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How often would you expect an Ace to fall on the flop when you hold a big pocket pair like K-K?

To be sure, that’s of much concern to smart hold’em players. If an opponent has been dealt an Ace in the hole, then an Ace on the flop gives him top pair, overwhelming your pocket Kings. At that point, your pair of Kings, pretty as it may look, has only two outs to regain the lead it held before the flop, by catching a set — a huge long shot.

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If you knew for sure that was the case, then continuing in that hand would be chasing. And we all know that chasers are losers. Indeed, it could be a very costly chase to the showdown for you.

So, what are the odds that an opponent holds an Ace in the hole when an Ace falls on the flop? Of course, it’s more likely to happen at a full table than with just a few players. In fact, according to Thomas Green, retired math professor and poker math expert, who wrote the “Texas Hold’em Poker Textbook,” at a full table of nine players, approximately 72 percent of the time, an opponent will hold a second Ace in the hole — assuming that you do not have an Ace.

The odds are over 2.3-to-1 that your K-K is a poor second-best at that point. Even with just five players at the table, about 60 percent of the time expect an opponent to hold a second Ace in the hole.

On that basis, it would be prudent to carefully consider how you play your hand from there on. But it’s hard to throw away that beautiful pair of Kings staring at you when you peek again at your hole cards.

Here’s where knowing your opponents can pay off. For example, if a tight player in an early position opens the betting on the flop, you can be almost certain he has an Ace in the hole. Believe him! Fold your pocket Kings — and save your precious chips.

There are exceptions, however. If an opponent who you know is wont to bluff or use other forms of deception opens the betting, chances are he is trying to force you to muck your hand by representing a pair of Aces. In that case, if there is no raise, calling to see the turn makes good sense. But fold if the bluffer’s bet is raised by another player. The more raises, the more likely at least one opponent has an Ace in the hole.

What if a very loose player opens the betting? Such a player is likely to be a chaser; he is anxious to see the turn. And then, when the turn didn’t help him, he may call again to see the river — no matter how few outs he has.

If he is not raised by another opponent along the way, your pocket Kings may still be in the lead. Call and pray that is the case.

The same applies if you hold Q-Q, J-J, 10-10, or any other pair in the hole. Any card on the flop higher in value than your pocket pair puts you on the wrong end of the probability scale. You’ll need to have a huge pot to overcome those odds; otherwise you have a negative expectation. And that’s a situation that begs for you to fold your pocket pair.

The exceptions here are if the betting is checked to you, take advantage of the free card. It could bring you a beautiful set — a likely winner. And there’s no cost to you.

Of course, it is also possible that the flop brought you a draw to a flush and/or to a straight. In that case, with all those additional outs, calling to see the turn would make good sense.

The bottom line is other than these exceptions, if you have much doubt in such a situation, it is better to err on the side of being overly cautious — rather than chasing.

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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