In poker, sometimes the hand you hold has differing capabilities depending upon the game that you’re playing. What would be a great hand in one form of poker will, in essence, be total junk in another discipline of the game. In this continuing series of articles, we’ll examine particular hands and what strategies a player should put in place because the same hand isn’t always the best in different games.
Big Aces – A Dilemma In All Games
For the most part, the Big Ace – which means A-K through A-10, in this case – is one of the most difficult hands to play in any poker game. The reason for this is that, in some disciplines of poker, the Big Ace can be a very wieldable weapon. Some top professionals, including Daniel Negreanu, have said that they prefer having a Big Ace instead of a premium pair because there are more outs to hit (six versus two) to making a better hand and more workability into straights. In other facets of the game, however, the Big Ace is completely worthless. Keeping in mind the game you’re playing, the Big Ace can be as much a help to you as it can be a hindrance.
Whether playing Limit or No Limit Hold’em, the Big Ace must be played judiciously. An A-K or A-Q can be played with a raise in front of you but, more often than not, it is a good idea to let an A-J or A-10 go when there is a raise. It is important to remember, however, that you need to hit the Ace when you are playing your hand; if you hit your kicker, be it the King all the way down to the ten, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment as your opponent could turn up a bigger pair than you have hit. Many a player has watched a stack disappear because he pushed his top pair-top kicker and run into that bigger pair.
If you hold a suited Big Ace (if you are playing one of the lower Big Aces, this should be the case), you need to hit two of your suit on the flop to continue playing if you don’t hit either your Ace or your kicker. With a draw to the nut flush, most of the time there will be the pot odds to make the attempt at the draw or at least see the turn. The perfect situation on a suited Big Ace is to hit an Ace with the two other cards of your suit on the flop; against a random hand, a suited A-K will win 92% of the time and still has a 30% chance of making the flush even if an opponent has flopped a set against it.
When there is a raise and a re-raise in front of you, the tactic to use depends on the form of Hold’em you are playing. In a No Limit game, the Big Ace should hit the muck immediately as, at the minimum, you are taking on another Big Ace and a pocket pair (it is also highly likely you are up against two pocket pairs with one being a premium hand). In a Limit game, though, you might want to take a look at a flop and see what develops. One of the bonuses of the Big Ace is that, occasionally, it can turn into a Broadway straight or, if suited, turn into a nut flush and take a sizeable pot.
The Big Ace can be a useful tool in Omaha Hold’em, especially when it is played in its Pot Limit format. When it comes to its High-Low variation, however, the Big Ace can lose a bit of its allure for play.
One of the most useful holdings in Pot Limit Omaha is A-A-K-Q double suited (A-J and A-10 can be played but, like in Texas Hold’em, it is preferable that they are suited before you even look to a flop). Because of the paired aces and the draw potential of the A-K and the A-Q (two Big Aces), this hand can be played aggressively pre-flop. The key to playing the hand successfully, as is the charm of Pot Limit games, is in what is done on the flop, turn and river.
If the board comes with no aces or paint, a player is left pushing his pair of Aces with no chance to draw into that straight (the flush is still a possibility, depending on the flop texture). This is, at best, a tenuous situation as Omaha is a drawing game; a singular pair will seldom win a hand. Consideration would have to be given to mucking the hand if the action gets hectic.
In High-Low, the Big Ace can be pursued if it meets two criteria: a) the Big Ace is suited, and b) the Ace has a low card to play with it. In this instance, something along the lines of A-K-J-2 (or trey) might be worth seeing a flop with. Raising with such a hand would be a borderline situation as other players may very well have your outs or hit the flop better than you do.
Because you want to gather the entirety of the pot, you actually are looking for the board to provide you with a Broadway straight and no flush or full house possibilities. Anything other than this goal is a risky option and needs to be analyzed fully before proceeding. Beware also the draw at the low pot; other players may also be there for that hand and you could end up quartering that, making it a losing proposition overall.
The object of the game of Razz is to build the worst hand possible. As such, the Big Ace is pretty much useless in this game. The only possible way to think about playing the Big Ace in this situation is if the door card of your hand is a deuce or trey. Something along the lines of (A-Q) 3 might be playable, dependent on your opponents up cards, and a player may actually steal a pot on occasion. Remember, though, that for this hand to be successful, three of the next four cards drawn must make the best low hand. That will rarely happen and players who pursue such draws normally do not last long in a tournament or a cash game.
Be prepared to drop any bluffs that you are running if there are several competitors for the pot and/or solid hands developing through the up cards. With the non-community card games, the information that is given through the up cards needs to be processed along with the capabilities of your hand to determine whether heading to Seventh Street is a profitable move.
Seven Card Stud and Seven Card Stud High-Low
In the Seven Card game, the Big Ace’s potential for outright larceny is at its best. With the Ace in the door on a hand such as (K-J) A, the Big Ace can steal hands outright because players are fearful of the potential for a gated pair. Even if someone decides to come along for the ride, the hand can quickly end if another Ace or a paint card falls on Fourth Street. Most logical players will not risk spewing chips against a (K-J) A-A or A-Q, unless they are rolled up and even then may not want to take the chance.
The Big Ace also has potential to draw at several big hands. Using the (K-J) A-Q example from above, a player is four-fifths the way to a Broadway straight and a good shot at winning the hand. If the Big Ace is suited and catches a couple of likewise suited cards, it is possible that the player will take the hand without the showdown because of the likelihood of catching that fifth suited card. As always, however, attention must be paid to the hands an opponent is building.
In High-Low, the same theory works from Omaha Hold’em. At the minimum you want to have the Big Ace with a deuce or trey to give you options on how to play the hand. Of course, the object is to scoop the pot, not split it. Thus, you always want to build to that Broadway straight with the backup plan being to make the low draw and halve the pot. If you fail to have any chances at either with the card that hits on Fourth Street (a holding of (K-3) A-9, for example), the cards should hit the muck at lightning speed.
The Big Ace can be one of the most versatile hands in poker and its potential for play across all the different games is nearly unequaled. The problem that most players have, however, is in hanging on too long to the Big Ace and realizing when they are beaten. Through skillful analysis of your opponents, the exposed cards and logic, a player can make an accurate determination as to whether to continue on in a hand when holding a Big Ace or letting it go and heading to the next battle. In the next segment of this series, we will take a look at the middle Aces and how in different games they can be used to their ultimate capabilities.