Poker: Don't bet on aces to win all the time

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The Independent Culture
THE AIR has been thick with hard-luck stories in the Victoria casino's Festival of Poker these past few days. A record number of entries confirms the popularity of poker tournaments in London, which attract players from all over the country; 144 players went in for the pounds 100 pot limit Hold' em event on the opening night, from which it more or less follows there were 143 hard-luck stories. Prize money totalled pounds 23,900.

A large number of hard-luck stories concerns the best hand you can catch at Hold' em, which is of course a pair of aces. This hand will stand up most of the time. 'No hand will win more pots or more money no matter how many people are in the pot,' notes David Sklansky in his definitive booklet on Hold 'em. Because everyone knows this, players tend to go mad on aces and stick all their chips in, regardless. That is bad policy. Aces do lose, some of the time.

The right technique is to raise, or re-raise, a pair of aces against a full table. You need to thin out the opposition, because aces play better against fewer hands (as distinct from four straights or flushes which need a larger number of opponents to justify the odds). Obviously if you have only a small amount of chips, you go all in.

But playing off a big stack, it is a mistake to commit all you've got

before the flop, with the risk of being busted out of the tournament if it goes wrong. If several players call the raises, it is far more prudent to hold back, and take a look at the flop. Some flops are very bad for aces. For instance, Q-Q-3 or even a lone king has probably made someone trips; likewise 7d- 8d-10d or 10-J-Q look very threatening. If you think your aces are stranded, better to fold and live to fight another day.

Suppose first prize in the tournament is pounds 10,000. In effect, that is the potential value of your chips which you are giving up or saving. If two or three players have been calling or re-raising the pre-flop bets, they have got something. Your aces may still be winning, certainly. But is it worth risking everything on that chance?

Even strong players make this mistake. They go all in on aces before seeing the flop and then find themselves outdrawn by a miserable lower pair like 4s or 5s. If it happens that way, hard luck. You can go around telling everyone how you got outdrawn. And you have a whole year to think about how you might have played the hand more sensibly.