Stop Playing Your Pocket Aces Like This (Killing Your Results!)

Stop Playing Your Pocket Aces Like This

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Raise your hand if your pocket Aces got cracked in your last poker session (once again). 

Keep it raised if you feel it keeps happening to you all the time. Keep it raised still if it happens so often you start to think your poker site is rigged against you. 

If your hand is still up, you’re playing your pocket Aces wrong. 

Pocket Aces are the strongest starting hand in No-Limit Texas Hold’em poker, and should be one of the hands that make you the most money over the long run. 

So if you have a feeling you’re not getting your fair share of luck with them, it might be worthwhile to consider why that’s the case.

Spoiler alert: 

It has nothing to do with a poker room being "rigged" against you or the cruel poker gods (well, probably not at least!).

This article will show you what NOT to do when you’re dealt the pocket rockets, and what to do instead. 

It will also show you why they get cracked, and what you can do to prevent it in the future.


1. Never Slowplay Pocket Aces Preflop


The first mistake you should avoid when playing Pocket Aces is slow-playing them preflop. 

Slowplaying is an act of using passive actions (checking or calling) instead of aggressive actions (betting or raising) in order to conceal your hand strength or induce action from your opponents. 

If you aren’t playing mid or high stakes against skilled and aware opponents, chances are you’re better off avoiding slowplaying altogether, especially with strong value hands like pocket Aces. 

There are a couple of reasons you should play pocket Aces as straightforwardly as possible preflop.

First, and fairly obvious reason is extracting value. Statistically speaking, pocket Aces are the strongest starting hand in no-limit Texas hold’em. 


Here's Some Stats For You!

1) Pocket Aces have 85% equity (chance to win the pot) against any other random hand preflop. 

2) Against other pocket pairs like Kings and Queens, it has about 82% equity

3) Against Ace-King suited, it has a whopping 88% equity! 


So Pocket Aces has an enormous statistical advantage, so you want to take advantage of it as early as possible by putting in as much money in the pot as you can. 

If you are the first player to enter the pot, do so with a raise. If you have the opportunity to 3-bet (to raise against other player’s open-raise) or even 4-bet (to raise against other player’s 3-bet), do so.

This sort of consistent aggression from the very start of the hand by the way, is one of the most important proven ways to beat small stakes poker games, in particular. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you want to just shove all-in when you’re dealt Aces, of course. 

If you do that, you aren’t offering your opponents reasonable pot odds to call, and allow them to play perfectly against you.

Now, some people might object that betting or raising pocket Aces incessantly preflop makes you easy to read, and basically makes you play your hand face-up, so to speak. 

That may be true to a degree, but it’s missing the point. 

While every additional betting or raising action makes your perceived range stronger and narrower, it doesn’t mean other players will put you on exactly pocket Aces.

This is something that Nathan touched on in his recent "top 5 poker millionaire tips" video.

  
Mixing up your play is vital to your success against good players, but against basic level players, you want to keep things as simple as possible (i.e. just bet and raise your pocket aces every time!).

A lot of players are more than happy to stack off preflop with a bunch of other hands, namely other premium pocket pairs like Kings, Queens, even Jacks, Tens, or Ace-King (suited or not). 

And these are exactly the type of hands that will give your pocket Aces action. Remember, pocket Aces are a huge favourite to win against virtually any other hand. 

You also want to make your opponents make mistakes by overvaluing those other hands. Also, by playing your Aces aggressively, you deny equity to other hands that want to see the flop cheaply. 

While pocket Aces are a huge favourite against other hands, they are still vulnerable to getting outdrawn on multiple streets. 

By playing them aggressively preflop, you deny those other hands the opportunity to smash the board and trap you. 

This means you won’t win a lot of money if they fold preflop, but remember, it’s better to win a small pot than to lose a big one.

Another reason to bet or raise pocket Aces preflop is thinning the field and preventing multiway pots (i.e. a pot with more than two players involved). 

The more players involved, the bigger the chances of one of them smashing the flop and cracking your Aces. 

While pocket Aces have a huge 85% equity against a single random hand, against four opponents, for example, your hand equity plummets to only about 56%.

For much more on all of the exact math involved here, see my recent ultimate poker odds cheat sheet.  


2. Don’t Overplay Pocket Aces on Wet Coordinated Boards


Pocket Aces are the strongest starting hand in no-limit hold’em, so every time you put money in the pot preflop, you’re doing so with a huge statistical advantage. 

The problem is, it’s still only a one pair hand, and it’s vulnerable to getting outdrawn. This means you’re not automatically guaranteed to win the pot.

