Three Reasons You Lose Money Playing a Single Ace

Isabelle Mercier
A-x: Looks so good; plays so bad.

If you're new to poker, or don't book wins as frequently as you feel you should, there's a good chance one of your costly leaks comes from playing a single ace.

Being the most valuable card in the deck, the ace's siren song can be too much for many green poker players to resist.

But how and when you play the hands A2 - AJ can make a world of difference in your short- and long-term results.

Poker's a game with no simple answers. Aces are valuable cards, and as such you don't want to automatically fold every time you're dealt just a single one.

But if you're losing money playing them the way you are, it's time to reevaluate.

1) You're Out of Position

Position, position, position.

The importance of position simply can't be expressed enough - especially when it comes to playing marginal or easily dominated hands.

Jonas Klausen
Ask yourself: Am I capable of playing a drawing hand out of position?

As a general rule of thumb, you should be folding all A-x hands you're dealt out of position, regardless of the second card or the cards being suited.

This rule is very tight - to the point of being nitty. Even so, this is where you should start from and only deviate from this game plan if you have a very good reason to do so.

If you can't clearly explain the reason in a few words, then your understanding of the situation is clearly not strong enough to warrant making the play.

Many players think they should be limping a suited ace from any position on the table. But before you can decide if that's a profitable play, you need to answer this question:

Are you capable of profitably playing a drawing hand out of position?

For most players in the world, the correct answer is no - leading us to our next topic.

2) You're Overdrawing

You have to lay off the flush draws.

Just because you have the nut-flush draw doesn't mean you have to commit your whole stack to the pot.

Remember, until you hit the flush, all you have is ace-high. Your goal is to keep the pots small, control the hand, and pump the hell out of the pot once you hit.

If you called a raise with your suited ace, chances are the raiser is going to bet the flop regardless of what they actually have. When they do bet, it's typically going to be three-quarters to a full pot-sized bet.

If you have nothing but a flush draw, you're not getting odds to call here.

Phil Hellmuth
Having the nut-flush draw doesn't mean you have to commit your whole stack.

If you do call and you miss the turn, chances are you're going to have to make another call. If you happened to hit on the turn, your opponent is most likely going to be afraid of or assume you have the flush.

In general, you're going to get one bet out of them here. The only way you win a nice pot in this situation is if your opponent has a hand too strong to let go or they're a complete donkey.

In short, unless you have a very large edge over your opponent, or you know you have massive implied odds, you don't want to be playing A-x, even suited A-x, heads-up in a raised pot.

If you're calling with a suited ace, you're playing for the flush, not a pair. This means you're looking for multi-way action, ensuring you have the correct odds and increasing the chance of another player paying you off when you hit.

If you're playing this heads-up, chances are...

3) You're Overplaying the Hand

The most common reason a player is losing money with a single ace is they're overplaying the hand.

Even if it's a suited ace - suited ace-jack even - you still have a weak hand that doesn't play well in a raised, heads-up pot.

If we assume everyone is usually playing by-the-book poker, a raise usually means AA, KK, QQ, AK, JJ or AQ. All of these hands are either ahead or completely dominate any single-ace hand you can have.

Even if these hands look great, like A J does, they're not all that strong.

Your goal is to take down small- to medium-sized un-raised pots or play in large, raised pots looking to take advantage of implied odds.

For example, if you hit a flop of A 3 7 holding A 3, chances are you're going to make a lot of money off anyone holding A-K.

If you do only flop the one pair, it's either going to be the ace with a weak kicker or your other card with the best kicker. Either way, you have a hand that's easily beat, and the only players willing to call large bets against you are going to have you beat.

Daniel Negreanu
If you don't hit a big flop, keep the pot small or get out cheap.

If you don't hit a very lucky and large flop, you want to keep the pot small or get out cheap. Never go broke with just one pair.

Rules of Thumb

Start to think of this whole range of hands as being very weak and only useful if they hit the crap out of the flop. You don't want to pay too much to see a flop and you want to get rid of the hand if you don't hit it.

To surmise: fold all single-ace hands unless 1) you're in position 2) can get in cheap (to win a small pot) or 3) have the implied odds to win a big one. When you're playing for implied odds, if you don't hit huge on the flop, dump the hand.

