by Tony Dunst
Few experiences in poker rival the excitement of looking down at pocket aces. Anyone can look smart by winning a big pot with aces, but the skill in playing them well comes from knowing how to maximize your value, disguise the strength of your hand, and minimize your losses if someone draws out.
The video between Sorel Mizzi and Freddie Deeb is a good demonstration of that first point, maximizing value. The pre-flop and flop action in the hand are rather obvious; Sorel raises, Freddy calls with , and then calls a bet on the flop. Some would check when the lands on the turn, but Sorel knows there’s plenty of hands in Freddy’s range that are still behind, so he makes another bet. That also bloats the pot, so in the event a safe card lands on the river, Sorel can get paid on a large bet (and check behind when more threatening cards land).
Disguising the strength of your hand is particularly important with aces because so many players have trouble doing it; they make calls or raises that they would never make with any other holding. Some players only limp late in a tournament with one hand: aces. Or they 3-bet tiny with aces, but make large raises with every other holding. Or they flat-call a raise with 10 big blinds when they’d shove or fold everything else. Plays like these are a great way to tell anyone paying attention exactly what you have. And since there’s so much upside to cracking aces, people will find opportunities if you communicate your hand.
The last key element to playing aces well, is minimizing your losses when you sense that you’re cracked. Because aces are the best starting hand, many players acquire a certain ‘attachment’ to them, or feel that they ‘deserve’ to win with aces. Those sentiments will get expensive if your hand has been cracked and you can’t find a fold. Take the hand between Freddy and Sorel; although Sorel bet the turn for value, I think he was intending to fold had Freddy check-raised (which he likely would’ve done with better hands, such as a straight or two pair). If you’re paying attention to hand ranges, then you should know which turn and river cards help you and which hurt…and if the river hurts enough, check if you have the opportunity, and fold if you’re facing a huge bet.