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!

14 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 🙂

  • Matt says:

    So it your opponent makes a normal re-raise preflop, what do you do? If you reraise, do you call a shove?

    • I certainly call. The only time you can happily get all-in for this many chips is when your opponent is very aggressive and will call off much too widely.

  • Matt says:

    I love these blog posts btw. I don’t even play at the moment, but I get a lot of enjoyment out of them.

  • Roger Campkin says:

    Playing my weekly pub game $10 with one reybuy I had already rebought when a new LAG next to me on my left started betting into the pot with 3 10 3 on the flop. I called with my pocket KK but eventually folded to his all in on the river when another 10 appeared as i would be felted and he was repping a 3 or 10 . A a LAG he could easily have one or the other. Of course he was bluffing with K7 off but was my read reasonable? I eventually ended 3rd and cashed while he did not so I was happy. How would you play KK in this situation against this type of player?

    • It is difficult to give an accurate response without knowing the hand. I suggest you post it using the method outlined at JonathanLittlePoker.com/notes. It generally sounds like a fold is fine unless you know your opponent is a maniac. Spots like this are often either easy folds or easy calls, depending on your opponent’s tendencies. Since I don’t know your opponent, it is tough to give a definitive answer.

  • Roger Campkin says:

    Thanks for that Jonathon I had never played this opponent before but he had showed one triple barrel huge bluff about one hour before in the first hand of the night but was not playing as a maniac since that but was aggressive at times. Blinds were 200 400 with no antes and I was hijack on a table of 8 and he was on my left. table folded to my opponent who min raised to 800 and I reraised to 2000 and he called and both the blinds folded so we were heads up. We both had around 30K stacks.
    The flop came down 3 10 3 rainbow and he bet 2000 into a 5000 pot and I called. Perhaps I should have raised instead but he was often calling in that situation. The turn was a 7 and he bet 5000 and after asking what he had behind I called again…??? Then another ten on the river and he went all in. i actually mused out loud ” has he got a 3 or a ten” but he did not react but showed his poker face. As he had been playing LAG I was fairly sure he had one of them and folded after a couple of minutes. He had K7.
    If I arise him post flop is that the best way to find out where he is at? How much should I raise after the flop and what knowledge do I gain if he calls? If he reraises then I could fold and save a few chips. Was my reraise pre flop to small?
    In general I find playing KK correctly to be a problem as if I bet too high everyone folds at this game as I am usually expected to be playing TAG.

    • I would certainly not raise the flop because you will not get accurate information from a LAG and will essentially turn your hand face-up. You don’t win at poker by turning your hand face-up. I am fine with this hand as played. The river is likely close because you only beat a stone bluff. I can’t tell you how often someone I have never encountered is bluffing.

  • Roger Campkin says:

    Oops sorry he was on my right so I had posiition on him

  • Roger Campkin says:

    Thanks heaps for that Johnathan. After that hand I started to second guess myself so I am pleased that I was not too far out of line His was not a stone bluff as he had K kicker with two pair 3 s and 10s but i guess I need to play more LAG myself. have a great family Christmas and a successful New Year.

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