Unless you have a strong reason to believe otherwise, assume hitting one pair with these hands is no good. Play for monsters only and you'll turn these hands into rare winners, but ones that provide massively positive results over the long run.

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Sean Lind 2009-08-13 18:30:00

Rray,

This really depends. Assuming we're playing a cash game you can really make no mistake here. Your hand, with AQ is about 51% to win, a coinflip. Since there is money in the pot from preflop, and you've bet pot on the flop it's a profitable call.

But calling this in a cash game will only earn you a slight edge in the long run may not be worth the variance to you.

It's really up to you. By the numbers, calling is correct.

In a tournament, it might not be worth risking your tournament life on a flip, depending how deep your stacks are. If you're only 30bb deep, then I'm not sure why you would want to wait any longer, but if you're very deep, it would be a silly play.

Rray 2009-08-13 10:57:00

Sean, could you post your thoughts on this situation?

Folded around to hero in BB with AQ who raises 4x bb, called by SB; flop Ad 89s. Hero fires out pot bet and villain shoves all in. You can magically see villain's cards as A10s... do you call (equal stack sizes)?

(In real life, I knew you he was suited but hadn't put him on the Ace suited hand).

Many thanks.

Alexander 2009-08-01 12:39:00

Although this is a very nice article and mathematically correct, we all know that in ring 6 playes, if 3 get in the hand, the ace is probably ahead.

We see hands like 56s being played very agressivelly and I really think that my AJ is better than this one :)

Victor 2009-07-15 22:42:00

Thanks Sean. That might explain why I've been losing money. Is there an article on playing flush draws in NLHE?

Jewcifer 2009-07-15 02:25:00

What about a six-max table? Less variance and all... in the cut-off, atleast. A-8s and better is definitely a strong starting hand worthy of a raise 3 x BB. Accordiong to my own research, that is. But all-n-all it's a respectable scrib.

Sean Lind 2009-07-14 21:26:00

Hey Victor. you'll be getting 2.25:1 on your money. This is well below the odds you're going to need to get, unless you have large implied odds.

A flush draw is around 33%ish from the flop to the river, so 2:1.

If your opponent was betting $12 all in, you'd be getting odds, because that 33% is only good if you're seeing both cards.

If we assume your opponent is going to bet again on the turn (when you miss your flush), you actually paid 2.25:1 for one card, meaning you were only about 18% or 4.5:1. You only had half the odds you actually needed.

Victor 2009-07-14 20:24:00

Hi Sean! I only just started playing poker and I've got a question regarding Section 2 of the article. Let's assume I am on the button holding A/4 of clubs and a person before me raises 3 times the BB making $6 to play. If I call and the blinds fold there will be $15 in the pot before the flop. Say the flop is 7 of clubs, J of clubs and a 3 of diamonds. The raiser bets $12. Will I not be getting the right odds to call? I thought that with 9 outs the pot odds would be roughly 2:1, making it a profitable call...

Rray 2009-07-14 18:15:00

Victor, with regards to your question: This is a call.

Villain has made a 3xbb raise preflop and c-bet 2/3rds on a dead board. He's not too keen on seeing another card. If he checks the turn you should have him there; if he bets then you'll need to put him on a pair JJ or better or a bluff. Much would have to do with the game dynamics but off the bat I would say this is a call and you're not in too bad shape on the flop.

Interestingly, running this through the poker odds calculator shows you're not in too bad shape against pocket Aces, and fair almost evens against AK.

Had you been the preflop raiser with A4c, however, that would be different. You're going to have to pay to draw out your club and if it does hit it's not going to be easy to get paid...

Sean will explain it better :-)

Rray 2009-07-14 18:02:00

Great article Sean. Thank you for writing it.

Totally agree with your assessment of Ax being overvalued. I think much of it is just subconscious ***. As you note, AJ really does just look cool but so does smoking and that's a wrap.

That aside, Ax suited from can be nicely profitable if you can see it cheaply.

An interesting take is to see it from the other side- playing against villain pushing these hands. You are staring down someone who is c-betting Ax; you've called with 10Js, flop is 3510; you know villain is just going through the motions but have a gut feeling that he's just going to keep fishing on the A... usually I try to push them out on the turn, just smarts when the dreaded Ace on the River shows up.

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