How do you play pocket aces?
I’ve been intending to write some articles about playing specific hands for a while, starting with pocket aces. Last night, while playing at Tony’s, I ran across Aces when I played someone who had them. The way he played them was a way that normally I wouldn’t endorse, and in fact would caution against it, but he made the right play.
My opponent limped in, under the gun, with pocket aces. I had AKs and felt I had to raise in middle position. Of course he re-raised me which took me by surprise. While I eventually got away from the hand (after seeing the flop and the turn), he took a hefty portion of my stack, and to rub it in a bit more, showed me the winning hand. (Who can blame him, I’d do it too).
I’ve had many discussions on how to play pocket aces and while I almost never suggest limping in with them, in this case he made the right decision. As with all things in poker, your decision depends on a lot of things. On this particular table, there wasn’t many flops you were going to see by limping in. We were an aggressive bunch (as you should be), and he figured he could count on a raiser, and I was his mark. When playing free poker, you often see a lot of people limping in. That’s the worst thing you can see with pocket aces, in my opinion. You want to go heads up with someone, and rarely want to see a multi-way pot with a big pocket pair as you’re apt to go up against someone who catches a great hand with a mediocre pre-flop holding.
Never limp in with pocket aces (well… almost never)
So while I chastised my opponent at first with “You limped with Pocket Aces?”, in the end I had to congratulate him and admit he made the superior play in this instance. I still don’t recommend doing it very often. Need some proof? Do this: Take two aces out of a deck of cards, and make that “your” starting hand. Shuffle the rest of the cards, and deal 8 more starting hands (face up). Pretend, at this point, that everyone stayed in the hand, and deal the flop, the turn and the river and watch the outcome. See how many times the pocket aces get cracked by repeating this at least 10 times (the more you do it the better the mathematical sampling). Then do the same thing, but fold the hands that aren’t likely to stay in against a pre-flop raise. Keep one or two decent hands and you’ll see the Aces hold up much more often. It’s simple probability.
So the lesson is, in my mind, you don’t want to see many opponents against you when you hold a premium hand. Again, in this case, my opponent was confident that in the end he’d still be against one or two people tops, and his “limp” was a safe move. So watch your table, and before making the tricky limp, decide whether you’re going to be called or raised. There are some people who have been burned so many times by Aces in multi-way pots, that they now advocate all-in pre-flop with pocket aces. To me that’s almost never the right decision, but who can blame them when they are playing against so many loose players.
So, what would you do? Feel free to comment on this post, I’d love to hear your take.
As an addendum while watching TV this evening I did the experiment myself. I ran 30 hands where I dealt a “9-handed” table. One hand was always pocket aces. With everyone staying in, the Aces lost 66% of the time. Further, on the last 15 hands I dealt I kept track of *all* of the starting hands that beat the Aces (in some cases multiple hands beat them and they are noted):
* K5s / JJ
* 65 / J2s / Q8
* J2 / 79 / JT, K6
Notice that only *one* of those hands was a premium starting hand (The Pocket Jacks). The JT is a decent starting hand that might fold with an appropriate raise. Many of these hands had some good holding… pocket pairs, a big ace, or two big cards… even suited connectors. What’s interesting is that you’re more likely to win against someone holding AK obviously than someone holding mediocre holdings because you are dominating AK so much more.
I’m sure i’m the only one geeky enough to do this… but trust me, it is eye opening.
I guess the overall point of all of this is thus: If you feel like you are always getting your aces cracked, it’s because you probably aren’t playing them right before or after the flop. I know for a fact that the out of the last 10 times I’ve had aces, only once were they cracked. (KK against AA where he caught a K).