Pocket aces success depends on poker skill

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Pocket Aces is a great starting hand, the best possible…but it is so rare.

On average, you can expect to see A-A in the hole just one out of 221 hands dealt. Make the most of it.

Pocket Aces is often called a “made hand” preflop, meaning it could win without further improvement. The key words here are “could win.”

The Problem

Sure, before the flop, A-A in the hole is the best hand; but it can be beat! You probably have heard players moan: “I always lose with pocket Aces.” It may very well be true. Ever wonder why? Answer: Most likely it’s because the losers just don’t know how to best play the hand.

There are two key factors – how many opponents stay to see the flop; what cards fall on the board, which is just a matter of luck (chance).

Players who fully understand these two factors are much more likely to win with pocket Aces.

No one has control over the cards on the board; but, you do have a “say” related to the number of opponents calling to see the flop. Pocket Aces is about an 80% favorite over every other player’s holecards.

Probability law teaches us that pocket Aces becomes an underdog – more likely to lose – against four or more opponents. Not understanding this law is bound to contribute to having your pocket Aces cracked.

The other night

It was a lively $4-$8 limit hold’em game with ½ Kill at the elegant Hustler Casino in Gardena, Calif. I was a bit behind, having suffered a couple of rivered losses. Holding pocket Aces in a middle position, I raised to thin the field. Three opponents and I saw the flop: Kd-8h-2s. Good so far.

While it didn’t help me with a third Ace (the odds were about 8-to-1 against that happening), fortunately for me, there were no straight or flush draws possible.

John, an aggressive, somewhat deceptive player in an early-position, came out betting. What hands might he have? A set was a long shot; more likely he had paired up. Since players like to see the flop with honor cards, I thought he might have a pair of Kings. If so, my A-A was still in the lead. I raised. As I had hoped, the other two opponents folded, leaving us heads-up when John called my raise.

The turn was a 7. John came out betting again. Could the turn have helped his hand? If he had flopped a set, he would have reraised me on the flop. So, more likely, the 7 had given him two-pair. At least, that’s what I tentatively put him on.

To “test the waters,” I raised his bet. Without hesitation, he reraised. “Oh, oh,” I thought, “I may be in deep trouble.” But I wasn’t about to give up on my pocket Aces, especially since I knew my opponent was an aggressive player and somewhat deceptive. But, he might have caught two-pair when the 7 fell on the turn, making my A-A second-best.

After calling his raise, I focused my attention on the dealer as he turned up the river card. It was another deuce, pairing the board. Now my hand had improved to Aces-up! Only a set could beat my hand.

Again he open-bet into me. Being cautious, in case he did have a set, I decided to just call. He turned up his holecards, showing two-pair, Kings and 7s. My Aces-up won a good-size pot. As I scooped up the pot, I thought: “Boy, was I lucky to catch Aces-up on the river.”

An opponent with A-2 in the hole had folded when I raised preflop. He told us he would have taken that pot with trip deuces when a second deuce fell on the river. That deuce saved me; but it sure would have been costly had I not raised and forced him out.

Luck? Yes, pocket Aces is a great starting hand, but it often needs some help.


“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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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