Many players struggle when it comes to pocket aces. Admittedly, the hand can be a bit tricky to play, but knowing how to play AA is worth its weight in gold when it comes to playing profitable poker. In this article I am going to review some key considerations when playing AA, some default lines, and various ways to improve your poker knowledge and winrate with this monster of a hand.
First and foremost, you should be profitable with AA. It should never be a losing hand in your database, and over any usable sample it should be the biggest winning hand in your database. To the right you can see my database filtered to just show my AA results, which are about 1.5x higher than my results with KK and about 2.3x higher than my results with QQ…
But just being profitable with AA isn’t enough. We want to make sure that we are constantly winning the most when we are ahead and of course making sure we don’t get stacked when our AA runs into a set or rivered flush. So as with any poker hand, let’s start from the beginning and focus on preflop play. AA is always the nuts preflop, so treat it as such. This means open-raise it, 3bet it, and if someone gives you the chance to get it all-in preflop…do it! Too many players try to get tricky with AA and go for limp-reraises or trappy calls…which many times is sub-optimal and ends up minimizing the value of the hand.
So as a default veer away from the tricky and trappy stuff preflop. Open-raise the hand and start growing the pot size. Also 3bet it and watch players make mistakes with a wide range of hands. Especially in micro/small games where many players don’t have a lot of discipline, just 3bet your AA for value. They can make mistakes with hands like QQ, JJ, AK and sometimes with even more hands…and there is no reason not to make as big of a pot as possible if they will let us. Sure we won’t always get action, but if they are folding every single time we 3bet it might be time to start bluffing them with some junky hands!
Postflop is where things are a little less automatic. Preflop is easy, just get aggressive and try to build the biggest pot possible when your edge is huge and your opponents will make a fair chunk of mistakes. Postflop is when many things are up in the air and can change given certain variables…so let’s build a list of important considerations when talking about how to play AA postflop:
What kind of pot is this?: In a single-raised pot there is usually going to be a lot more play left…whereas in a 3bet or 4bet pot our plays are a bit more automatic. In a 3bet or 4bet pot there is usually a small SPR pot (stack-to-pot ratio) which means that as a default we are stacking off AA regardless of the texture (especially in a <2 SPR pot). In single-raised pots the SPR can be much larger (10+) and thus we aren’t automatically going to stack off. In a deeper SPR you want to be much more selective when stacking off and usually veer away from doing so against tighter players.
Who is my opponent?: As always, our decisions in poker are primarily made around our opponent. Who is he? Does he make a lot of calling mistakes on average? If so, we should plan on value betting him relentlessly. Does he make a lot of betting mistakes? If so, maybe we check and induce bluffs and bets from him. The worse of a player he is, the bigger of a pot I am willing to create with my AA on average. The tighter of a player he is, the more weary I need to be when creating a large pot against him postflop because he won’t continue with enough hands that my AA beats.
What is the texture?: The good thing with AA is that we always have at least an overpair on the flop, but that can also make things a bit tricky. If the flop is Ks Qs 7h and our opponent raises, do we really want to give him a lot of action? Think about the texture and how it hits your opponent’s range, and also consider how he’d react with various hands on this texture. Non-fish are going to play TT much differently if the board is K86J versus 9834.
Should I bet?: Always know what a bet (or raise) accomplishes. A bet is usually for value or as a bluff. So either worse hands are continuing (aka, a value bet), or better hands are folding (aka, a bluff). With AA we usually are more focused on value betting and thus we need to make sure that our opponent will actually continue with enough second best hands. If your bet would only get looked up by hands that beat you then you should consider checking. Also consider checking against players would make a ton more bluffs than calls and induce those aggro mistakes!
Did I face a raise?: This is actually where players tend to get confused…when their AA faces a raise at some point postflop. When we face a raise we need to assign a range that our opponent would do that with and then estimate how our AA performs against that range. So this is actually a perfect time to look at an example:
$0.50/$1 No Limit Hold’em Cash, 6 Players
Hero (MP): $179.25
Preflop: Hero is MP with A A
UTG folds, Hero raises to $3, CO folds, BTN calls $3, 2 folds
Flop: ($7.50) J 8 4 (2 players)
Hero bets $5, BTN calls $5
Turn: ($17.50) 7 (2 players)
Hero bets $12, BTN raises to $35, Hero ???
The line leading up to the turn is pretty standard. We open-raised preflop, continuation bet the flop, and also bet the turn…each was done thinking it was for value and that many worse hands would continue. The 7 on the turn isn’t the greatest card ever as it does fill up the T9 straight draw and also 87, but it does miss the flush draw and also should still allow hands like KJ and JT to feel comfortable. So once we face the raise we need to make a decision, and it’s pretty easy. Does he raise enough second best hands or does his raising range crush our hand? It’s that level of simplicity. The more aggressive and bluffy he is, the less likely I am going to fold here. The more nitty and strong-weighted his raising range is, the more I assume his raising range beats AA and thus this is a pretty easy bet/fold. Remember, you can make a bet that is valuable, yet your hand still performs poorly the rare times he does raise.
If you are just getting started, or looking to ensure your default lines with AA are solid, here are my suggested lines and ideas with AA:
Preflop: Open-raise. If there are limpers, raise them (4-5bb on average). If there is a raise in front of me, 3bet (3-4x his raise on average). If my open faces a 3bet, 4bet up to 23bb and happily call his shove. If he calls my 4bet, automatically get it all-in on any flop (assuming we aren’t both like 400bb deep).
Postflop: On average, CB. If the SPR is less than 2, automatically stack off. If my opponent is a passive-fish/calling-station, value bet until they raise. If villain is an aggro-tard, consider checking to induce. When confused, bet yourself for pure value. When confused, don’t stack off for 100bb against nits and tags. Don’t assume that competent players are raising TPTK against you…they usually aren’t. If a passive person raises the river, you are usually behind and should bet/fold. Also, don’t panic if a draw fills…only panic if they raise you when an obvious draw fills =)
Unfortunately we could never cover every possible happening when we have AA, but this gives a solid framework to work within. Of course there are times when you should flat a 3bet with AA, and other times when you should check/raise the flop with AA rather than CB it, but this article gives you some basic things to consider and ways to improve your winrate. Remember that AA is super important and if you are constantly making postflop errors (in particular missing value bets and/or not folding when you are obviously behind) will only hurt you. Focus on generating lots of value with your AA, veer away from the tricky stuff without a good reason to do so, and good luck making more dollars with AA!