe then when the King flops, you bet he raises and you call, the turn brings another king and your opponent moves all-in, maybe you don’t have to lose all of your chips. Now, when you don’t raise before the flop with AA, you don’t even know where you stand when the board shows two deuces. I think you should be raising and re-raising from every position with AA. If you aren’t getting any callers, you’re not raising enough before the flop. If you notice that you can’t get any action when you raise with premium hands, it can really mean only two things. Either you don’t raise enough or your opponents don’t call enough. Both of those situations mean you should be raising more.
Now, is there a time to slow play aces before the flop? Yes, of course there is. I will always limp in with aces if I am in early position at an aggressive table and no one has entered the pot in front of me. That’s so that I can re-raise whoever opens, or if there is an open and a re-raise, maybe I can get all of the money in before the flop. That’s really what you want to do with aces – get it all in before the flop. Now, sometimes this play backfires.
I want to tell you a very important lesson that has taken me years to learn. Maybe you’ve heard it before, but it’s worth hearing again. Don’t go broke with aces in an unraised pot. This is so easy to do. I’m telling you, when you limp in and everyone just calls behind you, go ahead and bet your aces on the flop, but be very careful if you encounter resistance. Sometimes you end up playing against a large field of speculative hands. No one took the bait; you wasted your aces. Learn from it and move on. Depending on the array of hands you let see the flop, you could be less than 40% to win the showdown against 4 other hands. Notice, however, that you are still winning far more than your fair share of hands. If you see a flop with 4 other players with random hands, you are actually still a favorite to beat all four other hands. You just have to be able to figure out when you’re beat. At the end of the day, it’s just one pair. It’s also very unlikely to improve, so you’ll probably show down one pair.
Aces are the best hand in the game of poker, but they’re not invincible. You still have to try to charge people to draw against your hand. Otherwise you haven’t caused your opponent to make a big mistake, and that’s where all of your profit comes from in this game – the mistakes of other players. I hope this helped. Until next time, Good “luck!”