Aces can bring both joy and pain in poker
We sit for ages being dealt trash hands, during which time we see other players at the table racking up chips. Then, finally, we get Aces. Surely, a big pot is about to come our way? Even a small pot would be welcome. But it all goes wrong and we lose our entire stack when someone gets lucky. The poker gods can be so cruel.
This is a common scenario that we all experience. But the question we tend not to ask ourselves is to what extent does bad luck play when our pocket aces get cracked, and how much of it is due to our poor play. Inexperienced players can be excused (at least a little) for thinking that Aces are practically guaranteed to win, but we need instead to always be aware that, far from being a magical hand, pocket aces can also get us into a lot of trouble. Or – more to the point – when we’re dealt aces, we can quite easily play ourselves into trouble.
Here are a few tips that should serve as a warning – poker isn’t any different from anything else in that it’s often more useful to learn what NOT to do.
Don’t open with a bigger bet than usual
This isn’t necessarily a beginner’s problem, by the way. It’s tempting, especially after waiting so long to find a premium hand, to be so desperate to make the most of our aces that we greedily want to make the pot as big as possible right from the start and make a pre-flop raise that’s bigger than our usual. Reading this now while wearing our ‘serious poker’ hats, it would seem obvious not to give the game away, to essentially announce to the table that, this time, we have a monster hand. But this error is common and invites opponents to do one of two things which both work against us.
First, on seeing our conspicuously big pre-flop raise, opponents with sufficient brain cells will be sufficiently wary to either fold hands that might have more routinely called a standard raise with, or even merely call with a good hand that they might have been planning to rause with had we not got carried away.
While it’s a bad idea to advertise our pocket aces with too big a raise compared with our usual open bet sizing, the aim of building a big pot is the correct one, nevertheless. We need to maximise the earning potential of big hands, especially when they don’t come around very often. Making things complicated by slowplaying is simply being too clever for own good, not least because it allows those who should have no business even being in contention to win the pot because they have weak hands to get a free or cheap pass to the Flop, when who knows what might happen.
It’s imperative to build the pot accordingly, and that means raising (rather than trying to be tricky and checking in the hope someone will raise so we can reraise), 3-betting and 4-betting. Of course, we don’t have to blindly bet and raise every single time. There might be players who are happy to come out betting whenever they can, so it’s feasible to call a 4-bet, for example if we think that someone will continue with the same aggression when heads-up post-flop (whereas they might have second thoughts when we immediately show that we want to be all-in). Note that this type of player is quite different to those tight-aggressive who are more than willing to stake all their chips on a strong hand – against these we don’t have to slowplay because they’ll follow us all-in.
Be proactive post-flop
Just as it’s important to be aggressive pre-flop, we need to continue in the same vein, and it follows that we can rely only on ourselves to build the pot. Typically, not betting is a poker sin. Someone might well bet if we check, but in that case they not only would most likely have called a bet, but maybe even raised. Furthermore, our checking could elicit the opposition to check, and that would mean a betting stage with no money going into the pot, not to mention giving away free cards that could allow a someone leapfrog us into the lead. Note also that people are more likely to call rather than bet in this kind of situation. Finally, betting is also useful in possibly helping us find information, such as a call (generally) confirming that the board hit their hand in some way.
N.B. Remember that we’re mainly discussing heads-up scenarios here, and the proactive approach that requires. It’s quite different when we’re up against multiple players…
Beware multi-player pots
‘More the merrier’ isn’t true when we have pocket aces! The more players we’re up against, the more potential banana skins we’ll need to avoid if we’re going to pick up the pot that has our name on. At the end of the day, a pair of aces is still a pair when all said and done, so we can easily find ourselves losing to, 89 on a board of 892, for example, or indeed any combination of cards that beats a pair (and which could be well disguised), so the more opponents who could spoil our party, the more wary we should be, and the more willing to simply give up and live to fight another day (when the odds are better).
Beware ‘scary’ boards
Pessimists find all boards scary (and, therefore, should probably not be playing poker!), but how we cope with so-called scare cards is a serious issue, and particularly when we have aces. Low and middle range cards should trigger our internal poker alarm bells – and when we have any kind of strong holding, not just aces. A typical potential ‘trouble’ situation is our raising with AA on the button, being called only by the Big Blind,and then seeing 678 rainbows appear on the Flop. In such cases, checking (we’re in position, remember) is fine, with a view to subsequently either calling or perhaps value betting accordingly.
So there you have it! Pocket aces is a great hand, but still only a pair. Play it poorly and you could end up in serious trouble.