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Can You Beat Aces?

by Lou Krieger

This is a continuation of sorts of my recent two-part series on stack sizes (read part 1 and part 2). This time we’ll develop hand values that relate to decisions you might make under conditions defined by a variety of effective stack sizes.

 When You’re Short Stacked. Suppose you’re in a tournament and have only ten big blinds remaining. You can’t sit around and wait for a big pocket pair or Big Slick, because you’re unlikely to be dealt that kind of hand in the few remaining opportunities at your disposal. The effective stack size—the most you can win or the most you can lose—is 10 big blinds. While it’s a lot to you (since it represents your entire equity in this tournament) it might not mean much at all to an opponent with 40 or 50 big blinds in front of him.

 Nevertheless, you’ve got to take a shot, hope to get lucky and double up. If no one has entered the pot when it’s your turn to act and you’ve got an ace in your hand, it’s time to go all-in. If anyone acting after you has a big hand, they’ll call you without question, but if they don’t, there’s no reason for them to risk ten big blinds on a raggedy holding, so they are likely to fold and you’ll stay alive.

 When You’ve Got a Little More. When you’re not as short stacked and have enough chips to support a wider variety of options other than fold or allin, you’ve got more to lose, and more you can win. Suppose you’ve got 50 big blinds. You’re not a monster stack but you’re not in danger of blinding your life away anytime soon either. Now you should look for a hand that can beat a pair of aces before committing all of your chips to the pot. Top two pair should do fine, and anything bigger than that is lagniappe.

 With 100 Big Blinds. With a nice sized stack, there’s no reason to risk all of it capriciously. Much of what you do now depends on how you read your opponent and whether you think he will make moves with less than premium hands. One tough decision point is whether to call a big bet with top two pair. Another involves what to do when you flop bottom or middle set on a very dry board against a tight player who also has a nice sized stack of chips.

 An even tougher decision is what to do when you’ve flopped a set, but the board supports a straight or a flush. You could be behind right now, but with a set you have ten outs going from the turn to the river. Now your decision might boil down to whether the implied odds outweigh the odds against making your hand. But if you’re in this situation against a weak player, you might elect to let the hand go—although that’s a tough decision—if you figure you can grind him down by outplaying him over the course of a large number of hands.

 When You’re a Big Stack. When you’re a big stack, there’s more to be gained from bullying the small to medium sized stacks than there is from confronting another big stack. If you lose, you’re likely to go from first to worst in one hand. Under most circumstances, you’ll want to stay away from other big stacks, just as they will want to avoid you.

 Beware of Aces. Let’s take this full circle, because what prompted this column was seeing too many players willing to go all-in with a pocket pair of aces. While pocket rockets are a terrific starting hand, be wary once you see the flop. Your aces might be toast, so learning when to fold them will save you untoward tournament grief.

 Visit Lou Krieger online at, where you can read his blog, and check out all of his books. Write directly to him at

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