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Let’s focus on Ace-rag in the hole while playing Texas hold’em.

Is it a good starting hand – one in which you should invest? Is it worth calling a bet or a raise?

Every poker player loves to see an Ace among his two hole cards. From what I have observed, it seems that many, if not most, recreational Texas hold’em players are inclined to play any-Ace (A-x), including Ace-rag. That’s one Ace and a 7 or lower for the other card – the “Kicker.”

It happens quite frequently. I see it every time I play. Occasionally, depending on the board and with lots of luck, the Ace-rag will take the pot; but much more often, it’s a loser – second-best. Instead of a profit, it can easily cost a stack of chips – or more.

It is quite understandable that poker players adore Aces. After all, it’s top card in the deck. But there are so many ways that a single Ace in the hole can be beat.

Don’t love them to death – especially Ace-rag. Use the Hold’em Algorithm to help you decide if your A-x hand is playable.

It depends on several factors, including value/rank of both cards, betting position, any raises, number of opponents in the pot, and table texture.

Let’s illustrate with a series of typical situations.

Both you and an opponent have been dealt one Ace in the hole. With four Aces in the deck, it’s not uncommon for more than one Ace to be dealt out among the players’ hole cards, especially at a full table.  Recently, I saw three players dealt an Ace in the hole – and the fourth Ace fell on the board on the river. In such cases, each players’ kicker card can make a big difference.

By way of example from a late position, you stayed to see the flop with Ah-5d (an Ace-rag) in the hole when you saw that it was a multi-way pot with no raises before the flop. That’s the Hold’em caveat.  Unbeknownst to you, an opponent was dealt Ace-Q. Assuming no other player makes a better hand, consider the possibilities when playing with such starting hands:

1. Neither of you catches a card that matches either kicker. In that case, assuming the kicker “plays,” you lose to your opponent’s higher kicker (his Q versus your 5).

2. Each of you catch a card that pairs-up your kickers. His higher kicker-pair (Q-Q) wins the pot. Your hand is a costly second-best.

3. Another Ace falls on the board. You both have caught a pair of Aces. At that point, one or both of you might have raised; he may have even re-raised you.

Even if you knew he was a tight player, you probably would be inclined to call him all the way to the river. It’s hard to muck a pair of Aces.

Once again, assuming the kicker “plays,” his higher kicker beats you.

4. If an Ace falls on the board, the only way your Ace-rag can beat his higher A-x is if you also pair your small kicker and he does not, plus no pair higher than your small pair falls on the board, That won’t happen very often.

In summary, Ace-rag is a very poor starting hand. I know it is so beautiful to behold; exciting to peek at an Ace in the hole, and so tempting to play top card in the deck.

It’s only natural that you would like to invest to see the flop – and many players do just that – no matter the kicker.

Should the flop include another Ace, the opponent with the bigger-Ace in the hole will almost always take the pot because of his higher kicker.

When you are dealt Ace-rag, use your self-discipline to dodge the temptation to stay to see the flop. More often than not, improving on the flop will only serve to keep you in the pot, investing your precious chips until you lose on the showdown.

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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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