Hot to play pocket aces
October 17, 2017 3:00 AM
by George Epstein
It’s always exciting to be dealt pocket Aces (A-A) while playing Texas hold’em. It’s a rare experience; you can expect to be dealt that only one out of 221 hands on average. So cherish the occasion; make the most of it.
Perhaps because A-A dominates all other possible two-card combinations, we all hate to lose with it when we are fortunate to be dealt it in the hole. Of course, it can and will sometimes fail to win the pot for us. Have you ever heard a player, shaking his head from side to side, and declare, “I always lose with pocket Aces”? (It may be true. Wonder why?)
Fact of the matter, A-A may be a favorite to start – but it won’t always take the pot at the showdown. You can count on that. Considering the makeup of a deck of cards, probability law tells us your pocket Aces is about an 80 percent favorite over each other starting-hand players hold at the table. If there are three opponents staying to see the flop, then the chance of winning the pot is approximately 80% x 80% x 80% or about 50%. You can expect to win about one-half of such hands. With a fourth opponent, your pocket Aces has nosedived to the status of underdog; it will lose most of the time.
You are not powerless. You don’t have to just sit back in your chair and pray to the poker gods that your pocket Aces holds up until the end. Don’t rely on pure luck to keep the lead; that would be strictly gambling – unnecessarily. What steps can you take to “encourage” some of your opponents to muck their hands? (Note: Everyone would like to see the flop. At that point, each player would be able to see over 70 percent – 5 out of 7 cards – of his final hand.) With fewer opponents, the odds substantially improve your chance of retaining the lead.
The most obvious strategy is to raise the betting. But, remember, position makes a big difference. By raising from a late position most likely you will build the size of the pot but force out very few, if any, players who have already bet or called a previous bet. On the other hand, by raising from an early or middle position, you may get most of those behind you to fold their hands.
Reducing the number of opponents still in the hand – reducing the size of the playing field – RSPF, as I call it – to three or fewer opponents, gives your pocket Aces a much better chance to hold onto the lead. That’s your goal! To the extent this strategy is successful, you are bound to remain a significant favorite.
And, there is yet one more significant action you can take to further enhance your chance of thinning down the field: Use the Esther Bluff. That’s a way to get your “message” into your opponent’s brain, convincing him to fold his hand and save some chips. This tactic is described in some detail in my most recent book, “The Art of Bluffing.”
In brief, it helps you persuade your opponent, as he concludes: “He has me beat; best I fold and save my chips for another hand when I have a better chance of winning the pot with a better hand.” In a sense, it’s akin to effective bluffing. The Esther Bluff is a powerful tactic.