The truth about aces in hold ’em


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2007) in Casino Player.


I hate it when I begin one of my columns with statistics. I must decide whether to restructure the column or to simply mention, like today, that I hate it. I need you to think about this…

I teach that there are three classes of starting hands in hold ’em, consisting of 169 categories. Class A is for pairs, covering 13 categories ranging from ace-ace down to deuce-deuce. The remaining 156 categories are divided into 78 Class B hands, which are cards of the same suit, and 78 Class C hands, which are unpaired cards of different suits. The categories within those B and C classes range from ace-king down to three-deuce.

It’s important to understand that not every one of the 169 categories has the same chance of being dealt to you. There are 1,326 possible exact-rank, exact-suit starting hands that fit into those 169 categories. Specifically, any Class A category (a specific rank of pair) has six members, any Class B category (specific ranks of two suited cards) has four members, and any Class C category (specific ranks of two unpaired, unsuited cards) has 12 members.

Odds

So, the odds of being dealt any category of hand are:

Class A (such as A♣ A♥, 7♠ 7♣, or 4♦ 4♣): 220-to-1 against;

Class B  (such as A♥ 7♥, J♠ 10♠, or 8♦ 2♦): 330-to-1 against;

Class C (such as 9♣ 4♦, A♥ K♦, or 7♦ 6♠): 110-to-1 against.

There’s only one best starting hand, and obviously it’s a pair of aces. And at a slow-moving nine- or 10-handed no-limit hold ’em game with 22 or so deals per hour, you can figure on getting this hand only once in 10 hours of play. So, how powerful is a pair of aces?

In terms of money earned, a pair of aces is up to 50 percent more profitable than a pair of kings – the second-most profitable hand! That’s a big difference.

Even so, a pair of aces wins less than half the time if you give five opponents random cards and deal through the showdown. Since aces are so rare, but lose so often, it’s understandable that players sometimes come unglued when – after an all-day wait – they finally get aces, only to suffer a tragic outcome.

Let’s say you have aces in an early position. Should you raise big and try to limit the field of opponents, making it less likely you’ll be drawn out on? Or should you just call or, perhaps, raise small, inviting opponents in. Well, it turns out that in most circumstances, you’ll make more money confronting three or four initial opponents than just one or two. But it requires steady nerves to invite opponents in, knowing that the more who accept the invitation, the more likely you are to lose.

Advice

You’ll win much more often by chasing players out when you hold aces, but you’ll earn less money. I’m not prepared to give you a “perfect” formula, but here’s what I teach. Unless game conditions dictate a different solution, when you have aces early, raise two-thirds of the time. If it’s a no limit game, a standard-size raise of about two-and-a-half times the size of the big blind seems to produce excellent results. One third of the time, I recommend just calling.

So, how do you decide which times to raise and which to call? You might base your decision on your opponents’ traits. But if you don’t have a clue at the moment, try this: There are six possible exact-suit combinations of aces. Only two (one-third) are of the same color, using a traditional two-color deck (A♣ A♠ and  A♦ A♥). If  those are your aces, just call and be deceptive. Otherwise raise.

It’s a formula that will serve you well whenever you’re in doubt. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

7 thoughts on “The truth about aces in hold ’em”

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    1. No, Anmol.

      Although you’re repeating well-meaning “expert” advice that both you and I have seen in print and heard many times, it’s wrong.

      There are many instances when limping is better than raising. You should especially limp if weak, loose players that you don’t want to chase away are waiting to act behind you OR if aggressive players who like to raise are waiting.

      This isn’t guesswork. Millions of hand simulations show that limping can be the more-profitable choice. But when you’re in doubt, it’s often safer to raise.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

    2. You can slow play aces:

      *) Up front, call and reraise if it gets back to you.

      *) In the back row, just call if nearly everyone has passed. You already have the narrow line up of opponents that you’re trying for by raising with aces. Keep ’em guessing as to what you have.

      *) If a lot of players are already in: you’re not gonna get rid of too many of them with a raise. Call, see if you can flop something like three aces, take ’em for a lot of $$$$.

      *) Call from any position, regardless. Take Mike’s advice to increase risk to increase reward.

  1. Ligitpoker: seems a waste of all that good maniacking to limp aces… if you’ve set it up to look like you are aggro with crap, then being aggro with something good might be a lot more deceptive than suddenly slowing down and getting everyone at the table’s attention…when a LAG limps at my table, I always assume he’s holding a premium pair. Not sayin’ you’re wrong, just sayin’

  2. I dont feel that choosing arbitrary reasons for limping or raising AA is actually correct. Why not adapt? If you have been passive and calm (TAG) then raise it up, if you have been a maniac, just bluffing a previous opponent or looking like a maniac (LAG) then you can Limp! It depends on the dynamics and your image, not the cards.

    1. Hi, Ligitpoker —

      Thanks for contributing and joining our Poker1 family.

      I completely agree with you, as you’ll see by reading many other entries I’ve written on the topic of resolving borderline decisions by considering how your opponents play.

      That’s why I was careful to include, “But if you don’t have a clue at the moment…” in my advice above. If you can use other intelligent factors to decide, you should always do so.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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