Pocket Aces – A-A in the hole – is the very best hand you could hope to be dealt. It is about an 80 percent favorite over each of your opponents’ hands. The laws of probability show it would be wise to raise preflop to thin the field; I call that “reduce the size of the playing field” – abbreviated RSPF.
Ideally, you would like to play against two or three opponents; then you are still the favorite. And, more likely the pot will be a decent one – in contrast to playing against just one opponent. With four opponents staying to see the flop, you may become a small underdog; and, even more of an underdog if more than four opponents see the flop with you. With the card odds of flopping a set of Aces about 8 to 1 against you, while you can certainly hope, don’t count on improving your hand. So, it is best to play against no more than four opponents.
You don’t have to be a pro to know this. Consequently, it is not at all surprising that just about every poker player will raise preflop with pocket Aces. You might call that the general rule. But, there are always exceptions.
There are times when you have A-A in the hole, and a preflop raise to RSPF is not the best choice. One such case is when you are in a middle/late position at a tight table (at which there is very little raising before the flop) and all the opponents to your right have folded to you. Now, your raise could very well force out all the other opponents. Wouldn’t that be a terrible waste of your pocket Aces? It may be a long time before you are dealt A-A again. On average, you can expect it just one out of 221 hands dealt. Playing 30 hands per hour, it will happen only once every 7 hours of play.
And, therefore, when no one has entered the pot before you, it would be wise to slow-play; just call to see the flop. Chances are the two blinds will then stay to see the flop. (Suggestion: If your table is so tight, it would have been wise to have changed to a different table before this.)
Remember that you would prefer to play your pocket Aces against two or three opponents so you are favored to win, and there also can be a significant number of chips in the pot.
Here’s another situation where it might be best not to raise before the flop: You are in a middle/late position with pocket Aces. There is a raise before the betting gets to you, and everyone else has folded. Considering you would like to play against two or three opponents, if you were to re-raise, it would be a three-bet for the players yet to declare; they and the two Blinds would likely also fold. Then the hand becomes heads-up – just the raiser and you. Sure, your pocket Aces probably will win that hand, but it’s bound to be a lot bigger pot if one or two other opponents – including the Blinds – stayed in. Reminder: Playing poker, your goal should be to win as many chips as possible, the more the merrier! – not just to win lots of hands.
Even if you do not re-raise, it is possible they all fold to your opponent’s raise. Then the hand becomes heads-up – just the raiser and you. Especially in a low-limit game, how can you make the best of this situation? You do have position over him; he must declare before you. He has no idea of the strength of your hand.
The fact you did not re-raise, suggests you have a decent starting hand but not likely a big pocket pair nor even a premium drawing hand. The best strategy: Slow-play until the turn; call his bet on the flop. But then raise on the turn when the bets are doubled (in a limit game).