Thursday, 1 August 2013

Playing Pocket Aces in No Limit Hold’em by Joseph Falchetti

While getting dealt AA sends a rush down most players’ spines, getting dealt AA is a double edged sword. How one plays the best hand in poker is entirely up for discussion. Some opt to play more clandestine and trap their opponents later while others like to come out guns blazing.

In this article, we will look at the different ways to play “Pocket Rockets” in No Limit Hold’em, and some key factors players cannot forget about when playing aces.

Pre-Flop

Aces are best against playing heads-up or preferably three handed. AA’s odds diminish rapidly as more players enter the pot.

Hard Numbers

Aces are around an 80% favorite depending on suits against any other pocket pair heads-up. Things get worse for hands like Aces and other high pocket pairs when there are a large number of players seeing the flop. Hands like suited connectors go up in value tremendously as players look to hit that perfect flop for a monster pot.

Pre-Flop Position and Game Factors

Depending on the play of the game and the position, players can decide to play aces a number of different ways. Most players would advocate offering up a healthy raise if you are acting UTG, but that may not be necessary if the game is loose and aggressive with players raising often pre-flop.

This gives the player with AA a chance to limp in early position, and then re-raise when the action swings back around to him. The player holding AA can then isolate the raiser(s) and hopefully extract a little dead money as he thins the field for the flop.

This is an ideal way to play Aces, but it does not always work out that way. Many games are limp fests and players will happily limp without raising the field to take a large number of players to the flop. In these passive loose games, it is imperative that players open AA in early position with a strong raise. It does not necessarily need to be bigger than your standard opening raise, but if the game is crazy loose and full of poor players who hate folding, it is reasonable to make the amount higher.

Also, the amount of limpers in the pot is a decisive factor in how much you should make your raise, as well. The standard rule is to normally add 1-2 BBs for each limper in the pot. It is vital to factor in how many players you think will call your raise and adjust accordingly. You are trying to thin the field while also making them pay a premium price to see the flop with their weaker hands. Players will be shocked at some of the calls people will make with junk hands.

Now the reverse, say your game is extremely passive and players are regularly folding to the blinds, and there is plenty of folding. No one has even limped into the hand; the action comes to you with AA? Do you limp or open raise?

Since the game is quite passive, limping is fine here, but raising certainly would not be a mistake. Limping will likely still guarantee you a small field of players, and if one of them raises you, you could make the decision to re-raise or simply call the bet and see the flop.

Also, position is still important when playing AA, just like it would be in every other hand. Even though you have the best possible pre-flop hand, your position should determine how much you raise and how you decide to play your aces both pre and post-flop.

Table Image and Player Reads

Your table image should be an influential factor in how you decide to play your Aces. Have you been raising a lot and splashing around in a lot of pots? Do the players at your table know your style of play or have your stats overlaid on the table?

Knowing how well your opponents know your game is as indispensable as your reads on what they might have. If you are a tight player, it might be harder to get away with raising too large pre-flop without giving away your hand. If you have a tilty image or have just had a lot of good cards that day, it might be easier for you to coax out some more calls.

Post-Flop Play

Pre-Flop is the easy part of playing pocket aces. What separates the best players from the average or losing players is the ability to play well with aces post-flop.

Playing AA is not an exact science, but there are some key things to think about when playing the hand post-flop. Sure, you’ll win some large pots with aces, but you will also win some small pots and lose some gargantuan ones.

After all, if you are behind when the flop hits, you have little chance to improve, aside from at best two other aces or perhaps hitting a rather obvious flush. When the pot gets large, and you only have one pair, it is likely time to fold. Of course, this depends on the read you have on your opponent, but for the most part going broke with one pair is a terrible idea, even if it is the best pair.

If the board is paired or there is a potential flush and money is coming into the pot or you are facing aggression, again, you’re likely beaten. Of course, if the board is dry and uncoordinated, it is tougher to get away from aces, but against tight opponents it is quite hard to put a lot of money in with the marginal hand of just one pair.

Stack size is probably the most crucial factor when deciding how to play a hand with aces post-flop. When a player sits down with 100 big blinds or fewer, he essentially has no decision on how to play his aces pre-flop and for the most part post-flop. If the board is non-threatening, then his stack is going in the center of the table the vast majority of the time.

However, that scenario changes a lot when players are 200-300 BB deep. Now, a mistake with aces could cost a player a massive stack of chips. This is where post-flop play becomes especially dangerous with aces. Keeping your hand value in perspective post-flop is extremely important.

You do not need to get too aggressive if you do not have anything just because you were dealt aces pre-flop. It is not your duty to bet big with aces. Sure, if you hit then make your opponents pay, but do not get in over your head with a marginal hand on a scary board.

Finals Thoughts

There’s a reason why aces draw the ire of so many players while simultaneously giving them the dreams of winning a massive pot. It is because players can make some of their biggest mistakes while playing with pocket aces, but they can also hit it big.

No Limit Hold’em is especially cutthroat, where one big mistake can cost a player his entire stack. Understanding how to play aces effectively in NLHE can make you one of the best players in your games while playing them poorly can seriously cut into your win rate.


About the Author:
Joseph Falchetti is a professional poker player and gambling writer. Skilled in both cash games and tournaments, Joe also has an excellent knowledge of the ins and outs of the online poker industry. He has been published by CalvinAyre.com and has written hundreds of articles on a variety of topics. Joe resides in Pittsburgh, PA where he can found at the local poker room or spending time with his fiancee and dogs.

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