There are a few better feelings at the poker table than looking down at your hole cards to see pocket aces. Even before the action is to you, you’re probably envisioning a big pot coming your way.
But the cruel fact is: while pocket aces are the best starting hand in Hold’em, they don’t win all the time.
While it is never wrong to get as much money into the middle with aces before the flop, good players know when it’s the time to send them to the muck once those community cards are out.
On certain board textures, your preflop powerhouse can quickly turn into a pile of sand.
Taking the stand with pocket rockets every single time is not advisable, especially when you’re playing deep. While this hand is widely loved in the twoplustwo nvg poker forum, it is just one pair at the end of the day, and your opponents will out-flop you every now and again.
The secret to how to play pocket aces correctly includes the ability to fold your hand when it seems like you beat.
Pocket Aces before the Flop: The Best Starting Hand
One of the main reasons players struggle so much with folding pocket aces is that this is the best starting hand that you can find in every poker cheat sheet.
If you had the opportunity to get all in before the flop every single time, you couldn’t go wrong with this hand.
It’s never wrong to put all your chips in the middle with pocket rockets before the flop is dealt.
On average, you’ll win about 85% of all your preflop all-ins with this hand. Exact percentages against specific hands vary, and your chances of winning against multiple opponents are smaller than in heads up pots – but multiway pots are also bigger.
Pocket aces are an especially big favorite against hands that you’re likely to get all-in against preflop, such as:
- AK, AQ, and other suited broadway hands: around 85%
- Big pocket pairs (TT+): around 85%
- Pairs between 22 and 99: around 80%
So, your winning percentage with AA in preflop all-in battles is bound to be very high over the long run.
Math is very clear here. But No-Limit Hold’em involves three more streets of betting, and as more community cards are dealt, the relative strength of any starting hand, pocket aces included, can change significantly.
How to Play Pocket Aces after the Flop
More often than not, especially in cash games and during earlier stages of a tournament, you won’t be able to get all the chips in the middle before the flop. You’ll raise or 3-bet, then someone will call, and you’ll go to the flop with all of the pressure.
This isn’t a bad thing per se, though, as you still have a very strong hand.
However, once that flop is out, there are many things you’ll need to consider with pocket aces.
Preflop is easy, as you are sure they can’t possibly have a better hand. On the flop and later, this is no longer a certainty.
In most scenarios, you’ll be the one with the preflop lead in these spots unless you decide to play your hand in a super-tricky way. Usually, though, you’ll be the one putting in the last bet before the flop is dealt.
When the first three community cards hit the board, your default plan should be to continue betting.
You’re going to continue bet with a large portion of your range anyway, so there is little incentive to not do it with a hand as strong as pocket aces.
There are still some situations where you might want to consider checking:
- Dry boards containing an ace: if the flop comes something like 2 A 7, you should mix in some checks. You have the board dominated, and there aren’t many hands in the opponent’s range they could continue with.
- Highly coordinated boards that you don’t connect with: if you have As Ac and the board comes 6h 7h 9h, you aren’t really looking to play a huge pot. Skipping a c-bet and controlling the size of the pot is probably the best course of action.
It’s really not that hard to learn how to play pocket aces if your opponents are happy to let you dictate all the action and size all the bets the way you see fit.
But that’s not how poker works in real life. When the heat is up, what do you do?
Playing Pocket Aces in Tough Spots
One of Hold ’em’s biggest problems is that you can’t see your opponent’s cards – it would make the game so much easier, wouldn’t it?
You are dealt black pocket aces on the button, 3-bet against a cutoff raise, and they call. The flop comes Q J 5 with two hearts. They check, you bet (as you should), and you get raised.
Already, things aren’t panning out the way you had planned!
What is the hand they’re raising with? Are they doing it as a bluff or for value? What kind of a hand are they putting you on?
You need to answer these and many other questions before deciding on your course of action – especially as there are two more cards to come, which can help you but can also complicate things further.
One thing you mustn’t do if you aspire to be a good poker player is think along the lines: well, I have aces, if they have it, they have it I am already pot committed. Just bad luck.
It may well be bad luck to lose with AA in the hole, but it doesn’t mean you have to lose your entire stack.
The best you can do in these spots is save some chips and find a good fold despite the fact you really don’t want to do it. But how do you get to the right decision?
Stack Depth Considerations
Taking the above example, if the opponent raises and you just have 10 or 15 big blinds behind, you’re getting it in. They have enough bluffs and weaker hands in their range to make this a very easy decision.
But if you’re sitting there with 100+ big blinds behind, things change a lot.
Correct decisions in poker can change quite significantly depending on the effective stack size.
There is so much money left to play for when you are deep, so you aren’t necessarily in a rush to get in with one pair. In fact, if your opponent isn’t very bad or they see you as a bad player who stacks off lightly, it isn’t likely that you’ll be able to get stacks in on the flop while ahead.
In the best-case scenario, you’re up against some kind of a combo draw and virtually flipping.
There is nothing wrong with slowing down here. Of course, you can’t (and shouldn’t) fold just yet, but you can call and see the turn.
With deep stacks, you won’t be committing yourself to the pot with the call, and you can decide how to proceed, depending on the turn card.
Ranges & Board Textures
Another huge factor that goes hand in hand with stack depths is the board texture and hand ranges.
Before you decide you’re ready to go all the way with your pocket aces, you need to consider the cards on the board and how these correspond with your opponent’s likely preflop range.
On top of that, against really good players, you need to think about what kind of a range they’re putting you on.
