Pocket aces are easily the sexiest and most alluring hand in poker, and although they are the best possible preflop hand they can often get you into a world of trouble if played incorrectly. The saying about Aces is that “you’ll win a small pot or lose a huge one”. This is dead on, and this article will explain why that is so, and how you can maximize your winnings when you’re ahead and minimize your losses when you’re behind.
Playing Aces Preflop
I like to play aces pretty straightforward before the flop. If no one has entered the pot before me, I’ll make a raise of 3-4x the big blind. This accomplishes two things. First of all, it shows other players that I have a strong hand and indicates that I’m going to be the aggressor in the hand. Also, it forces players with hands such as 67 suited to fold preflop. This is to your benefit, because suited connectors are the hands most likely to bust you in a big pot.
If a few players have limped in in front of me, I like to bump my raise up to 5x the big blind. The reason for the increase is because the pot already has a few callers in it, so if I only made a raise of 3x each caller would have correct pot odds to see a flop and potentially bust me.
If someone has entered the pot before me with a raise, this is a different situation. Since aces are the best possible preflop hand, it makes sense to re-raise here to isolate your opponent and start building the pot. A re-raise of 3-4x the raiser’s initial raise will do the trick. This should knock out other players with weak hands, and will force your opponent to commit more chips to the pot to see the flop.
One really unique situation is if there is a raise and a re-raise before you even act. In this case, you may want to smooth call the re-raiser to mask your hand’s strength and to tempt the first raiser into the hand. This will put you in a three way massive pot on the flop, and you’re very likely to end up getting all in while you’re still ahead.
Playing Aces on the Flop and Beyond
The flop is the trickiest part of the hand when you have aces, because you’ll either commit to going all the way with the hand, or realize that you’re beat. As long as the flop doesn’t look really really bad, you should lead out with a bet of roughly 2/3 the size of the pot. An example of a fairly safe flop is J42 offsuit. That is a great flop because it improves players who have hands like AJ, and it misses players with hands like 78 suited who are looking for big draws.
An example of a bad flop would be something like 810J, or K54 of the same suit. In the first example, hands like 10J or 88 have hit the flop hard and have a great chance of beating you in a huge pot. In the second example, if you don’t have the ace of the suit that is on the board you’re in a really tough spot, because if a fourth card of that suit peels off on the turn or river you’ll have a tough decision to make.
In the case of a bad flop like the ones listed above, I usually still lead out if there are only one or two opponents in the hand, but if they show any strength I become very cautious with my hand. If I feel like my opponent already has me beat, or has a really big draw, I’m not opposed to folding aces on the flop to a raise or a strong bet.
After you play the flop, the rest of the hand will pretty much play itself. If you pin your opponent on having a lower pair, just continue to value bet to extract maximum value out of them. If you think your opponent has a draw, continue to make them pay to draw, and if the draw hits on the turn or river release your hand. Follow the tips above, and you’ll have no problems with aces. Good luck!