The Top 5 No-Limit Holdem Hands and How to Play Them -- #1 Aces

#1 Aces

Aces -- the best Holdem starting hand
Alvimann from morguefile.com

People always talk about their favorite hands -- usually ten-jack suited or a pair of eights or some other low srength drawing hands. For some reason almost no one says aces. Which is funny, because when I think favorite, I think best. And aces are the best. They are the highest possible starting hand and are going to win many more times than they lose. That being said, when played incorrectly they tend to win small pots and lose big ones.

So here's the guide on how to play them in a way that maximizes their value to you.

First of all, you must understand the difference between playing aces against a big field vs. a small one. In a heads up confrontation, aces cannot be any worse than a 4 1/2 to 1 favorite. That means if you can get it down to one person, you're going to win 85% of the time or better. It's not hyperbole to say that's a huge advantage. However, against a full table of random hands, you're only going to win 33% of the time. You still have the most equity in the pot (the other nine people split 67% equally for 7.4% each) but are a 2 to 1 dog against the field. That means the hand is still profitable, but you're now going to lose more often than you win.

So the first key to playing aces is to try to get the field winnowed down to a reasonable size. You want to raise and reraise and hopefully get yourself down to one opponent, because you know you are going to be a huge favorite against a sole person.

And if you happen to raise and just win the blinds, don't fret over it; that just means you probably weren't going to win a big pot anyway. People who worry about not winning a big pot with their aces are the ones who end up with the "win a small pot/lose a big one" problem. My friend, Chris "Fox" Wallace always says, "Never play a big pot without a big hand.

One pair is not a big hand." People who try to trap pre-flop with aces end up letting people in cheap and then paying them off big with an unimproved overpair post flop.

In fact, doing a lot of raising preflop works not just to narrow the field; if you get enough of your stack in preflop against a single opponent, you can no longer lose!

Look at the math. If you are at worst a 4 1/2 to 1 favorite preflop, then if you get a quarter of your stack in preflop, you can automatically shove the rest of your stack on the flop and it won't matter. You've laid your opponent 3 to 1 when they're at least a 4 1/2 to 1 dog. They cannot make a profit on the hand long term. And if they're not making a profit, than you are. And that's an automatic win.

In reality, if you get 10% of your stack in and play well post-flop, it's going to be very difficult for them to make a profit off of you, especially if you are in position.

If you don't manage to thin the field, then you must be very cautious with Aces post-flop. They don't tend to improve, and if a ton of money is going in, you're unlikely to win with just a pair. Don't be afraid to fold, and for sure don't show that you're folding Aces. You don't want people to know that you're capable of that.

And the next time someone asks you what your favorite hand is, tell them, "Jack-Ten suited," so they don't know the truth.

The Whole Top Five:

  1. Aces
  2. Kings
  3. Queens
  4. Ace-King
  5. Jacks