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Mind Over Poker

An All-Ace Flop

by David Apostolico |  Published: Jan 08, 2010

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I was playing in the last event of the recent U.S. Poker Championship when a rather odd hand transpired. It caught me by surprise, and I ended up asking a lot of friends about it. The responses I received surprised me even more, while simultaneously reinforcing my opinion of how the hand in question played out. Sufficiently confused? OK, then let’s get to the hand.

Starting stacks are 5,000. On the fourth hand of the tournament, with everyone right around the original chip amount, I’m dealt pocket queens. The blinds are still only 25-50. The under-the-gun player limps in. It’s then folded around to me in middle position. I make it 200 to go. It’s folded to the under-the-gun player, who calls. The flop comes A-A-A. There is 475 in the pot. My immediate reaction is that my hand is good, but I’m still going to play small ball. There’s no sense building a pot in the event that he has the case ace at this stage of the game. I want to make value-bets that may get called or even raised by smaller pocket pairs. My thought process didn’t last long, however.
All Aces
The under-the-gun player goes all in. I was completely thrown for a loop. That play made no sense to me. If he has the ace, why go all in? If he has a pocket pair, he has to be worried that I have a bigger pocket pair or even an ace. Since I raised from middle position, he has to figure that I have some kind of hand. Now, I had never played with this guy before, so I had no idea of how tricky he was. My immediate reaction was to call, but this hand really deserved some thought, especially since I’d be eliminated if I was wrong. There was no gray area here. Either I was drawing dead or he was drawing close to dead.

The more I thought about the hand, the more convinced I became that he had to have the ace. First of all, the only way that he could know for sure that I didn’t have the ace was if he had it. If he had the ace, he could more easily put me on a pocket pair and entice a call from me. Next, if he had a smaller pocket pair and wanted to chase out a hand like K-Q, he could accomplish that with a much smaller bet. However, what really convinced me was that by going all in, he had to figure that I would figure there was no way that he had the ace. He was hoping that I had a hand exactly like the one I had, and that I would insta-call him and he would double up.

So, I folded, and I actually felt quite good about it. Our villain would end up being a very aggressive player who would build up a fairly large stack and then quickly lose it all. He ended up being eliminated in the third round. He played a lot of hands, and the only other time that I saw him make a huge all-in overbet was when he had the nuts. This only reinforced my judgment regarding our hand together. I would go on to make the final table, which also solidified my rationale.

However, what really convinced me that I made the right decision was the reaction to the hand of at least a dozen players I respect. When I explained the hand, all of them except one said it was an insta-call on my part. They were adamant that there was no way that he had the ace. Even when I explained my thinking, they insisted that there was just no way that he had the ace, and that I blew a golden opportunity. The one exception was a friend whose initial reaction was, “Of course he had the ace.” He didn’t even have to think it through. Well, if that great a percentage of players are convinced that he didn’t have the ace and it was an insta-call on my part, going all in with the case ace is a great play, as you’re going to double up the overwhelming majority of the time.

Now, if you are waiting for a definitive answer, I’m sorry that I don’t have one. I’ll never know if he actually had the ace or not. But, I will leave you with this: If you come flying out of the gate with a monster, you are guaranteed to face some opponents who are skeptical of the strength of your hand. Spade Suit

David Apostolico is the author of Compete, Play, Win: Finding Your Best Competitive Self. You can contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.