Being brave when an ace flops in hold ’em

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2002) in Casino Player.

Most players eventually graduate from the novice stages of poker, during which they make too many calls, play too many hands, and are afraid to fold and thereby lose a pot they might have won. On graduation day, they begin to realize that the true profit in poker comes from making wise decisions and folding frequently.

They learn that being selective about which hands they play is critical to their success. And they discover that it’s okay to throw away hands that might have won, as long as the price of pursuing the pot is too expensive. Fine. The problem is that many of these graduates take it to the extreme and end up folding too often.

A good example of this is on the flop in hold ’em. I’ve seen disciplined players routinely fold hands with profit potential whenever an ace flops. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, but often it isn’t.

An example

Suppose you’re in a nine-handed no-limit hold ’em game, with blinds of $50 and $100, and the action transpires like this:

You’re to the right of dealer button, meaning there are just three players remaining to act after you — the player on the button, plus the two in the small and big blinds. Everyone folds. You look down at your cards and, gosh, you hold 9♣ 9♦. This hand can be quite scary if you’re in an early position or if others have previously committed to the pot. But there’s no doubt this hand has long-range profit potential right now, with just three opponents remaining and with $150 in blind money as an incentive.

Normally you should raise a bit more than the minimum, just enough to temp players holding larger ranking cards, such as king-jack to fold, but not enough to make yourself overcommitted to the pot should you encounter a big raise. Of course you should sometimes vary your tactics by just calling or by betting larger or smaller, but an appropriate wager here would be $250, consisting of $100 to call the big blind and a raise of $150. Let’s say you do that and everyone folds, except the big blind.

Now it’s just the two of you and the flop comes A♣ 6♦ 3♥. The player in the big blind position bets $500, slightly under the size of the pot, which was $550 after the first round of betting. Now, listen closely. Unless you’re quite sure your opponent would only bet with a pair of aces, two pair, or three of a kind, you cannot routinely fold. You just can’t. I know how much you want to stay out of trouble in no-limit games, but this is yet another example of bullephobia, suffered by so many experienced players striving to be prudent. The term means fear of aces, bullet (we don’t use the “t”) being another term used to describe an ace.

Don’t run

You just can’t run away from a no-limit pot every time an ace flops. In this example, you shouldn’t be convinced that the bettor holds an ace. And the likelihood of facing an ace with a substantial kicker is diminished by the fact that you weren’t reraised pre-flop, especially if this is an aggressive opponent.

Yes, I’d sometimes fold, especially if my opponent has no history of bluffing or seldom bets with small pairs. But usually I’d either call or make a moderate raise. Raise? Sure, let’s say you do that by making it $800 more. If you’re hit back with another raise, especially a big one, you’ll have to surrender. But your raise can do a lot of good.

If your opponent has bet daringly with two overcards, but no ace, as many aggressive players do, you’re forcing a fold when you might have gotten beat on the turn or the river. In most cases, you want to take what’s in the pot right now, because — even if you’re a slight favorite — you won’t average that much profit if the hand continues.

You might get called with a smaller pair, which is good, or you might accomplish something greater by chasing away a sensible opponent who actually does hold an ace. This can happen because you were the first-round raiser and, from your opponent’s point of view, an ace with a small kicker against your raise on the flop is troubling.

I’m not telling you to be reckless when an ace flops, especially if that isn’t the only overcard. I’m just saying that you can’t automatically fold or astute opponents will run away with your chips. Beware of bullephobia.

— MC

Published by

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.


10 thoughts on “Being brave when an ace flops in hold ’em”

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  1. Thanks Mike, I agree, moderate raise if a re-raise happens especially a big one, fold.

  2. As far as standing your ground with a very minimal hand against a bully at the table is not wise. A post Oak Bluff generally requires being able to beat seven or 8 high

  3. 1 dont you have anything new to post?
    2 of course I know the player plays ace 4 offsuit

    everytime I say not – he does

  4. Do you have any solutions for when you keep bricking every flop and your opponents keep hitting everything for hours?

    1. Hi, Jon — The only solution is to stop making “value bets” and play conservatively until you get better outcomes and your opponents perceive that you’re “lucky.” This has nothing to do with streaks or superstition, but has to do with the way opponents become inspired and play better when you’re losing.

      Also, just do your job and continue to make good decisions. Don’t worry about the rest. It’s not in your control.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  5. I learned early on how scary an ace on the board was, and how folding is one of the secrets to poker or NLH anyway.After awhile of playing pro I figured other people were just as scared as I was.So when aces or other scary things would flop, I would try to find a bet that would be scary to me, and bet it,and try to detect if my opponent was trying to scare me.Sometimes I would try test raises and test re-raises on scary flops, these things worked out okay or well or fairly well,since non worked out awful, that is over a long period of time, I would have to call it a success.

    On a technical note, do people get an e-mail when there’s a response to their comment on this site?I don’t believe I ever got a “thank you” like that other Daniel over there.I did get one on Facebook and that was very nice of you.

    1. Hi, Daniel —

      I just returned from teaching at WPT Boot Camp, so this is a little late. But, thanks for joining our Poker1 family. I don’t always get a chance to welcome everyone individually when they make their first post, so I didn’t mean to slight you. LOL.

      Great having you aboard.

      And, to answer your other question, e-mail notifications of replies isn’t currently an active feature.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

    2. That’s weird. I’m pretty sure that’s my comment up there. I used my real name? I’m apparently using on of your pics, too. Did somebody put marijuana in my coffee this morning?

  6. Mike that was very enlightening! I have been playing & reading every day now for one year and i did “graduate” to becoming a prudent player. Just as you described, I now routinely fold to a raise when an ace appears on the flop even if holding a pair of jacks. I see your point that our opponent did not raise before the flop as is normally done by a holder of AK or AQ, but then again it seems to be quite normal for AJ-A2 to just limp in. That is why i am always fearful of an ace on the flop.

    You make a good point though that many players are just looking to hit their silly King-Seven and would call down to the river hoping for a King. So your idea of a defensive raise does make sense to me. I will be thinking about this at the table.

    I played in a local “pub” final tournament yesterday and developed a fantastic stack. But when the blinds reached the 2000/4000 level, the cat on the button was stealing often, and
    this made me feel angry!

    Tired of being bullied by the button, i decided that the next time he raised to steal, then i shall defend no matter what!

    Well, he raised and i called with a lousy 7-4. After the flop he went all in and i thought “oh yeah!” so i shoved back “all in”.

    Ouch! He busted me!
    The good news is that i learned a lesson!
    Don’t try to defend your blind with a 7-4!

    So after ALL of that patience and successful trapping, i lost everything trying to stand down that blind stealing bum!

    I have no choice but to give myself an F- on defending my big blind. Please refer me to one or two of your excellent essays
    on this subject. Thanks! Daniel. Pembroke Pines, Florida.

    1. Hi, Daniel –

      Thanks for leaving your first comment and joining our growing community at Poker1.

      I’m not sure which entries to refer you to, relating to blind defense, but you can try using keywords in the search box on the right sidebar. (Also try “bullies” or “bully.”)

      Against the super aggressive player, you should call more, true. But as you correctly suggest, 7-4 is almost always a folding hand, no matter what. Additional, you don’t want to take a stand by being aggressive with poker bullies. Checking and just calling is the formula that punishes their mistake of betting too often.

      Good luck in your future poker tournament adventures.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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