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Suppose I asked you: “What is the best starting hand you could hope for in a game of Texas hold’em?” Most likely, you quickly replied: “That’s a no-brainer. It’s pocket Aces!”

Of course, and I think everyone agrees. But, did you know pocket Aces (A-A) can easily become a big underdog – even before the flop is placed on the board? That’s a fact. And, we all know an underdog is more likely to lose than to win that pot. And that would cost you money! It can and does happen. Yes, your beautiful A-A could cost you a big bundle, unless…

In case you didn’t know it, the number of opponents staying to see the flop makes all the difference – all the more so at a full table of nine or ten players. I’ve written and lectured about this many times: Your A-A is about an 80 percent favorite over each of your opponents. (Notice I underlined the word, “each” for added emphasis.)

The laws of probability teach us, as the number of opponents staying to see the flop increases, your A-A loses much of its value. The obvious response is to reduce the number of opponents in the hand. But, if you force everyone to muck their hands, you won’t win much, if any, money. And after all, isn’t your goal to win as many chips as possible – not just to win hands?

Most often, your A-A will not improve. The odds are about 8-to-1 against flopping a set. All things considered, it would be prudent to thin the field to two or three opponents. Then you are still a favorite to win, but there will be some money (chips) in the pot worth vying for. Four or more opponents spell danger; you become an underdog. Underdogs are bound to lose more often than win.

Being dealt A-A in the hole is quite rare – only one out of 221 hands. On average, you might expect to look down at two Aces in the hole about once a session. Don’t squander the “gift.” Welcome the A-A to your hand and protect it as best you can, while – at the same time – trying to be sure there are enough chips in the pot to help build your stacks when it holds up to the end.

How can you best reduce the size of the playing field – forcing out opponents – to increase the chance your A-A will keep the lead? Isn’t that essentially what you do when you pull off a bluff? I refer you to my book, “The Art of Bluffing.” (See ad below.) Apply some of the concepts, especially the Esther Bluff tactic, and avoid displaying any of the bluffing tells described therein.

Preflop, if you are in a middle or late position holding pocket Aces, and two or three opponents have limped to see the flop, just call along – especially when the game is tight. On the other hand, if the game is quite loose, boldly make your bet/raise from any position.

Here’s an exception: Always look to your left before acting. (Do it unobtrusively.) If you see an aggressive player pick up chips for a raise, just limp along with the others. After he makes his raise, when the action gets back to you, make a big re-raise to further build the pot size.

In that case, while you did not thin the field down to two or three opponents, the pot odds will have increased enough to overcome the higher card odds against you when four or more opponents stay to see the flop. You have a Positive Expectation.

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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