One hand that excites a player, whether they are seasoned poker professionals playing in a big game or amateur players playing with their friends, is pocket aces. Pocket aces are the strongest starting hand in Texas Hold’em, and it should generate the most money over the long run.
However, this fact can sometimes make players fall in love with the hand since they expect that they always need to win the pot with pocket aces, which leads to them making mistakes.
Below we break down how to play pocket aces in some of the most common pre-flop and post-flop scenarios and which mistakes you need to avoid to increase your EV.
It goes without saying that you should always raise pocket aces if you are the first person to act or if no one has raised before you. Now, if you have pocket aces and a player before you have raised, you should always 3bet.
There is a small chance that it will be better to call on rare occasions, for example, if you have a maniac behind you that 3bets every hand. However, these situations do not come nearly as often, and you will not make a mistake if you 3bet your AA every time you get them.
It is important that you don’t fall into the trap of slow-playing pocket aces, and there are two main reasons for this:
Remember, the ideal scenario for this hand is to make your opponent go all-in before the flop since you have around 80% equity against all other hands.
If you have aces and face a 3bet, the default move would be to 4bet your hand or go all-in, depending on your stack size. By doing so, you will definitely be making money in the long run, no matter your opponent's strategy.
However, in some situations, this might not be the move that makes you the most money. Here are a couple of examples that will hopefully show you how to determine if you should go with the default line or call.
You open AA from HJ, and the CO 3bets you. The CO is a tight passive opponent that 3bets only 3% of his hands.
In this situation, the CO range will mostly consist of premium holdings like AA, KK, AK, and QQ, which means he is not likely to fold to your 4bet, making it the correct play.
You open AA from the BTN, and the BB 3bets you. The BB is a loose-aggressive opponent with a wide 3-bet range and only 35 big blinds in his stack.
In this example, the BBs 3betting range is much wider and consists of a lot of bluffs that he will fold against a 4bet and of a lot of hands that you dominate, making calling a viable option.
The important thing to note here is that if you are unsure what to do or what your opponent's 3betting range looks like, your best option is to 4bet and make things simple.
Depending on which stakes you play, most players will not have a balanced 4betting range, which means that they will mostly 4bet strong hands with which they want to play for stacks, so 5betting or going all-in with aces in these situations will be the correct play.
If you are playing against competent opponents who are balanced with their 4bets, meaning that their 4betting range consists of premium hands and bluffs, you should sometimes only call with aces.
There are two main reasons why you should have a calling range in these spots against competent opponents:
With this said, if the opponent has the edge over you post-flop and if you are deep, you should almost always avoid calling and instead 5bet or go all-in.
The biggest mistake that poker players make when having aces is that they don’t know when to fold them, and the second biggest mistake is that they don’t extract nearly as much value as they should. We will address both of these issues below.
Since pocket aces are a made hand, as long as the board is dry, whether you hit an ace or not, you can approach it as if you have the best hand. This is because you are still way ahead of your opponent's range.
However, you will want to approach dry boards that contain an ace more passively than dry boards that don’t contain an ace for two following reasons:
For example, you raise with As Ad UTG, SB calls, and the flop comes Ks 6c 2d.
In this situation, you should c-bet to extract value from your opponent when they have a made hand (pair of Kings, eights, sevens, or maybe a hand like 67s).
On the other hand, if you raise with As Ad UTG, SB calls, and the flop comes Ac 9s 2d, checking back is also a viable option for two reasons. While you can still be c-betting some of the time, it makes sense to check because your opponent is very unlikely to have an ace since you block those combinations, so his range is very weak.
By checking, you let him catch up a little bit and improve on the turn or river, and are not afraid of any runouts. On top of that, you might even induce a bluff from time to time, so you should add this move to your arsenal.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that in the majority of 3bet pots you play with aces, you will be the 3bettor. In most cases, you will want to bet small with AA in 3-bet pots, somewhere between 25 to 30 percent.
This is because: in 3-bet pots, there is already enough money in the pot that you can comfortably go all-in by the river on good runouts, even if you bet small on the flop.
Another reason for betting small is that you will have the range advantage on most flops as the 3bettor. Thus, your betting frequency will be high, and you should use smaller bets when your betting frequency is high and vice versa.
For example, let’s say that UTG raises, and you 3bet from the BTN just to see him call, and the flop comes Ks 7d 3s.
On this board, you should be almost always c-bet small. By c-betting small, you force your opponents to call with a wide part of his range, most of which you beat.
But be aware that you should also c-bet small on this board when you don’t have aces, or in other words, when you miss the flop. By doing so, you are balancing your c-betting range in 3-bet pots, which means you will be much harder to play against.
Pocket aces do not thrive in multiway pots, so it is important to avoid slow-playing this hand before the flop. However, when you do end up in a multiway pot with aces, you need to proceed with extreme caution, even if you have an over-pair to the board.
This is because, with each additional player in the hand, the equity of your hand goes down, and there is a higher chance that someone might out-flop you.
For example, you raise with Ac Ah from UTG, CO, SB, and BB call, and the flop comes Qs 7d 2d. You c-bet, and all three players call you.
In this situation, you should proceed with extreme caution and almost always check behind on the turn unless you hit the As.
One of the hardest spots to play with pocket aces is monotone flops, so here are a couple of guidelines that will hopefully increase your EV in these situations. For the most part, you will want to bet small on monotone flops, especially if you don't hold the ace for that suit.
The main reason you should bet on these flops is because the flop is the best time to extract value from your opponent’s one-pair hands and charge him for his draws.
Now, there will be hands in which your opponent will flop a flush, and you will be betting with the worst hand. However, these situations don’t come up as often as you might think, and you are playing against his entire range.
The second reason you should be betting small on monotone flops is that most players fail to raise monotone flops as much as they should, which means you are less likely to be blown off your hand.
Now that we covered some of the most common scenarios you will find yourself in with pocket aces, it is time to learn something from some of the most mistakes players make when holding this hand.
The number one mistake you can make with pocket aces is slow-play them before the flop, especially in single-raised pots.
The good thing about this mistake is that it is easy to fix. You need to stop trying to be tricky and instead start putting as much money in the pot as possible before community cards are dealt.
The one thing a lot of players have a hard time excepting when it comes to pocket aces is that even though they have the best hand pre-flop, this can easily change after the flop.
This is especially true in multiway pots. Just remember how many times you called off a flop raise in a multiway pot just to find out that one or two of your opponents have a better hand.
Be disciplined and respect flop raises in multiway pots. More often than not, they represent a strong-made hand or a draw with tons of equity, so you are not doing particularly well against that kind of range.
Once you go post-flop with aces, you will want to play the hand aggressively on most occasions, especially on the flop. By betting, you are continuing to build the pot with a good hand and charging your opponent for any potential draws that he might have.
Pocket aces are the best possible starting hand, but this does not mean they will bring you money each time you have them. Once you realize this and start working hard to study some of the most common spots with this hand, you will drastically improve your pocket aces strategy.
Just avoid the common mistakes we covered in this article, and you will be up for a very good start!
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