The good and bad of pocket aces
Pocket aces make up the best starting hand in hold 'em. They also can make for some of the worst beats in hold 'em.
So, the idea is to get the most out of them by making bets that extract money from opponents without putting yourself into a position to get outdrawn.
David Grey, a respected pro who reached the final table of the 2003 World Series of Poker main event, maintained that balance nicely in a hand at the $25,000-buy-in World Poker Tour Championship at Las Vegas' Bellagio earlier this year.
With blinds at $100-$200, Grey drew the ace of spades and the ace of clubs in early position and raised to $700. A player a couple of seats to his left called. The flop came A-9-8, giving Grey a set of aces.
Some players might check to slow-play such a big hand, but Grey bet out $1,500.
"In general," said Grey, who represents FullTiltPoker.net, "when you raise in early position (pre-flop) and an ace hits and you check, it's too fishy.
"I was hoping he flopped a set of 9's because he seemed pretty happy with the flop. I could tell he was happy. He quickly called me, and I know he doesn't have a hand like J-10. He can't have a draw in that position with too many players behind him (to have called a big pre-flop raise)."
The turn came the king of clubs. An A-K board makes it almost impossible for Grey's opponent to call with pocket queens or pocket jacks because he can't beat a pair of aces or kings, so Grey's chances of inducing a bluff by checking his set were small.
Instead, he tried to induce a bluff by firing out $3,000, a bet of about two-thirds of the pot. "I wanted to make a bet that looked like he might be able to run me off the pot if he had, say, aces and kings," Grey said. "If he had A-K, believe me, he would've made a big raise there, and I would've made a big study and put in a pretty good raise, and he might've moved in on me.
"When he called, I knew he had an ace."
The king put a second club out there, then the 6 of clubs on the river created a flush board. But Grey wasn't worried about that.
"I knew he couldn't have a flush because the flop came three different suits," Grey said. "Plus, I had the ace of clubs, so he couldn't have ace suited in clubs, and he's not going to call me with something like Q-9 of clubs.
"On the river, I checked, hoping he would bet, and I was going to raise him. I knew my hand was good."
But Grey's opponent was happy to check behind him, then mucked his cards when Grey flipped up his aces to take the pot.
Set: Three-of-a-kind when a pocket pair matches one of the cards on the board; the term "trips" refers to three-of-a-kind when you have one card in your hand that matches two on the board.
Steve Rosenbloom writes a weekly column on poker for The Chicago Tribune. The column is distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.