A lot of players make the mistake of getting overly attached to pocket rockets (or other premium pairs, for that matter), and disregard other factors worth considering.

This is one of the biggest reasons why it is so easy to consistently make $1000+ per month in low stakes poker games.  

As mentioned in the previous point, you want to raise pocket Aces preflop not just to extract value, but also to thin the field.

Wrong way to play pocket aces

If you play pocket Aces in a multiway pot your hand equity will be reduced significantly. 

The more players involved, the greater the chance of someone connecting with the board and making an even stronger hand combination than one pair.

Pocket Aces have the additional problem in the sense they will rarely improve post-flop, as there are only two other Aces left in the deck. 

If you didn’t manage to thin the field preflop and face a wet, coordinated board in a multiway pot, you have to be extra careful, as there is a decent chance of other players connecting with the board in some way.

A wet flop is the one where there are multiple ways for players to interact with the board, as opposed to dry board where there are very few ways to connect.

Let's look at a few examples to help illustrate this.


An example of a wet coordinated flop


QT♠9

Or:

7♣9♣T♣


An example of a dry uncoordinated flop



K♠83

Or

933♣


If you start getting action from your opponents on wet boards, the alarm bells in your head should start going off. This is especially the case on later streets, i.e. the turn or river.

In fact, this is one of the top situations where you need to fold pocket aces.  

You should also look out for potential straight and flush draws completing, or watch out if the board pairs. 

If your opponent check-raises you on the turn in such a scenario, chances are your pocket Aces are dead in the water. 

Don’t make the mistake of clinging to them just because you’ve already committed a significant chunk of your stack into the pot. 

Once the money is in the pot, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. Don’t throw good money after the bad. 

One of the things that separated the pros from the rest isn’t their uncanny ability to soul-read or pull off huge, daring bluffs, but the ability to walk away from the hand at any given moment. 

Don’t get too attached. To paraphrase Buddha: Attachment leads to losing money. And losing money is suffering.

This is also something that Nathan mentions many times in his popular "10 years as a pro" post.  


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3. Play Pocket Aces Carefully in Deep SPR Pots


Another reason to play pocket Aces straightforwardly preflop (i.e. bet and raise) is that it translates to a much more straightforward and simple play post-flop. 

This means that if you commit a significant chunk of your stack into the pot preflop, the rest of the hand will basically play itself due to the shallow stack-to-pot ratio (or SPR for short). 

As the name suggests, a stack-to-pot ratio shows the ratio between the effective stack size and the pot. 

If there are two players in the pot, the effective stack size is always the smaller of the two, because you can’t win more money than you put into the pot. 

The SPR is a very useful metric that shows us how committed you are to the pot. And I have already written the complete guide on how to use SPR in poker if you want to learn more.


But here's the gist of it:

The smaller the SPR, the more you are pot-committed, as you’ve already put in a significant amount of chips inside, and the more inclined you should be to play for the rest of your stack. 

The bigger the SPR, the less pot-committed you are, and should be less willing to play for the rest of your stack.

Yes, sometimes it is simply better to (*gasp*) fold your pocket Aces, like in this hand:


That is why it is important to understand SPR with pocket aces. Pocket Aces, and other premium pairs also, simply prefer small SPR pots. 

That’s because they are strong in and of themselves, don’t need to improve, and are happy getting the money in against a lot of weaker or drawing hands. 

Other speculative hands like suited connectors prefer much deeper SPR, because they need space to improve on future streets, and prefer bigger implied odds.

It’s important to mention that SPR is a preflop and flop metric. 

This means that you don’t calculate the SPR on future streets, i.e. the turn and river. Instead, the SPR calculated on the flop translates to the turn and river. 

If you are pot committed on the flop, you’re automatically committed on the turn and river.

If you play online poker, you can also use a good poker HUD, to rely on metrics like aggression factor (AF), to also help you know when to fold your pocket aces.  


So why is SPR so crucial for pocket Aces and other big pocket pairs? 


If the SPR is very small, like 3 or less, it means you are automatically committed to the pot with a top-pair hand or better, or with a really strong draw (like the nut flush or open-ended straight draw, for example).

This is actually one of the top beginner poker mistakes that I see. You need to understand these common math fundamentals of the game, especially in low stakes poker games.  

Since pocket Aces will always flop an overpair (a stronger pair than you can make with the flop cards) or better, it means you are automatically pot-committed in shallow SPR pots, so you should be willing to stack off your opponent as a default. 

That’s why the previous point about building up the pot preflop is so crucial. 

