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Mind Over Poker

by David Apostolico |  Published: Oct 01, 2009


The strongest possible starting hand seems to present an endless discussion of preflop play. Ask 10 different poker players and you’ll get 10 different opinions on how to play pocket aces. Of course, there is no single right answer, and as it is with just about every question in poker, the correct answer to how to play pocket rockets preflop is, “It depends.”

It depends on the countless situations in which you could possibly find yourself when you look down and discover that you’ve been dealt two glorious aces. To discuss all of the potential situations is well beyond the scope of this column. Instead, I’d like to concentrate on one troubling aspect of this hand that I see quite frequently: Many players fall in love with pocket aces.

It’s easy to understand why players fall in love. They’re going to be dealt that hand only once every 220 hands. There’s an instant adrenaline rush at first sight. The initial thought to go through your mind is not whether you’re going to win the hand, but how much you are going to win. Thus, the courtship begins. There’s a tendency to overlook obvious and glaring flaws in that initial gaga stage. Infatuation strikes, and long-term consequences be damned. Being in love is at odds with being rational, objective, and, most importantly, emotionally detached; and those very qualities are critical to achieving success on the felt. When we lose our objectivity, our hearts — and aces — get cracked.

Pocket Aces

I know a cold-blooded poker player who plays fundamentally sound poker. He is a very good post-flop player who knows when to attack, when to let up, and how to price players out of draws. Rarely will you see him chase if he is not getting proper odds, and seldom does he offer his opponent the opportunity to draw at a fair value. Yet, he insists on always slow-playing aces preflop. He always limps, regardless of the situation. His rationale is that since pocket aces are so rare, he wants to maximize the value when he is dealt this hand. The most important thing to him is getting action and holding on to the object of his love a little longer.

Well, here’s the thing. With certain exceptions, the idea is to get money into the pot when you have the best of it and force players to pay to draw. With pocket aces, you have the best hand preflop. There’s something to be said for disguising the strength of your hand, but if there are no preflop raises, you’ll have a hard time determining what your opponents have, as well. Almost any flop is a potential danger to you.

Now, our buddy who likes to slow-play pocket aces preflop always bets them hard post-flop. This fits into his regular game of playing good hands strongly and not giving opponents free cards. Let’s think about this. Our buddy completely understands the concept of pricing players out of draws post-flop. He makes them pay a premium price on the flop and the turn to see one more card. Yet, with pocket aces, he is not concerned with making his opponents pay preflop. In fact, he encourages them to see three cards without paying a premium.

Love is often blind. Rather than remaining objective and emotionally detached from those aces, our buddy falls in love and is ready to go to the altar no matter what develops after that initial attachment. Spade Suit

David Apostolico is the author of several poker books, including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. He is available for lessons, and you can contact him at