You know the thrill of getting pocket aces. However, shifting from preflop excitement to postflop uncertainty with AA can be a rollercoaster of emotions. Suddenly, the delight of a promising preflop situation can turn into a challenging postflop scenario, leaving you uncertain whether to hold on to your single pair or gracefully fold.
In this article, we shall look into the science of pocket aces, examining strategic insights, common mistakes, and expert tips for maximizing your success with this huge starting hand.
How To Think About Pocket Aces
Before diving into the technical analysis, let’s examine players’ feelings toward pocket aces.
On one hand, it’s the undisputed king of starting hands. Its ability to stack off 100% of the time preflop in cash games adds to its allure. Despite this, some players detest pocket aces.
A number of reasons for this dual sentiment can be attributed to several factors:
Why You Should Love AA
The best starting hand: The strength of pocket aces makes it appealing, offering a good platform for preflop aggressiveness.
Reliability in Cash Games: In cash games, pocket aces are a go-to for stacking off preflop, offering a reliable way to accumulate chips.
Flop Consistency: This hand flops in overpair or better 100% of the time, which is an incredibly unique feature compared to other starting hands.
Also, it is often good enough to stack off with even postflop in overpair verses, especially as that Stack-to-Pot Ratio (SPR) starts dropping.
Why Some Players Hate AA
On the flip side, some players simply hate pocket Aces. Most of the time that hatred stems from:
Lack of Action: Sometimes, it seems like we’re not getting much action preflop. While some of this is expected variance, it’s important to note that we technically experience less action when holding aces because of card removal effects.
The number of combos for an ordinary villain’s value ranges, precisely TT+/AK, is 46. However, this count drops to only 33 combos when we have pocket aces.
Entitlement: Given the massive equity edge AA has over any opponent’s range preflop, some players feel entitled to win any postflop pot with AA.
How Do Pocket Aces Hit Flops?
If you plug AA into Flopzilla Pro, you’ll see the following output:
- Two pair+: 12% of the time (mostly sets)
- Pair: 88% of the time (always an overpair!)
- Draws (gutshot+): 5% of the time
This means there are mainly two scenarios that can occur. One is AA flops an overpair, with or without a redraw. And two is AA smashes the flop with a set or better.
Preflop Strategy With Pocket Aces
In general, play as aggressively as you possibly can with AA. If someone raises, 3-bet. If someone 3-bets you, 4-bet them. Simple.
However, it’s worth expanding this aggression out a bit.
Isolation Raise & 3-Bet With AA
In a cash game, you should default use 3-bets, 4-bets, and even 5-bets with pocket aces. The default strategy is to play them aggressively, minimizing opponents’ chances of outdrawing you. Pocket aces demand assertiveness.
Avoid getting cute with a flat call or a limp; aggression is paramount. You should always isolate raise and three-bet with this hand, given the opportunity. Whether facing a limp or a raise from opponents, playing the hand aggressively is crucial.
Avoid the temptation to take a passive approach by limping behind or merely calling instead of three-betting. Choose an assertive playing style as a default strategy when isolating and three-betting with this hand.
And I know you might be thinking, “Well, if I three-bet with aces, then everyone’s going to fold because they always do when I 3bet.”Nevertheless, this situation can work to your advantage. Seize the opportunity to three-bet a wide range of weaker hands, capitalizing on the perception of a nitty image to exploit your opponents.
Continue With The Aggression
Up the tempo and continue with the aggression with 4betting and even 5betting when the opportunity presents itself. The fundamental principle here is to default to an aggressive style rather than trying to get too creative.
If you’re unsure about how to proceed, the recommendation is to lean towards playing the hand assertively. In particular, when faced with the decision, it’s advised to 3bet, 4bet, and even 5bet without hesitation.
This aggressive approach serves as a default tactic. When someone five-bets you, the suggestion is to push back with a 6bet as a default response. The idea is to establish a proactive stance in the pre-flop action.
Nonetheless, there are instances where deviating from this default aggressive strategy might be theoretically correct. For example, when you face a 3bet after opening or encounter a four-bet, there could be situations where flat calling is a viable option.
The emphasis is placed on obtaining reads and information before considering such plays. Slow-playing, though not entirely ruled out, is generally advised against unless there’s a solid basis for doing so.
Even in the context of Game Theory Optimal (GTO) ranges, it’s common to see the solver employ a mixed strategy. However, the overarching advice remains straightforward: play these hands aggressively without overthinking as a fundamental approach.
