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The Challenge of Playing Pocket Aces

Without a doubt, pocket aces constitute the best hand pre-flop in No-Limit Texas Hold-‘em. Notoriously referred to as “American Airlines”, “Pocket Rockets”, “The Bullets” or “The Nuts”, this special hand shows up once out of every 220 hands, according to the stats (or the whim of the poker gods).

Playing pocket aces can prove more challenging than one might think and although it is undoubtedly the strongest pre-flop hand one can receive, it is no guarantee of victory (one pair, after all, can be beaten by lots of hands) – and having aces cracked is one of the most painful experiences in poker. Thus, it is critical to resist the urge to shove all-in and rather to assess the particular circumstances of that specific hand in order to maximize the expected value of this strong hand.

pocket aces strategyPre-Flop: Play According to Position and Players

The major consideration you should take in betting with a pair of aces before the flop is your position. In an early position, the best move is probably to limp in (just call the big blind) hoping that somebody will raise it behind you, giving you the opportunity to re-raise. If you raise in an early position, others are more likely to suspect you’ve got a strong hand and fold, thereby reducing the potential size of the pot you hope to take down.

In middle position, your bet should depend on the moves players made before you. If nobody in earlier positions came in to the pot, then you can generally limp in the same way you would from an early position. However, if somebody in early position did come in, you probably ought to raise them a reasonable pot-sized raise.

In late position, the obvious move is to raise with your pocket aces, hoping that someone else limped in with the intention of re-raising a raiser. If they do re-raise you, you naturally should play back, deciding whether or not to push all-in depending on circumstances such as how likely your opponent is to call and how large your stack is. Conversely, if you decide to just smooth call a raise, you subject yourself to the possibility of losing the hand. You obviously have the best hand to start with, but when you do not drive out your opponents, you give them the opportunity to hit a set, straight or even flush.

On the Flop: Play According to the Type of Flop and Player

If you don’t take down the pot pre-flop, you will have to make your most critical decisions on the flop. On the flop, you're in a reasonable position to put your opponent on a hand by the way he bets – do they have an over-pair? Did they hit top pair? Is he or she drawing to a straight or flush?

It’s generally wise to exercise caution when the flop brings three cards that can make a straight or a flush, especially when there is more than one other player in the pot with you. If you bet and they’ve got something big, you’ll lose more chips and if they’ve got nothing, you’ll take down a smaller pot than you might have. In early position, therefore, it’s usually best just to check in this situation. In late position, a bet is usually worthwhile. If you get called, you know to be careful.

Other types of flops should generally favor you. You may still get beat by two pair, but more often you’ll get paid off by drawing hands.

Summary: Cautiously Seek to Maximize the Potential of Aces

The idea with pocket aces is to seize the opportunity to maximize the potential of aces. Remember that pushing all-in pre-flop is most likely to drive the rest of the table out of the hand reducing your expected value. This may be the right tactic in certain circumstances (late in a tournament or when you are on a short stack and appear desperate), but generally when you have pocket aces you want to re-raise others pre-flop and proceed cautiously post-flop when it appears that others may have caught a hand big enough to crack your aces. Pocket aces only win about half the time, so make sure the pot is not too damaging when you could be behind and nice and big when you manage to stay ahead.

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