Same Hand, Different Game Vol. 5: Middle Aces


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.


Middle Aces – A Time And A Place


Generally the Middle Ace – which means A-9 through A-6 in this case – is a hand that can usually be mucked without much sadness. A strong player will definitely release this hand with any action in front of him and, even if the situation allows a player to limp into the action, it is only in specific circumstances that the Middle Ace can even be thought about being played. In some games of poker, however, Middle Aces can be a sneaky hand to drop on your opponents and can even sometimes give the impression that you are a loose player – exactly the type of image you want to have when you play stronger hands.


Texas Hold’em


The Middle Ace in any form of Texas Hold’em is a hand that can only be played when you have the position to do so. In addition to the position, you normally would want to have it suited to give you the opportunity to go for the nut flush, which is the best way that the Middle Ace is guaranteed to win a pot.


The danger in playing the Middle Ace is twofold. If you flop your Ace, it is possible that you could be playing from behind against a stronger kicker. If you’re playing an A-8, for example, there is a possible likelihood that you could be going against someone playing a bigger Ace (A-K or A-Q) and, as such, will be drawing extremely thin in hitting your kicker. Unless you can guarantee that your opponent is sitting on a big pair (pocket Kings or Queens), you have to tread lightly and keep any pot small. If you flop your kicker, the dangers increase. Many a player has lost a significant amount of chips playing their top pair-top kicker against a pocket pair that beats them. Once again, the pot must be kept small to minimize any potential losses.


The other way to win the pot – and it is not a guaranteed victory – is in flopping two pair. This is a very rare occurrence as it will happen only about two percent of the time and there is a better chance ( about 1 in 8 ) that a player will hit a set with any of the flop cards but especially the non-pairing card on the flop. Players also have to be concerned about an opponent making a better two pair on either the turn or the river, such as an A-K or A-Q hitting a King or Queen. As you can see, there are problems and dangers in playing the Middle Ace so controlling the pot size and betting is crucial.


Omaha Hold’em


Middle Aces suffer from the same issues that face the hand in Texas Hold’em when you move into Omaha Hold’em. Because more cards are dealt out, the likelihood of hitting your two pair becomes miniscule and you probably won’t win against players sitting on Big Aces. The logical course of action is to only play the Middle Ace in late position and for a cheap call. In this case, it has to be suited and a player can only continue playing when there is a great opportunity to make the nut flush or already have made it. Be prepared to get away from the hand if the board pairs, however. Pairing of the board in this situation could spell doom for your hand as an opponent could be sitting on a pocket pair and eclipsed your nut flush with the boat.


The Middle Ace can be a winning, but risky, hand if the game is High-Low, however. An A-7 or A-6 can be eligible to take half the pot if someone who is playing a Small Ace (such as A-2 or A-3, for example) fails to make their low. If an opponent is holding an A-3 and the board runs 3-5-6-J-Q, then an A-7 or A-8 will steal half the pot. Most of the time, however, the Middle Ace will only get a player in trouble if only playing for half the pot and it is best to send the hand into the muck rather than waste chips chasing only half the bounty.




In Razz, the Middle Ace actually has more options to play than in either of the community card games. Because the object of the game is to build the low hand, a Middle Ace such as (A-6) 8 can be a strong starting hand. Remember though that the low card to look at is the highest card of your string; it doesn’t matter that you have an Ace, if an opponent is able to make a six low and have 6-5-4-3-2, then your seven low with the Ace, as in a hand such as 7-5-3-2-A, is insignificant.


This is another of the many mistakes that many newcomers to Razz will make. In thinking that their Ace is the low (and winning) card, many players will play down to the river, even making raises in some cases, and then stare incredulously when the pot is shipped to their opponent.


Always remember that the low in Razz is based on your highest card, such as in our example above, and not that you have an Ace in your hand.


Seven Card Stud and Seven Card Stud High-Low


In Seven Card, the Middle Ace is arguably the worst hand to be playing with. If the first three cards come (A-6) J rainbow, for example, there is virtually nothing that a player can work with; there is no way to draw for a straight – unless three of the next four cards come to make Broadway – and trying to make two pair out of such a motley holding most likely will not win the hand and calls for a great expenditure of chips. The only way such a setup can be valuable is if all three cards are suited. If that is the case, then a player has a good opportunity to draw for the nut straight but still must be mindful of what opponents are showing in their up cards and count how many of their suit is still in play.


With High-Low, there is a bit more to work with. A player has to make an eight to qualify for the low and a hand such as (A-6) 8 would be something that could be played. If, however, Fourth Street brings anything other than a card to push you a bit further to the low, be prepared to muck the hand and move on to the next deal.


For either regular Seven Card Stud or High-Low, the perfect hand to have the Middle Ace with would be (A-x) y, with both the ‘x’ and ‘y’ cards being eight or lower and the three cards to be suited. Even a hand such as (A-8) 8, or any other pairing of the off cards, would need serious help and, if other Aces or another of a player’s paired cards are being shown in the up cards of your opponents, there is no reason to play this hand.




For the most part, the Middle Ace is a hand that can only get a player in trouble. While there is a time and a place to play the Middle Ace, for the most part it will only draw problems for any style or experience of player. Unless the perfect storm hits when position, the Middle Ace being suited and the board or, in the Razz and Stud games, is cooperative, a Middle Ace is not a hand that should be taken to battle in most any form of poker.


In the next part of this series, we will look at the Small Ace. After looking at the Middle Ace, some might not think that they are useful. In the right game, however, the Small Ace can be quite surprising in its abilities.


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Earl Burton
Earl Burton is a veteran journalist in the poker industry, having covered the game since 2004. He has played the game much longer, however, starting out playing in family games at a very early age. He has covered tournaments across the United States, including the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker and various charitable events. Earl’s background includes writing for some of the top poker news sites in the industry as well as other poker media outlets that include Poker Player Newspaper and Canadian Poker Player Magazine. Earl keeps an unblinking eye on the poker world, offering coverage of news from the industry, tournament action, player interviews, strategy and his opinions on the game. Whenever possible, Earl will also step to the tables to demonstrate that there’s more than just writing talent behind his poker game!


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