Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.
Let’s continue this series of entries in which I get to both ask the questions and answer them. By doing it this way, you’ll be happy, because I’m fully prepared to respond. And I’ll be happy, because nobody will embarrass me with off-topic questions about boxers or briefs.
By the way, the answer to that one is whichever I happen to grab first when I blindly reach into the drawer. I get asked that literally hundredths of times every year. You’re right, I said “hundredths,” not “hundreds.”
We’ve dealt with 15 questions so far. Today we examine poker tactics involving aces before and on the flop in hold ’em.
Question #16: What exactly is a poker tactic?
I’m not sure. Some people insist, probably correctly, that there’s a big difference between a strategy and a tactic. A strategy is an encompassing, usually long-term, plan to achieve a favorable goal. A tactic is a single method for accomplishing a specific immediate objective. You could quibble with that definition, and some readers probably will.
Until recent years, I’ve sometimes used the term “strategy,” when “tactic” would have been more appropriate. My bad.
Today, when we handle questions about hold ’em tactics with aces, we’re yielding to the vocabulary police and talking only about decisions we make in quest of quick success in the course of a poker hand.
Question 17: When you’re in early position with aces before the flop, how do you decide whether to raise or just call?
A lot of experts advise that you should randomize, so that astute opponents won’t be able to predict how you play. That’s not bad advice, but it’s unlikely that many opponents will ever be able to predict how you play aces, based on past performance.
That’s because you only get a pair of aces in an early position about once in 20 hours, on average. Unless opponents play against you regularly for a long period of time, it’s doubtful that they’ll be very confident about how you play aces early, even if you do the same thing every time.
Still, it probably doesn’t hurt to mix up your play and raise about twice for every one time that you just call. Fortunately, there are better ways to choose a tactic, rather than just randomizing.
I always begin with a standard tactic and make exceptions. My usual decision is to raise the required double-the-big-blind amount in a limit hold ’em game and to raise a little more than the minimum in a no-limit game. For instance, if it’s no limit and the blinds are $100 small and $200 big, then I’ll tend to raise to $450 or $500 under the gun holding aces.
Fine. But when do I vary from this?
If a lot of players waiting to act are very loose, I’ll often just call and invite them into the pot. While some players believe you want to protect aces by chasing players out of the pot, that doesn’t turn out to be the best choice.
Aces are your biggest profit maker by far. And they usually make the most money when competing against up to four opponents. Yes, you’ll lose more often when more players compete, but overall you’ll make more money. And that’s what matters.
Also, I’ll regularly just call if very aggressive opponents are immediately to my left. What I’m hoping for is that they’ll raise and other players will call.
Then, when it gets back to me I can re-raise. In a no-limit game, I’ll seldom move all in at this point, but I will make a substantial reraise — large enough that I’m hoping to be called.
If aggressive players are in late positions and loose players are between us, I’ll sometimes just call, hoping the loose players will also call and then one of the late players will raise. If that happens, I’ll usually just call the raiser, hoping to make the loose players feel comfortable calling behind me. I seldom want to chase those players out.
Sometimes if I just call and only one player competes by raising, I’ll just call again. I especially like this tactic if the raiser is aggressive. Then I’ll usually try for a check-raise on the flop.
The secret to knowing how to play aces from an early position is to survey the opponents waiting to act. If they’re either very loose or very aggressive — or a combination of both — I tend to just call.
Otherwise I routinely raise. If you do it that way, you’ll increase your long-range profit beyond what you’d earn by just mixing up your decisions at random.
Question #18: What should you do if you flop a pair of aces and see three suited cards on board?
Usually, it’s a mistake to play aces timidly when three suited cards flop. If you hold A♣ Q♥ and the flop comes A♦ 10♦ 4♦, your main risks are that someone holds ace-king or flopped a flush But you shouldn’t check in deference to those fears.
Why? It’s because there’s a much more likely disaster that confronts you. That potential tragedy centers on a player having just one more card matching the suit on board and making a flush on the turn or river.
By betting aggressively — the required amount in a limit game or a substantial bet (but not too big that you can’t fold to a raise) in a no-limit game — you often chase away opponents with low-ranking flush cards. That’s exactly what you want to do.
They frequently fold these small ranks because they fear that someone else will hold a larger flush, even if they connect.
The second reason that you should bet is that you want to charge your opponents a price for their flush attempt. You don’t want them to get perfect odds by seeing if they can connect for free.
This advice may seem obvious, but you’ll see players — even sophisticated ones — check routinely in this situation. When you flop aces with a big kicker and see three suited cards on board, you should almost always bet (or raise) unless there are compelling reasons to do otherwise.
Someone’s at the door. I’ve got to go. Sorry. — MC
Next self-interview: Pending