Depending on the preflop action and the board texture, you’ll need to figure out if your pocket aces sometimes need to find a way into the muck.
There are really no hard rules set in stone here as it’s all often quite situational.
Looking at the above example, your opponent can definitely have sets in their range once you get raised, and two pair with JQ suited.
This is the part of their range that’s currently ahead, and if you knew for certain they had one of these hands, you could easily fold.
But, on a board like Q J 5 with two hears, there are also quite a few draws they could have.
Since you’re not holding the key card (Ah), they could easily be raising you on the nut flush draw or some sort of a straight and flush combo (9h10h, 10hKh, etc.).
Folding to a single raise here is usually too week, so you’ll have to peel at least once, but if the turn card is a bad one, especially if it completes the flush, and your opponent continues to fire, you’ll need to be ready to fold your pocket aces.
If they didn’t have you before the turn, once the most obvious draw comes in and they keep the pressure on, you’re simply not going to be ahead often enough.
The final piece of the puzzle that will help you decide whether you should fold pocket aces is the kind of player you’re up against. You should combine that information with everything else described up to this point to make up your mind.
It’s much harder to fold pocket aces against crazy aggressive players with high VPIP poker stat who like to bet and raise with a wide range of hands.
If your tracker stats indicate you are up against a maniac, you’ll have to stand your ground.
Using the same logic, if you find yourself on a dangerous board against a relatively tight and straightforward player who’s coming out firing, it’s time to pause and think about your next step.
If they are the kind of player that just doesn’t get out of line too much, you mustn’t be blinded by the fact you have pocket aces.
Don’t trick yourself into thinking that this might be the one time they decided to do it with a hand as weak as one pair. More often than not, you’ll be proven wrong when the cards are on their backs.
Always Think Ahead
The key to being a good No-Limit Hold’em player is the ability to think about future streets ahead of time. You’re not making decisions in isolation.
When you call the flop, you need to be already thinking about different turns and rivers and what you’re going to do when certain cards hit.
The importance of this kind of foresight simply can’t be overstated in scenarios with pocket aces.
If you find yourself in a difficult spot and wondering should you call or fold, think about future streets and how many cards there are in the deck that you would like to see peel on the turn.
This can help you break the tie.
For example, you check-call on the board 6s 7s 8d holding two red aces. The turn comes 3d, which doesn’t change much, and you check to your opponent, who fires out a big bet.
If you call here, how many river cards are really safe for you?
With many bad rivers and the fact that you could already be behind, this is one scenario where laying down pocket aces might be the best course of action – especially if you have no reason to believe the player you’re up against isn’t too big on bluffing.
Once again, the key factor to think about here is the stack to pot ratio and how deep effective stacks are.
If you’re deep and your opponent is showing the willingness to play for stacks in this spot, think long and hard if this is the best spot you can find.
I’m not saying that you always need to fold pocket aces in these situations. Against more aggressive opponents capable of doing this with a pair + draw type of hands, you’ll still be happy to call them down or raise them on the turn.
But there is nothing wrong with folding every now and again, especially against tighter and more straightforward opponents.
How to Play Pocket Aces in Multiway Pots?
Another common scenario where folding pocket aces may become a real option is when you find yourself in multiway pots.
Ideally, you want to play aces heads up, but you won’t always get your wish, especially in live games where people love seeing flops.
For example, you make a raise before the flop and get three callers. The flop comes 7 8 J rainbow. It checks to you, you bet, and the player next to you makes a decent-sized raise. One player folds but the next one cold calls the raise. What do you do here?
There is always an argument for coming over the top with the aces and hoping you’re still ahead, but you don’t have to have such a rigid approach.
With the action described here, you’re likely against at least one hand that’s already ahead of your pocket aces. Sets, straights, and two pair combos are all very realistic.
You might feel compelled to call and see the turn, but what are you really hoping to see on the turn (other than an ace)?
This seems like one of those hands that can get very complicated very quickly and cost you a lot of money.
So, there is absolutely no shame in folding.
With multiple players taking the flop, it’s really not that hard to believe someone has out-flopped you on this board.
Two players are showing strength and interest in the pot, and you’re no longer in control of the action.
Again, you might have a read that these players are very loose and wild, which can influence your decision. But if they’re straightforward and don’t have an Alligator Blood, there is a good chance you’re behind, and that chance is likely to increase even more with the turn card.
You don’t need to let the whole table know about your hero fold, either.
Keep it to yourself, and pay attention to the rest of the hand. When they show up with flopped sets or made straights, you’ll be silently patting yourself on the back for making the right decision, although it was a hard one.
Summary: There’s No Shame in Folding Pocket Aces
Pocket aces are truly a great sight to behold, and they don’t come around very often (not nearly often enough if you ask any poker player). So, it’s natural you are hesitant to let them go as you have no idea how long it will be before you get them again.
But Hold’em is a dynamic game, and things can change very quickly. What were the nuts just seconds ago can quickly turn into a mediocre hand or a mere bluff-catcher.
If you want to know how to play pocket aces right, you need to understand and accept this fact.
If cards don’t fall your way and you find yourself in the spot where everything seems to indicate your preflop powerhouse has been brought down, there is no shame in folding.
And yes, you’ll make the wrong fold sometimes – but that’s fine as well.
While you shouldn’t make a habit out of folding aces, giving up in certain spots like those described in this article is okay. Just give yourself enough time to think about the situation, Poker Tracker 4 stats and all relevant factors before you decide.
At the end of the day, it’s just one hand in hundreds of thousands of hands you’ll get to play over the course of your poker playing career. Don’t get married to it!