My Aces got cracked!

by ~ December 1st, 2009. Filed under: Instructional posts, Poker psychology, Poker theory.


How often have you heard, or even said yourself,

  • Idiot! Calls my Aces with any two suited cards
  • I had his small pair crushed
  • How can he call preflop with that garbage?
  • Gapped connectors! They weren’t even suited!

First off, if you know that your opponent has AA, you should call with anything. AA is a 85% favorite over a random hand. That means that when you are playing a tournament and wait, wait, wait, for a hand and get down to 500 chips and the blinds are 50/100, don’t be shocked when you push all in with AA and the big stack with 4,000 chips calls with anything, and then wins. A random hand is supposed to win 3 out of every 20 times against AA.

If you’re playing a cash game and stack sizes are decent and you know your opponent has AA because he’s made a larger than normal raise and he always does this with AA, again you should call with anything. 85 suited, for example, is a 80 – 20 underdog to AA preflop. But unless he makes the raise absurdly big so that too much of the stack is in the pot (in other words you have minimal implied odds, not much to win postflop) you should call because if you flop nothing, you fold and you loose just a little. If you flop good, you may be able win very big, offsetting all the times that you simply fold on the flop.

This is the basis of the the strategy where you call nits with all kinds of pairs, connectors and suited cards, pays off. Nits are those players that play only their biggest hands but play them aggressively. If they’re only playing 4% of the time you know that they really have a big hand, but rather than just getting out of the way you should be willing to give them a few big blinds now and then in exchange for the chance to take their entire stack.

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Those are the statistical basics. But there are also the psychological aspects.

Doyle Brunson is reputed to have said that he’d rather have AK than AA, the reason being that AK is easier to give up postflop. I think it takes some time, some wins and some losses with AA before you start to get a feel for the power as well as the dangers of AA.

If you only play one table at a time, if you’re relatively new to poker, you don’t have a lot of experience with AA. You’ll only get it once in every 220 hands. Combine that with

  • beginner’s impatience,
  • general desire to play too many hands,
  • lack of understanding that AA is supposed to lose 15% of the time to a random hand,
  • fear of being bluffed or of folding the best hand,
  • natural excitement when you get a big hand,

and you see some of the additional barriers to giving up your AA.

Top this off with the human tendency to remember big losses, add in some frustration held over from the times that you raise preflop and everyone folds, or you raise, get one caller, bet the flop and he folds. That’s the way it is with big hands preflop; you win lots of small pots but they often don’t improve during the rest of the hand. If you’re betting all the way with AA and a good player stays with you, there’s a decent chance that you’ve lost. Wait to play another day, another hand.

Against a bad player or a calling station it’s a different matter; bet for value. But if the flop is T87, that’s a dangerous flop against a good player. Bet it, but exercise some pot control. If draws don’t come in you might opt to let him bluff at some point but be judicious.

Some players will tilt with AA. They remember the times that they lost or that they only won the blinds. They’ll overcommit with AA trying to force it to win. Or they’ll go the other way and try to slowplay by just limping preflop and then be unable to give up when the big blind flops a weird two pair. Limping AA preflop is a great way to give off huge reverse implied odds, where you’ll win a little when you win but lose big when you lose.

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AA is easy to play preflop; raise it up or re-raise if you have a raise ahead of you. It’s a big favorite preflop so get money in while you’re ahead. Don’t slow play AA unless it’s really appropriate, like you’re down to the last three players in a tournament or you have a hyper-aggressive player at your table. How hard to bet with it postflop depends on the texture of the flop and your reads on your opponents. It’s not going to win every time, but I think that every beginning player needs to experience lots of instances of both winning and losing with it to develop some confidence in playing it postflop.

My graph of results with AA, cash games only. Quite a few hands from early playing days are missing as well as games played from other computers, games played at sites that aren’t picked up by HEM, and all sit and goes and tournaments, but you get the idea. This graph is measured in big blinds rather than dollars so the stakes are irrelevant, though playing at lower stakes might also account for some of the early difficulties. 487 instances of having AA, winning almost 10 big blinds per instance, but most relevant to the topic is the general upward trend which, includes definite loses of various sizes in individual situations.

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