"Stuck" to an Ace

Playing Any-Ace in Holdem Could Be The Big Hole In Your Game

How many times have you played a hand like A-3 suited or A-J unsuited, what about A-4 unsuited, and flopped an Ace, but little else? What do you do now? These situations, in which a player gets "stuck to an Ace”, arise frequently in Limit Hold Em because in Limit, unlike No Limit, there is not usually a clear picture of how to proceed. In fact it is often correct to occasionally call with the worst of it. Let's assume we are discussing Limit Hold Em for the remainder of this article. Do you play the hand out and hope? Do you fold immediately and cost yourself a (potential) pot? This is one of the trickiest and most expensive situations that can arise during your Hold Em session.

One course of action is to plan, or visualize, what you hope to "achieve" by playing that particular hand. You could visualize completing a certain hand or attempting a bluff at some point later in the hand, which, if called, still has some potential to take down the pot. Most of the time, it is sufficient and extremely beneficial to visualize the hand you would like to achieve. That is, ask yourself, "What am I hoping to flop with these two cards?" Then ask yourself, "What will I do if it doesn't happen, but the flop contains a single Ace to pair the one I’m holding?" Usually, there is no need to ask yourself what you would do if your hand does materialize as you envisioned because it will, most likely, be a powerful hand and powerful hands have a way of playing themselves.

Let's go back to the starting hands mentioned at the beginning of this article and look at each one individually and examine them in the context of what was just discussed. We'll begin with A-3 suited. First, ask yourself what you are hoping to flop. In this case, there is more than one answer and they are all favorable. Suppose you get three of your suit. Well, now you have the nut flush. It's obvious you'll continue with the hand. Suppose you flop A-A-3 or 3-3-A? That's pretty self-explanatory, as well. Now, the more important of the two questions is what you will do if this doesn't happen, but an Ace does appear. For example, the flop comes with an Ace and three different suits or with a lone Ace and little potential for improvement of your hand. Now you are in danger of what I call "getting stuck to an Ace." In many cases, it is correct to give the hand up here in the face of a bet. More sophisticated plays are obviously an option, but we are trying to focus on a general "good" strategy (especially for tournaments) and are not that concerned, at this point, of milking every possible bet out of every possible situation or opponent. In a tournament, especially, folding is generally correct in this situation because your main concern is preserving your chips and not maximizing the value of your hand, as you would in a ring game.

Let's assume we are playing our next example hand, A-J unsuited. This is similar to our previous example, except that the nut flush is a lot less likely. Full houses would be nice, but are not likely either. An excellent flop for this hand would be the nut straight or top two pair, both of which are more probable results. Again, in just about all instances, we should go to the river with these types of hands. Now, the more important question…suppose you only flop one Ace? Obviously, you have top pair, but this becomes more of a judgment call and not an easy one. A Jack is not the best kicker and I think arguments could be made to either continue with the hand or fold. In this situation, a lot depends on the actions of your opponents and your "read" on them. I put this hand in the "very difficult" category along with A-Q and A-10 unsuited. As in many poker situations, there are no absolutes.

Our final example, A-4 unsuited is more similar to our first hand A-3 suited. Again, we can always get those monster full houses and quads, but with this hand we are hoping to flop a straight to the 5 or two pair. Even though our straight would not be the nuts assuming a flop of 2, 3, 5, very few players play hands such as 4-6. As in our A-3 example, if we flop one Ace only we should be looking for an opportunity to fold, especially if we bet the hand and get raised.

Finally, what about hands like A-6 through A-9? If they are unsuited, they are not worth playing and if they are suited, we should probably see the flop except in extreme circumstances. You might be saying to yourself, "I can't play that tight" or "That guy's nuts." Just go on thinking like that and I'll go on taking your money.

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