The primary objective is to avoid getting too cute with your plays and instead focus on confidently employing 3bets, 4bets, and 5bets as default moves.
Slowplay AA Cautiously
Aces are often considered a good choice for a slow-play preflop since they are less likely to be beaten by other hands than pocket kings. For instance, if your opponent decides to bluff with a hand like A♠5♠, it only has a 13% chance of winning against your aces.
However, that same ace-five suited has a much higher 33% chance of winning if you have pocket kings instead. Nonetheless, resist the temptation to slow play often, especially when your hand is susceptible to being outdrawn.
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Never Fold AA Preflop (In Cash)
In cash games, folding pocket aces preflop is a cardinal sin. Never succumb to the temptation of folding this powerhouse hand, and be wary if such thoughts arise, as they might indicate you’re playing out of your comfort zone.
Trust the strength of your hand and capitalize on its potential.
For tournament players, there are some spots where you should back off, and from an ICM perspective, it might be correct.
Postflop Strategy With Pocket Aces
As we discussed earlier, postflop you either have an overpair or a set+ with AA. So let’s break them both down.
Playing AA As An Overpair
Below are important tips to follow when you are playing aces as an overpair postflop.
Understand how the texture of the board affects your equity. The strength of your aces can be affected by different board textures. Consider a scenario where you’re in the big blind, and the button opens. You decide to three-bet with pocket aces and the button calls.
Now, if the flop reads K♣2♠2♦, your hand’s equity skyrockets to 93% against your opponent’s entire range, it is especially pronounced on drier boards, particularly those with a single high card.
On the other hand, if the flop turns out to be something like 9♦8♦7♥, your equity with pocket aces drops significantly to around 66%. Here, the board’s more connected and coordinated nature diminishes your equity edge. You’re not necessarily behind, but the advantage isn’t as substantial as it would be on a less connected board.
Know When To Fold The Overpair
When holding a pair of aces in poker, it’s crucial to recognize situations where it’s wise to consider letting go of the hand. While aces generally give you a significant advantage, there are instances where your opponent suddenly becomes aggressive on coordinated boards, mainly if they’re playing more conservatively. This shift often signals that your aces might not be in the lead anymore, prompting you to contemplate folding.
Of course, the specific board texture and your opponent’s playing style are vital factors. The decision to fold isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and depends on various factors. Remember, it’s not about sticking to your aces blindly post-flop, especially in deep stack situations. If you consistently go all-in every time you have aces postflop just because they were ahead pre-flop, it can lead to significant problems.
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While there are times when folding is the right move, being overly fearful and constantly searching for the fold button can be a pitfall, especially in softer or more casual games. Avoid overfolding with your overpair, as it can result in missed opportunities and a considerable loss of potential winnings. Striking the right balance between cautious play and strategic aggression is critical to making the most of your strong starting hand in poker.
Comprehend Stack-to-Pot Ratio (SPR)
The third tip to keep in mind when dealing with an overpair in poker is the Stack-to-Pot Ratio (SPR), and it’s closely tied to how often you should consider folding your overpair. Simply put, as the SPR decreases, meaning the ratio of your stack to the pot gets smaller, you generally should be less inclined to fold your overpair by default.
On the flip side, when the SPR is more profound, meaning there’s more room between your stack and the pot, you might entertain the idea of letting go of aces.
It doesn’t mean you should always default to folding your overpair in deep SPR situations but being more conscious of the possibility is crucial. For instance, the SPR tends to be so low in four-bet pots that it’s often difficult to justify folding aces as an overpair.
On the other hand, in three-bet pots, there are more occasions where you find opportunities to navigate the situation differently. In single-raised pots, there are even more chances to either fold your overpair or not fully commit to it.
Seek Three Streets of Value
When you’ve got a pair of aces aiming for value over three betting rounds after the flop is crucial. It’s a smooth ride when the cards on the board are playing nice, not too connected, and your opponent seems clueless. In such scenarios, you can confidently go for that three-street value – just keep betting and building that pot unless things take a turn for the worse on the board or your opponent starts fighting back.
Switching up your strategy is okay if the board starts showing four potential straights or flushes and you don’t have the cards to match. Flexibility is key. Pay attention to the board’s texture and be ready to adjust if needed.
