How NOT to Play Pocket Aces

pocket-rockets-1I recently played a large pot in a major poker tournament that beautifully exemplifies the exact opposite way you should play pocket Aces. At 200/400 blinds with a 50 ante, everyone folded to me on the button and I raised to 1,000 out of my 30,000 effective stack with Tc-Ts. The small blind folded and the big blind, a loose, aggressive player, reraised to 2,200. While I expected this specific opponent to reraise more often than most players, his abnormally tiny reraise size made me think his range was quite strong. Most players will reraise to between 2.7 and 3.5 times the initial raise when reraising from out of position. They want to have some chance to steal the pot before the flop because playing large pots out of position usually is not ideal. Notice a small reraise ensures I will at least call and see a flop. My opponent’s small bet sizing led me to believe my opponent had a much stronger range than normal. Even though I thought my normally loose, aggressive opponent had a strong hand, I decided to call 1,200 more, hoping to improve to a set and realize my implied odds.

The flop came 9d-8s-5h. My opponent bet 2,300 into the 5,050 pot. I don’t think this nondescript half-pot bet indicated much about his range. I imagine he would make this same bet with his entire range. Even if his range is only big pairs, A-K, and A-Q, I should still call because A-K and A-Q should make up a larger portion of his range than the pairs. Raising is not a good option because it will induce my opponent to fold his unpaired hands and continued with his paired hands. You rarely want to make a play that essentially forces your opponent to play well. So, I cautiously called to see what develops on the turn.

The turn was the (9d-8s-5h)-Td. My opponent checked. At this point, I thought he was usually giving up with an unpaired hand. However, he may be taking a cautious line with an over pair or he could make an optimistic check-raise bluff with A-K. When you think your opponent’s range is weak and your range could realistically be strong, as mine certainly could in this situation, you should make a small bet. I bet 2,900 into the 9,650 pot.

To my surprise, my opponent check-raised to 9,000. At this point, it is important to think about how your opponent expects you to proceed. If he thinks you will only go all-in with two pair or better, then you should strongly consider calling. If you think he will call if you go all-in every time if he has an over pair, you should go all-in to ensure he cannot get off the hook on the river. In this hand, I thought my opponent was particularly strong, which led me to believe he would not fold if I went all-in for 15,450 on top of his 9,000 bet. As expected, my opponent instantly called with Ah-Ad and I won a nice pot.

So, where did my opponent go wrong? In this exact hand, he was destined to lose a large pot no matter how he played his Aces. However, it is important to play your premium hands in a manner that allows your opponent to stay in the pot with a wide range. If my opponent made a normal-sized preflop reraise, perhaps to 3,200, I would have either called or reraised. Of course, my opponent would be thrilled if I reraised, which would allow him to put in a 5-bet. On the flop, his small preflop reraise forced me to just call, taking away my option to raise. Notice if he reraised larger preflop and bet larger on the flop, I simply could not fold due to my hand’s strength.

On the turn when he checked and I bet small, he should only call my bet. By check-raising he forces me to continue only when I have two pair and better made hands. When I went all-in over his turn check-raise, he should have folded, assuming I could beat all over pairs. By playing pocket Aces in this manner, he gave me the opportunity to cheaply draw to my set and then paid me off for the maximum when I was fortunate enough to improve. It is worth mentioning that if I did not improve to a set on the turn and my opponent continued betting, I would have almost certainly made a tight fold. If the turn was a low card and he checked, I would have either checked behind or bet small with the intention of folding if check-raised. If you want to succeed at poker, you must learn to make big folds when the action clearly indicates you are beat.

In general, when you have a premium hand against a competent player, you should act in exactly the same manner as you would with the rest of your range. This will make you much more difficult to read compared to if you choose your bet size based on your hand’s strength. By making it easy for your opponents to make the correct decision, you leave significant money on the table. Don’t get fancy with your premium hands.

pinpointing-weak-poker-playersIf you want to learn more about how I have exploited players throughout my career, I strongly suggest you check out this exclusive webinar titled Pinpointing and Exploiting Weak Opponents. In this webinar, I discuss how to quickly determine if your opponent is weak then numerous things you can do to take advantage of them. Be sure to check back next week for another educational blog post. Thanks for reading!

5 Comments

  • Tom Zapf says:

    Thanks… I enjoyed the read about the A’s. I play limit (3/6 and 4/8) cash and can’t always apply the strategy you offer. I still read and enjoy. Tom

  • Ian Tipton says:

    Thanks JL, interesting article. Not getting paid with big hands is a weakness in my game – I bet the same with bluffs and strong hands, so is the problem that I’m not bluffing enough or have I missed something else?

    • It depends on if you are trying to be balanced or not. If you are trying to be balanced and your opponents fold too often, simply start bluffing more until they adjust. If you are fine with playing an exploitable strategy, perhaps you should not be playing your bluffs and your value bets in the same way.

  • Troy says:

    Your article is very helpful, thank you. I am gathering all the lessons I can to improve my Poker skills. My friend suggested the Poker training videos by Your Doom Poker and I found them to be very helpful too. Hope I can utilize the skills and win big 🙂

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