ACES! DON'TCHA love 'em? Here are two examples from a low-level game of Hold 'em, blinds pounds 1, pounds 1, pounds 2, which I encountered recently.

First to speak after the blinds, I found (A-A) in the hole and checked. Normally you always bet aces to narrow the field. But in this case, in a very tight game, I knew that if I bet under the gun I would get no action. Four callers. Down came the flop.

(As Ah) Ad 9c 3c

Again I checked! And Joe, a good Hold 'em player, bet the pot, pounds 10. One other player called. I was sure at least one of them was drawing to a club flush, so I had to make him pay for the privilege. I raised pounds 30. Joe considered, and raised me back pounds 50. The only other player left in folded.

"How are you playing?" I asked Joe - meaning, how many chips had he got left? "Very well!" he said jocularly - adding, "About 200." "OK, there it is"; and I set him in. Joe thought about it. He knew I was a tight player but in that case, would I have checked aces wired at the start? Not likely. So he called. I was fearing a club flush but it turned out he had trip 9s. A very hard hand to put down in the circumstances.

The next case did not turn out so well for me. Again I had aces wired. This time I bet a fiver on the opening. It was a fairly loose game and my raise was routine. Cedric, a player even tighter than me called. The flop came down:

(Ad Ah) Qs 7c 3c.

Cedric bet a tenner, which surprised me. He had to have something to test the water that way. I put him on a flush draw. I thought my aces were good and raised him back pounds 30. Knowing him, I expected an immediate fold.

But Cedric took a quick peek at his cards and reraised pounds 90. Now I was in trouble. An ultra-tight player like Cedric, reraising me, betokened a strong hand. I was convinced that, since he hadn't bet before the flop, he must have come in on a pair of 7s or 3s and had now hit trips. So I threw my aces away.

A while later, feeling smug at my clairvoyance, I asked Cedric if he had held trips 7s or 3s. He looked at me slowly. "All right, I'll tell you the truth. I had ace-queen with two clubs." Ouch! Cedric's chances of hitting his flush on the turn or river card were about 2-1. So I was a fairly big favourite. In fact he wasn't bluffing - he thought that his top pair with an ace kicker was winning.

As I remarked, aces: you gotta love 'em, no matter what.