Pocket aces, the pre-flop nuts, only comes around once every 221 hands and it completely dominates every other starting hand in Texas Hold’em poker. In light of this, you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘who cares about strategy then? I’ll always win with them unless I get unlucky.’ Actually, playing your premium hands properly is a skill often overlooked by beginner-intermediate players, as they’re so pre-concerned with the fact that they have a winning hand, the strategy tends to go out of the window. As with every hand in in almost every poker discipline, playing pockets aces depends on a variety of factors, most notably position.
Playing Pocket Aces In Early Position
It’s fairly difficult at a full ring table to disguise your premium hands if you’re a tight player. This is why what’s commonly considered an optimal strategy in the modern game is to have a wider range of opening hands under the gun and under the gun +1 and +2 than traditional/older strategies would have suggested. 20 years ago, entering the pot from these positions with anything less than a premium holding was sacrilege but now a close to optimal strategy, in deep stacked poker at least, is to open up with pretty much any pair, AK- AJ, ATs, and even KQs.
This way you are balancing your range so that when premium poker hands finally come around, your opponents don’t automatically assume that you’re hiding a monster. Don’t be tempted to limp with AA in early position in an unopened pot however. It will almost certainly cost you value in the long run. What’s more, if you do limp and then have the luxury of being raised into, your holding will be transparent when you try to play back at your opponent – it’s the oldest trick in the book and if your opponents are so poor that they aren’t aware of it, you will easily be able to exploit them elsewhere anyway.
Playing Pocket Aces In Late Position
In late position, your options are always more numerous. As ever, your choices will depend on the action that has gone before you. If you are the first person into the pot, always raise. If anything, randomly limping into the pot will look suspicious. Much better that someone decides you’re trying to blind-steal and looks you up or 3-bets you. If there’s been an early position raise before you, usually re-raising will be the best play (our thinking is that they probably have a decent hand and will call your re-raise or potentially 4-bet you) but your knowledge of the player is key here. You must use your judgement of their betting patterns to decide how to proceed. Sometimes it’s best to just call, especially if there is evidence that your opponent finds it hard to lay down a hand on the flop or turn. An aggressive and stubborn player might well do your betting for you on all three streets and you can pick off their bets/raise them on the river if the board plays out appropriately. Never forget that your hand is disguised when you just call.
Remember the pre flop percentages your hand had against any 2 other cards and consider how likely it is that you’ve been beaten. Always think about your opponent’s range and how it might have connected with the board. Perhaps they have top pair with a strong kicker and you will get a call with a hefty raise. If there has been a raise and a call (or 2 or 3 calls) before you, you should almost always re-raise but pay attention to the stack sizes of those involved. If, for example, the original raiser has a big stack and 2 much smaller stacks called behind, we’re not so interested in the smaller stacks. You should be focussing on playing the raiser for all of their chips, the pot soon consuming the size of the other players’ chip stacks.
All in pre flop?
Of course. If you have the choice/ability to get your chips all in pre flop with AA, it is almost always the correct play, mathematically. There are extremely rare occasions, such as ICM considerations and or satellite situations in which you can justify folding AA pre-flop but they’re generally not even worth concerning yourself with. Get your money in the middle however you can. This may seem to conflict with the advice above whereby just calling pre-flop can be the best play but that’s not the case. Sometimes your opponent simply won’t be prepared to get all of their chips in pre-flop and so calling and employing some subterfuge will be the best route to trying to felt them.
Pocket Aces vs. Ace King
Ace King can be a very profitable hand to play against when you’re holding AA. The main reason for this is that opponents tend to lend great value to AK. Many will just get their money in pre-flop with ‘big slick’ and for the remainder, if your opponent connects with the A or the K on the flop, you will likely get 3 streets of value out of them. Pre-flop, AA is a 92.8% favourite versus AK off suit and an 87.23% favourite against AK suited (non-conflicting suits).
Pocket Aces vs. Pocket Kings
Playing AA against KK is extremely profitable. Players will very, very rarely fold pocket kings so most of the time you will get your money in pre-flop as an enormous favourite. If you do go to the flop before the money is in, you will usually get a hefty call on each street. AA is an 81.71% favourite over KK pre-flop.
Pocket Aces vs. Pocket Queens
Much the same story applies to playing AA versus QQ. A growing number of players will not lay down QQ pre-flop and will chalk it up to bad luck if they encounter a better hand. This is especially true in tournament poker where stacks are often small relative to the big blind. Pre-flop, AA is an 81.33% favourite over QQ.
Pocket Aces vs. Pocket Jacks
Players are pretty stubborn with pocket jacks but you will see a notably higher incidence of them being folded pre-flop. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t exploit them on later streets/appropriate boards. AA is an 81.58% favourite over JJ pre-flop.
Dealing with a bad beat
It’s important not to get too upset about losing with AA. It happens. In fact it happens frequently. Remember that even when you’re 80%+ favourite, you will still lose the hand approximately 1 in 5 times. That’s poker and you need to be prepared to dust yourself off and carry on playing with a level head. Some tournament pros will even avoid getting all of their money in pre-flop with AA against novice players when they are deep stacked to try to rule this variance out, even though it’s technically incorrect to do so. You will hear many, many stories about how players got knocked out of tournaments with AA. It’s not unfair; it’s part of poker and it will happen over and over again. Just remember, if you convinced a player to get all of their chips into the pot pre-flop and you were holding AA, you are doing the right thing – carry on!