If you fail to build up the pot preflop, you’ll usually find yourself in much deeper SPR pots, which makes your Aces more vulnerable to getting outdrawn.

This is one of the biggest reasons that Nathan advocates an "over-raising" strategy in many small stakes games in Crushing the Microstakes.

It simply denies good SPR odds to your opponents. You must remember, that as strong as pocket Aces are preflop, it doesn’t mean you’re always guaranteed to win the pot with them.

Pocket Aces SPR

It's a very common situation to raise with Aces preflop, and only get a call from one or two opponents. This is called a single-raised pot (or SRP) and they have a much deeper stack-to-pot ratio. 

When you find yourself in such a spot, you should play your Aces more carefully, especially if you find a particularly wet board. 

You can usually still fire off a standard continuation bet (or a c-bet), except maybe on extremely wet boards that strongly favour your opponent’s range. 

By the way, a c-bet is simply a bet made by the previous street’s aggressor.

Of course, extra caution is needed if you are involved in a multiway pot, as it’s much more likely some player connected with the board.

There are many sections in The Upswing Poker Lab for example that do an excellent job of breaking down the math for this.

Now, this isn't to say you should give up the hand altogether, just because a lot of people are involved in the pot. 

Having an overpair on the flop is still likely to be ahead of the majority of your opponents’ range, and you still have a lot of showdown value. 

Showdown value means you can often win the hand unimproved at the showdown.

On the other hand, if your opponents start raising you on the big money streets (the turn and river) in a deep SPR pot, you may need to consider ditching your pocket rockets. 

The exception would be if you have a very specific read on your opponent which tells you they’re prone to making all sorts of crazy bluffs or tend to overvalue certain hands like top pair. In this case, pocket Aces can serve as a great bluff catcher. 

But as a general rule players don’t just go crazy in the middle of the hand if they don’t have something to show for it. 

So as painful as it might be, you’ll need to find the fold button. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to make too tight a fold than too loose a call. The former is far less costly.

Nathan talks about this in a lot more detail in his latest book, The Micro Stakes Playbook.


The Three Biggest Amateur Mistakes With Pocket Aces (Summary)


Pocket Aces are the strongest starting hand in no-limit Texas Hold’em, and it has a huge statistical edge over other starting hands.

And you don't need to be a math genius or study a bunch of highly advanced poker strategy to learn to play your Pocket Aces well. 

However, it is very important to remember that it’s still only a one pair hand, and it can be vulnerable in certain spots. 

This means your pocket Aces will get cracked from time to time. But to ensure it doesn’t happen any more than necessary, you need to avoid making some common mistakes.


First of all, you want to play your pocket rockets aggressively preflop for a number of reasons:

1) Most importantly, you want to extract as much value as possible preflop, while you are sure to have a statistical edge over your opponents. 

By failing to bet or raise preflop you’re leaving a lot of money at the table, and the added “deception value” rarely makes up for it.

2) You are preventing multiway pots. By thinning the field preflop, you reduce the chances of your opponents cracking your Aces. 

The more opponents, the bigger the chance of someone connecting with the board in some meaningful way, which reduces your hand equity substantially.

3) You are building a shallow SPR pot. Pocket Aces and other premium pairs favour small stack-to-pot ratio, as they are usually strong enough on their own and don’t need improvement on future streets. 

When you find yourself in a shallow SPR (3 or less) pot with an overpair, you’re automatically pot-committed and should usually be more than happy to stack off your opponent. 

Shallow SPR pots are also fairly easy and straightforward to play, as you don’t need to play multiple streets with complex decisions.

However, the fact you’re dealt pocket Aces isn’t a license to print money. You should be prepared to let the hand go if you suspect it’s no good anymore. It will happen sometimes. 

If you start getting a lot of action on the big money streets (turn and river), you may need to ease off the throttle, especially on wet, coordinated boards. 

Life is a lot easier when you can commit a large part of your stack preflop with pocket Aces. 

But oftentimes you’ll find yourself in single-raised pots with the majority of the stack left behind. In these situations, more caution is advised. 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t still play your Aces aggressively. It just means to be aware of the fact that single pair hands are vulnerable to getting outdrawn, especially in multiway pots.

By following these tips, your pocket Aces won’t get cracked any more than necessary. 

What they all have in common is urging you to remain vigilant and prevent overconfidence. There are many roads to ruin, but overconfidence may just be the quickest one. 

On that note, always make sure you aren’t dealt Ace-Four offsuit instead of Aces. The eyes see what they want to see, so always double-check.

Lastly, if you want to know my complete poker strategy for consistently making $1000+ per month, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Stop Playing Your Pocket Aces Like This