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.
3 Ways You Lose Money with an Ace in Poker
1) You're Out of Position
Position, position, position. The importance of position in poker simply can't be expressed enough - especially when it comes to playing marginal or easily dominated hands.
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) Lay Off the Flush Draws
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.
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 AJ 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 A37 holding A3, 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.
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.
Playing a Single Ace: 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.