One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is how to play pocket aces. Many people are actually uncomfortable when they are dealt pocket aces, and losing with them doesn't help. Unfortunately, being dealt aces isn't a guarantee of a winning hand, but there are some ways to maximize winnings with the strongest preflop hand.
I could easily talk for an hour on this topic, as there are many factors to consider in order to play aces optimally. Let me start by trying to simplify the matter. It is extremely common for players to win small or lose big when holding big pocket pairs such as AA. Often, after you raise preflop or make a strong bet on the flop, everyone else folds, and you earn a small victory. Other times, you get connected to your aces and stay in all the way, only to run into two pair or better.
Most people are not satisfied with winning a small pot. Some players start to feel as if they aren't making enough money with such a strong hand, so they begin to play the aces a bit slower by limping in preflop and maybe checking and just calling a bet on the flop. Then, as they get to the turn or the river, they make their move and put lots of money into the pot.
The problem is, if you don't raise preflop, you're likely to be in the pot with four or more players - that shrinks the chances of your aces holding up. The biggest error after choosing this strategy is putting in large amounts of money on the turn or river with just one pair in a multi-way pot. There are times when the aces win, assuming you have a couple of players who are drawing and miss, or they have a lower pair, but the majority of the time you get creamed.
By playing aces strong with a preflop raise or reraise, you're accomplishing some positive goals. First, narrowing down the field will instantly increase your chances of winning. Second, other players will often be dealt hands that they deem extremely valuable, so they're willing to commit large portions of their stack preflop. If you raise with AA and get reraised preflop, you should always reraise again, as it is likely that your opponent is about to make a gigantic mistake.
Playing aces postflop after being aggressive with them early is fairly simple. If the board looks safe, continue betting until you meet resistance and evaluate at that point based on the player. If the board seems sketchy or another player looks extremely interested, then check-call or fold. Please remember: You have one pair!
Question: Scott, the odds of drawing a fifth card to a flush (nine available cards) are slightly better than drawing to an outside straight (only eight available cards). Why, then, does a flush beat a straight? - Bill B., Brooklyn, N.Y.
You need five of the same suit (for instance, 5h 8h 3h Jh Ah) to complete a flush, whereas there are many, many combinations of straights that can be made. There are 10,200 ways to make a straight out of 2,598,960 possible hands, but only 5,108 ways to make a flush.
Scott Fischman is a professional poker player who has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has accumulated more than $2 million in career earnings. He is also the author of the poker book "Online Ace." Send your poker questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Poker Pros will appear every week.