The three-street approach is the ideal game plan, but if the situation calls for it – maybe the board gets gnarly, or your opponent gets feisty – be open to deviating from this tactic.
Never Fold When Facing A Triple Barrel
Never fold when you are holding pocket aces and facing a triple barrel from your opponent. If you’ve slow-played your aces preflop and find yourself in this situation, resist the urge to fold. The initial decision to slow play was to keep more marginal hands in your opponent’s range.
Stick to your plan unless the board drastically changes (like putting up a 4-straight or 4-flush) or a very nitty opponent displays extreme aggression.
Smashing the Flop With AA
Switching gears to when you have completely smashed the flop, and you are playing a set or better postflop tips.
Where we smash the flop, like when we land a set or, even better, tip number one for these scenarios is to adopt a committed mindset unless the board takes a disastrous turn, think of a straight or flush draw. So, if you’ve got a set of Kings or something even better, especially a set of Aces, you should consider going all-in. Instead of looking for an escape route, focus on ways to get all your chips in the pot and avoid hitting the fold button unless things go south.
GTO Versus Exploitative Play
If you have aces and the flop comes out, and it’s a beauty, like A♥7♠2♦. That means you’ve got top set a killer hand.
In this situation, you might think, “Hey, slow playing this could be a slick move.” Why? Well, think about it. What can your opponent realistically have that’s as strong as your hand on a board like that? Not much.
So, you’re in a spot where you could rake in some serious value. Diving into the technical side with a tool like GTO Plus – like the poker guru’s guide – tells us some interesting stuff. When the pot’s about 18 big blinds, and you’ve got those pocket aces, the solver, like a super-smart poker calculator, surprisingly leans towards checking a lot. It rarely goes for big bets, not even half the pot.
Let’s say you take a different route and make a small bet. Your opponent decides to stick around, and the turn reveals the Queen of Diamonds. They do what they should – they check on you. Check this out: according to the solver, even the almighty pocket aces should go for a pure check here. No, messing around, just keeping it cool.
When you’re holding aces and the board looks sweet, slowing down the game might be the way to go.
Varied Bet Sizing
Remember that opting for a smaller bet size on an earlier street doesn’t mean you should shy away from going for three streets of value. Feel free to mix it up with larger bets and even overbets on turns and rivers.
Don’t limit yourself to consistently going small throughout; adjusting based on the situation is okay. If your opponent stays in the game after the flop and you sense an opportunity to capitalize, don’t hesitate to use those bigger bets on later streets.
It holds particularly true in smaller live games or micro online games with a wealth of value. Don’t feel bound by solver strategies; instead, focus on maximizing value over three streets, and don’t be afraid to be assertive with your bets on turns and rivers.
Deviating from the conventional small-bet approach in these games can often yield significant rewards.
Pocket Aces FAQ
Q: Why do some players have mixed feelings about pocket aces?
A: While pocket aces is the best-starting hand in poker, some players may have a love-hate relationship. Cash games’ undeniable power and reliability make them appealing, but the lack of action and psychological challenges, such as feeling entitled to win, contribute to the mixed sentiment.
Q: What is the recommended pre-flop strategy for pocket aces in cash games?
A: The default strategy is aggressive play. Always opt for isolation raises and 3-bets when facing a limp or open-raise from opponents. Avoid passive approaches like flat calling and embrace an assertive playing style. Continuing with aggression, including 4-betting and even 5-betting, is advised to maximize success with pocket aces.
Q: Should you slow-play pocket aces?
A: Pocket aces can be considered for slow playing, especially in cash games, but it should be done cautiously. Slow-playing is more effective when your hand is less likely to be beaten, but resist the temptation to do it often when your opponent would gladly put more money in preflop.
Q: When should one consider folding pocket aces post-flop?
A: Folding pocket aces postflop is situational. Recognizing situations where your opponent becomes aggressive on super-coordinated boards (like 4-straight and 4-flush boards that you don’t connect with) is crucial, signaling that your aces might not be in the lead. However, folding isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach; it depends on board texture and the opponent’s playing style.
Q: How should one approach betting with pocket aces postflop?
A: The goal is to seek three streets of value by betting all three rounds after the flop. Flexibility is critical in adjusting your strategy based on the board’s texture. While the three-street approach is ideal, be open to deviations if the situation requires it. Additionally, facing a triple barrel from opponents shouldn’t lead to folding if you’ve slow-played your aces preflop.