Thursday, 25 July 2013

Playing Pocket Aces in Limit Hold’em by Joseph Falchetti

Pocket aces, the best starting hand in Texas Hold’em can be played a variety of different ways. In this article, we’ll go over the things players need to know when playing AA in Limit Hold’em. The strategy in Limit Hold’em differs wildly from its no-limit counterpart and so does the optimal way to play AA.

Limit Hold’em is not simply a game of stringing bets together when you think you have a strong hand. Instead, the game is much deeper on some levels than No Limit Hold’em and has been called by many of poker’s top players as the tougher game.

A Game of Small Edges

Unlike NLHE, Limit Hold’em is a game of small edges, one that you can punish your opponent by making him put in more bets with a worse hand. Many expert no-limit players hold large edges over the worse players in their games. While profitable LHE players also hold considerable over their opponents, the edges are a lot smaller due to the nature of LHE and the number of hands that go to showdown. Fold equity is normally lower in the game and players are often involved in more pots and more players see the flop.

LHE players have all been in games that nearly everyone sees the flop and where the action is crazy loose. This does not bode well for your aces as the more players that see the flop, and the worse your odds are to win with AA.

You Can “Protect” Your Hand

Many poker players scoff at limit poker and insist that, “You cannot protect your hand!” and constantly complain about suckouts. This could not be further from the truth. While aces are just a 30% favorite against all other hands if we played out a single hang out from flop to the river, this does not tell the whole story. 

Yes, you will lose with aces more than two-thirds of the time, but that does not mean you will not be making a profit off the hand. Every player is profitable long term with aces, and while you will lose often with the hand against a large field of players – the amount of bets you make in the hands you win will more make up for your losses. Your overall net should be quite high with aces, and if it isn’t you are doing something seriously wrong.


The vast majority of LHE games have a four bet max pre-flop betting limit. Normally, the betting is “capped” when the fourth bet or raise is put in, and the betting cannot be pushed any higher during that street. However, this normally changes when the betting is heads-up. Players can then bet and raise an unlimited amount of times or until one of their stacks is gone, and they are all-in.

There is not too much to say about the basics of playing aces pre-flop in Limit Hold’em other than to get as many bets into the pot as you can. Always open raise with aces and do not limp, and if it comes back to you reraise or cap the betting if possible. Building a large pot makes it more beneficial for others to join the hand and to draw at later streets, but when you take down the pot it also helps you take home a sizeable profit.

With aces,  we prefer 1-2 opponents rather than 3 or more, but we cannot stop them from entering the hand. So, we have to charge them as much as we can to enter the pot with their worse holdings.


Again, for the most part, if you have aces and you feel like your hand is the best you should be betting and raising. This does not mean you throw out your poker knowledge and reads because you have the best hand and simply blindly bet and raise. Use your own judgment, look at the board for possible draws and still try to figure your opponents range.

Experienced LHE players know that betting is not always the proper move, even if they feel they have the best hand. If you think your opponent has nothing and missed his draw, then you should still check to him on the river. Your mindset should not change just because you hold pocket rockets.

Pots in LHE can get big quickly if there is a lot of betting and raising, which can make folding a mistake even if you are almost certain your aces are beat. Sure, if there is a lot of betting action back and forth between other players in later streets and you only hold your pair of AA unimproved, then you must fold.

However, even if you think are you are beat, trying to make it to showdown is normally a smart idea in a large or even medium sized pot. For one, your opponent could be on a bluff. The board could also counterfeit a hand that has currently has you beat, such as two pair or you could end up drawing out on him. While your chances are slim to draw out or win at showdown in many cases, it helps make the decision to continue a lot easier if the post is large. 

This advice is appropriate for any hand in LHE, not just pocket aces. If the pot is large and it is relatively easy to get to showdown in the later streets, it is probably worth sticking around till showdown. Folding a winner in those situations is a much worse mistake than paying a few extra bets in a large pot but losing.

Slow Playing (Sort of)

There are few times players will want to slow play their aces in LHE, either pre-flop or post-flop. When a player hits a set on the flop with AA in a large multi-way pot, there is no better feeling. Most of the time, you will take home a sizeable pot in this situation and your best strategy is just to bet and raise as much as possible.

A situation where you might want to cool your jets is when you’re out of position or heads-up against someone whom you think missed the flop completely. Checking in front of or behind a dry flop is fine in some situations, even if you have hit a monster hand like a set, particularly in heads-up situations. Especially, if your opponent is aggressive and you think they might stab at the pot if you they think you are weak. You can then raise them once they bet. If they had nothing, and were just looking to bluff, then you have gained a bet you otherwise would not have gotten if you had just bet into your opponent.

During the pre-flop betting round, higher level players have mixed up their games and have started to not cap aces pre-flop in heads-up pots. The reason for doing this is to add some deception to your hand. If you do not cap pre-flop, your opponent certainly cannot put you on aces.

This works especially well if he has a highly ranking second best hand such as KK or QQ. If by chance you both hit your set, there would be no reason for your opponent to suspect that you have aces, and with a second best set, he may put in a large number of bets in without the slightest inking that he might be behind. This move sacrifices an initial bet pre-flop but can earn the bettor several larger bets (or more) at later streets.

Final Thoughts

Playing AA in Limit Hold’em is not a complicated process by any stretch. Getting the most bets into the pot while ahead is the goal for the most part, but players still need to think logically about the game and not just bet blindly without thinking about other factors.

About the Author:
Joseph Falchetti is a professional poker player and gambling writer. Skilled in both cash games and tournaments, Joe also has an excellent knowledge of the ins and outs of the online poker industry. He has been published by and has written hundreds of articles on a variety of topics. Joe resides in Pittsburgh, PA where he can found at the local poker room or spending time with his fiancee and dogs.


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