Ace-rag poker strategies tend to vary

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Larry Flynt’s Lucky Lady Casino recently hosted our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group and guests to an exciting Texas hold’em limit tournament. I took third place and my poker buddy, Byron Zimon was the top winner.

One of the players asked me to write a column about playing Ace-rag suited in limit hold’em. First, let’s understand how best to play any hand that has a single Ace in the hole. Every poker player loves to see an Ace in the hole. Two Aces (pocket Aces) would be much better but that’s very rare (one out of 221 hands dealt).

On the other hand, Ace-rag is quite common. (A “rag” is any card from 7 down to deuce.) Ace-rag is a Hi-Lo hand – one honor card and one rag. Many hold’em players always play such hands; we disagree.

Based on probability, one out of three times, you can expect to have your A-rag pair one of your hole cards on the flop. If it’s a pair of Aces – that looks so pretty. But your kicker is so weak; any opponent with an Ace in the hole probably has you out-kicked.

With two more Aces in the deck and eight opponents in the game, it’s quite likely one of them also has an Ace in the hole – and almost certainly has a higher kicker. Your second-best is bound to be costly.

Pair up the rag; your Ace is a great kicker, but – with eight opponents in the game – one or more is likely to hold or catch a higher pair. Another loser!

With Ace-rag offsuit, muck your cards, with two exceptions:

One, you are the Big Blind and there are no raises before the flop. You get a “free” card.

Two, if you are the Small Blind, it’s OK to call the Big Blind – provided there are no raises and it’s a multi-way pot. We call that the Hold’em Caveat.

You have been dealt A-4 clubs. The main reason for paying to see the flop is in the hope of catching the nut (Ace-high) flush. Play it only if there are no raises preflop and it’s a multiway pot.

Much depends on the texture of the game and position. If there are aggressive players who often raise, muck your hand. Best would be if you were in a late position and could see if there were any raises before you must act.

It might even be OK to invest a full preflop bet if you are in a middle or late position — if the Hold’em Caveat applies. An opponent’s raise would make it too costly as an initial investment.

How can you be sure there won’t be a raise after you call to see the flop? Look to your left for a tell. Especially in low- and middle-limit games, players are wont to pick up their chips in preparation for making a bet before it’s their turn to act.

An opponent gathering enough chips for more than a call bet, likely plans to raise it up. A 2-bet is just too much to warrant a call with A-rag, even if suited.

If there are “maniacs” at your table (they love to raise), don’t waste your chips; move to another table.

You are hoping to catch two (or more) clubs on the flop. The odds are much against it, but – if you hit the flush, it could lead to a highly profitable hand.

With luck, you flop two more clubs for four to the nut flush. If you don’t improve on the flop, plan to fold your hand – unless you get a free card.

Now you need just one more club; and there is a reasonable chance to complete that flush on the turn or the river. The odds against you are only 1.86-to-1.

What’s more, the pot odds are favorable; and, with several opponents contributing to the pot, the flush could make a huge win for you when you connect.

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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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