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Failing to Fold Aces

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Jan 02, 2019


One of my most memorable and disappointing hands comes from the final table of a $1,500 buy-in World Series of Poker shootout event. The payout structure was quite flat, meaning I had a real incentive to not get my stack in poorly or play recklessly.

With blinds at 6,000-12,000 with a 2,000 ante, everyone folded to the hijack, a generally straightforward recreational player, who raised to 28,000 out of his 800,000 stack. I (with 900,000) looked down at the beautiful ASpade Suit AClub Suit in the cutoff.

While I would essentially always three-bet with A-A in this spot, both the button and small blind were quite aggressive. They made it clear that they were trying their best to either win the tournament or go broke trying (which is actually the best strategy in a shootout during the earlier tables where you had to win your entire table to get a payout increase). Due to their maniacal tendencies, calling becomes a reasonable option. If one of them happened to three-bet, I would likely just call, opting to give them a chance to bluff off their stack on the later betting rounds.

I called, as did the small blind and big blind. The flop came KSpade Suit 6Diamond Suit 5Diamond Suit. The blinds checked to the hijack who bet 75,000 into the 128,000 pot.

Both calling and raising have merit. Calling keeps my range wide while also keeping all my opponents in with their marginal made hands and semi-bluffs. Raising forces the junky semi-bluffs to fold, as well as marginal made hands that are drawing thin. While raising to perhaps 175,000 may be best, calling keeps my range wide while also sidestepping the rare situation where one of the blinds raises and the hijack continues (in which case I would make a snug fold).

I called and the blinds folded. The turn was the 2Heart Suit and my opponent bet 225,000 into the 275,000 pot.

As on the flop, both raising and calling are viable options. The main problem with raising is that it may force the opponent to make a big fold with K-Q or K-J. The main problem with calling is that it allows my opponent to see the river with his draws (if there are any in his range). In general, when playing against someone who may think K-Q or K-J is good if I call but will fold if I raise, I tend to call.

I called. The river was the 9Spade Suit. My opponent went all-in for 472,000 into the 728,000 pot.

Yuck! I was unsure if my opponent would overvalue K-Q and K-J, as well as if he would bluff with his busted flush draws. He may just be a tight, straightforward player who is only betting K-K, 6-6, 5-5, and A-K for value. If that is the case, he has 9 combinations of sets and 6 combinations of A-K, allowing me to call due to the pot odds. I have the best hand 6/15 = 40 percent of the time but I only need to win 472/(472+472+728) = 28 percent. However, if he does not bet with A-K, then clearly, I have an easy fold. If he has any bluffs at all (such as busted flush draws), my call becomes mandatory. However, he may also have some number of 8-7 in his range, adding to his nut hand combinations. This is a dicey spot, but my read at the time was that my opponent would not bluff enough and would also not overvalue top pair. So, I should fold. Instead, my reasonable pot odds as well as the fact that my hand was drastically underrepresented controlled my action.

I called and lost to KDiamond Suit KSpade Suit, for top set.

While I was doubling up my opponent if I played this hand in any other way, the exact way I played it gave me the chance to make an epic laydown, but I failed to do so. What a bummer! After this hand, I got my remaining 10 big blinds all-in with Q-Q against A-8 and lost, resulting in me busting in ninth place for $21,360. Sometimes you get what you deserve. ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars at