McHaffie: MCU lesson 118 / Aces


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2007.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at diane@caro.com.


Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 118: Aces

When I first played hold ’em, I kept hoping to pick up a pair of aces. It never happened. So, I studied Mike’s math and discovered that I could only expect to start with aces once every 221 deals. At about 30 hands each hour, for every 7 hours and 22 minutes at the table, you’ll only average one starting pair of aces.

Then Mike taught me a more ominous truth. Even after waiting sometimes 15 hours or more to get those aces, they’d win less than half the time in the loosest games. That gave me the right understanding of hold ’em. Big hands were both rare and vulnerable. This dismal truth has kept me from being frustrated.

Despite their vulnerability, aces are obviously your most profitable hand. You can play them poorly or play them exceptionally well and you’ll still average a profit with aces. If you got them every single hand for the rest of your life, you’d be the biggest winner on earth, even if you make lots of tactical mistakes. The trick is to make the most money and lose the least, on the rare times you do hold aces.

One key is knowing how many opponents you’d like to play against. Many players like to protect aces by raising aggressively and chasing opponents out of the pot. That way opponents can’t get lucky and beat you. But that’s wrong.

Risky

Aces are more profitable against several opponents rather than one lone opponent. Of course, you face more risk, but that’s always outweighed by the profit you’ll average with more players participating. By being aggressive and eliminating players with aces, you’ll grab more pots, but the pay-off is going to be less overall.

Mike says that pre-flop with aces, he’ll often raise, but if you wish to be deceptive, calling is a good alternative. Aces is the only hand that you can expect to always survive the flop without being immediately worried. Of course, the flop occasionally can be a disaster for you — giving an opponent anything from two pair up to a straight flush. And you usually won’t know you’re in trouble until you face a raise. Most disasters happen on the turn or river cards. If you’re playing from early position before the flop, aces are the only pairs that you should often consider just calling with. With kings, you might very rarely just call for deception, but then you’ll have to worry about an ace flopping. Mike says to almost always raise with a pair of queens from early positions, hoping to play against fewer opponents. And you might not play smaller pairs at all.

Threatening

When you hold any pair smaller than jacks, you’re probably going to hate the flop. That’s because you won’t make a third jack and the flop will contain higher cards that opponents are likely to have paired. Clearly, if an ace comes with the flop, it’s cause for concern because there are three more aces in the deck that opponents could hold. But your opponents will be concerned that you are the one holding an ace. So, flopped aces can be threatening to both you and your opponents.

You should be less concerned when two aces hit the board, because the likelihood of an opponent holding an ace is slimmer. Only two aces remain that you have to worry about, instead of three — although if an opponent does hold an ace, you’re pretty much doomed. You sometimes can work his fear of your aces to your advantage.

Predictable

With aces, don’t be predictable. Raise often. But if you merely call, your opponents might play mediocre hands and you could profit. Or you could lose to hands you could have scared away with a raise. It’s your choice. Generally, you want to invite players into the pot when you begin with aces.

Aces are your friends and bring profit to your bankroll. They are the wonder cards that you wait and wait for only to get them stomped. It’s sometimes devastating! It’s sometimes exhilarating. But, that’s poker. — DM

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