Players, beware of aces when playing Texas Hold’em poker

Even novices know the best card in the deck is an Ace. In hold’em, the suit doesn’t matter.
So why is this column entitled “Beware of Aces?” After all, we love them, caress them, when we have one – better two – in the hole. The danger is when the Ace is in an opponent’s hand – not yours. At a full (or nearly-full) table of nine players, 80% of the time at least one player has an Ace in the hole.
The odds are 4-to-1 in favor of an Ace being among the holecards. And, if you don’t have one, it’s all the more likely one of your opponents does. (You can expect to be dealt an Ace in the hole just 15% of the time.)
Put into different terms, if you don’t have an Ace in the hole, and an Ace falls on the flop, chances are you are in trouble – unless the flop really connected with your holecards. Just pairing up won’t do it for you.
Suppose you saw the flop with K-J offsuit. The flop came down A-K-9 rainbow. A pair of Kings is a poor second-best to the pair of Aces one of your opponents most likely flopped. Sure, you could have been real lucky and flopped a set of Kings.
Even two-pair, Kings and Jacks would be welcome. But the odds of your flopping such hands are far and away against you. Even starting with a pair, that Ace on the flop is a huge scare card – unless you got real lucky and flopped a set. The odds are 7.5-to-1 against your making the set on the flop.
You don’t have to memorize all those odds. Just take my word for it: Any time an Ace falls on the flop, your hand usually is second-best unless you got lucky and flopped a set or two-pair.
There is one other possibility: Before you fold to a bet or raise after an Ace flops, consider you could have a strong drawing hand with at least six good outs, which is playable. (Note: A “good” out is one that would not improve your opponent’s hand.)
Example: You saw the flop with Q-J offsuit in the hole. The flop comes down, 10-9-A rainbow. As noted above, chances are one of your opponents has a pair of Aces, while you now have four-to-an-open-ended straight. Catch your straight on the turn or the river, you are almost certain to take that pot.
Let’s say there are three opponents staying to see the turn, at least one of whom has a pair of Aces. With no pairs and a rainbow board, you would have a good chance of winning that pot were you to catch the straight. Using the 4-2 Rule, with eight good outs (four Kings and four 8s), the probability of catching the straight on the turn or the river is approximately 8 x 4 = 32%.
A quick estimate is the card odds are about (100 — 32)/32 = approximately 2-to-1 against you. With three opponents seeing the turn, the pot odds are bound to be much higher. You have a Positive Expectation. In fact, you might even want to raise. In the long run, you will come out well ahead under these circumstances.
Of course, the same reasoning applies when you are drawing to a flush – assuming an opponent doesn’t catch a higher flush. Yet, another caution is when the board is paired; a full house is possible and would shatter your straight or flush.
Bottom line: At a nearly full table, if you don’t have an Ace in the hole, be cautious if an Ace falls on the board. Beware! Poker players love Aces and many will play even Ace-rag. (Not you or I.)
Prepare to fold your pocket pair unless you improve or have flopped a strong drawing hand with at least six good outs.

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