There is no better feeling in Texas Hold’em than to look down at your cards and see pocket aces. On the flip side, getting those pair of aces out drawn is one of the worst feelings. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to play pocket aces and refuse to fold them even when there are very clear indications that they are beat. Another thing to understand is that pocket aces are supposed to lose 20% of time against one caller with a pair or suited connectors. If you play them against 3 players you are going to lose around half the time.
Let’s look at a typical way pocket aces get beat. One person limps from early position and you look down at pocket aces in the cutoff (last person before the dealer button). You are afraid to put in a raise because you are afraid everybody will fold since only one person limped and the blinds have been frequently folding to raises. To try to get a big pot you just call. The button and small blind call and the big blind checks. Now you are up against 4 other players and you are going to lose more times than you win. Not a real good result for the best starting hand possible in Texas Hold’em. The flop comes 6, 7, 10 with 2 spades. The small blind bets, the big blind raises, and the early position limper pushes all in. You think sure there is a flush draw out there, but “I have an OVERPAIR” so you call. The button folds because he wants nothing to do with this hand. The small blind and big blind both call and when cards are turned over you see the small blind got in cheap with 10, 7 and made 2 pair, the big blind saw the flop with 8, 5 of spades and has a straight flush draw, and the early position limper had 8, 9 of hearts and made a straight. You are drawing dead to 2 running cards to make a full house or 4 of a kind. This seems extreme, but any of those 3 hands is possible if you let people in cheap and 2 of them beat you right away and the other has enough outs that you are only a slight favorite. and that is if you are only against one of them individually.
Now let’s look at how you should play pocket aces before the flop in a no limit Texas Hold’em tournament situation. Regardless of the position you are in, you almost always need to put in a raise. The amount of the raise will vary, but you need to raise enough that you only get one or two callers. If you are sure somebody behind you will raise allowing you to re-raise, you can just call with pocket aces from early position, but you are risking a multi-way pot that you can’t win. You could also just call if you are in a heads up situation of small blind versus big blind to set a trap. You will only win the blinds sometimes with your raise, but in a tournament, survival is more important than trying to win a huge pot with only one pair because that is all pocket aces usually wind up being.
The second part of playing pocket aces correctly is being able to lay them down if it looks like you are beat. If you put in a raise pre-flop, you will have an idea of what cards your opponents have. Usually a raise will chase out anything other than 2 cards bigger than jacks or medium to high pairs. Even better, most hands that call you will have an ace in them and you have about a 90% chance of winning against even a suited ace. If an ace hits, you will probably take all their chips.
After the flop, you need to look at the board and see how it fits with hands your opponents are likely to have. If there are all low cards of different suits, you are almost certainly winning (the only reasonable hand to beat you would be a pair that made 3 of a kind). If there are 2 or 3 cards 10 or higher, you have to start worrying about being beat or against a good draw that will beat you. Many of the reasonable hands that call a raise could have 2 pairs, 3 of a kind, a straight, or a straight draw. If there are 2 or 3 cards of the same suit, you may also have some problems because many players love to play suited cards trying for a flush. You will have to make some tough decisions with pocket aces after the flop, but a raise before the flop will give you information that is critical to making the right decision. If you get check raised after the flop, you really need to consider folding because most people won’t check raise somebody who showed strength unless they have one pair beat. The key thing to remember is that pocket aces are only one pair and just because they are the top pair, doesn’t mean they beat even the 2 lowest pairs.
In a no limit Texas Hold’em ring game (non-tournament) or a tournament where you can buy more chips, you can play pocket aces a little different. You still want to raise and limit the number of opponents and to gain information, but you can play a little slower and try for a big pot because if you lose, you can always buy more chips. The big thing to be careful of is going on tilt after losing with pocket aces to a long shot draw. Many players will lose lots of money trying to return a bad beat which just isn’t good poker.
In limit Texas Hold’em tournaments or ring games, you pretty much bet and raise at every opportunity trying to maximize your profit on the times you win because you will get beat by draws. The one nice thing about limit hold’em is you can revert to checking and calling bets that offer you huge pot odds if you think you are beat but not sure. Pocket aces in limit hold’em can be very frustrating because all you can do is put in a single raise (equal to the minimum raise in no limit) unless somebody else is also raising and this simply won’t chase out anybody once they put one bet in. Before getting angry that somebody draws out to a straight or flush, remember that pot odds are often big enough in limit Texas Hold’em to justify calling with as little as an inside straight draw. This is a part of limit hold’em and if you can’t accept that, you shouldn’t be playing it.
This is by no means an exact recipe for playing pocket aces in Texas Hold’em. There will be situations where you do opt for a large field hoping for a monster pot. One good time would be when you are short stacked in a tournament and really need to triple up or more. If you are planning to be playing with the same group of people for a long time, it may also be beneficial to show them that you may just limp in with pocket aces to allow you to see other flops cheaply. There is no one right way to play pocket aces, but if you want to win more than half the time, you must limit the field to less than 3 callers. That is pure math and if you play long enough, the math will win out in the end.