You square up your hole cards. Peaking at one, you see a beautiful red “ACE”

Your body fills with hope. 

1 out of 13 times, your second card will provide you with the most powerful preflop starting hand in Hold’em!

Peeling the second card, you see the emergence of a diagonal outline. 

Could it be another Ace? 

As you reveal your second card fully, euphoria instantly fills your soul. This is it! The moment that only comes around once every 221 hands. 

You’ve been dealt Pocket Aces!

But now what? How can you maximise your potential winnings? 

Well, in this article, we’re going to share the scoop on exactly how to approach playing pocket Aces. While they might be easy to play preflop, they can get you into a world of hurt post-flop if you’re not careful.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

Pocket Aces Nicknames

Before getting into the thick of things, let’s have briefly refresh some of the Pocket Aces meanings

We’ll also review and commonly used nicknames for this starting hand:

  • Pocket Rockets: With the “A” (for Ace) resembling the pointy tip/shape of a rocketship, it’s a no-brainer! This nickname stuck!
     
  • Bullets: Peel the cards horizontally, and this would turn any “A” sideways. The letter somewhat resembles the rough shape of a bullet. (Hence the nickname!) Phil Hellmuth popularised by this nickname. He exclaimed, “I can dodge bullets, baby!” when he won the 1981 WSOP Main Event with 99. The Nines beat Johnny Chan’s Pocket Aces!
     
  • American Airlines: The “AA” of Pocket Aces share the same two letters/initials as this popular US airline.

To learn more, check out our poker hand nicknames guide here.

Why Are Pocket Aces Good?

Aces are the most powerful starting hand in Hold’em! In fact, against any other random hand, Pocket Rockets will win at showdown about 85% of the time! 

As such, if you’re wondering when to fold pocket aces preflop, the correct answer would be NEVER! 

What beats Pocket Aces, you ask?  Many other hands indeed can improve to beat Aces at showdown.

They can make – 

  • Two Pair
  • Three-of-a-Kind
  • Straights
  • Flushes
  • Full houses
  • Quads

But the chances of these holdings coming about are relatively small. Aces are still likely to win most of the time at showdown.

For a reminder of basic poker hand rankings, check out this poker hands guide:

How to Play Pocket Aces: Introduction

Now we start getting into the meat of the article! 

  • Someone once said that Pocket Aces often win small pots if they win. 
  • But lose big when they lose! 

Beginning players either misplay and/or overplay their AA hands. By showdown, other players will usually have better hands in the face of the beginners’ betting lines with Aces!

Aces is a great starting hand. But AA has no room for extrapost-flop improvement. Yes, it can improve to a set of Aces. But that’s about it! 

Contrast this with a hand like 54s, which has little showdown value at the start. But I can make a big hand, like a straight or flush

If 54s whiffs the flop or doesn’t make its draw by the river, it’s easy to get away from it and fold. With Aces, folding on the river (or earlier) isn’t always as easy.

In this section, let’s break down the different ways to play Bullets:

  • Preflop Factors
     
    • Single-Raised Pots
    • 3bet Pots
    • 4bet Pot
    • Going All-In Preflop
       
  • Postflop Considerations
    • IP vs OOP
    • Board Textures
    • Board Development
    • SPR
    • Villain Tendencies

How to Play Pocket Aces: Preflop

Single-Raised Pots:

Let’s take a moment to talk about what to do if you have Aces and action folds to your preflop. 

Quite simply, you should always come in for a raise, as you would with any other hand.

Don’t trap and come in for a limp, intending to re-raise if someone else is daring enough. You’re relying on someone else to raise (which would make things a disaster if they didn’t). Also, it isn’t easy to balance your limp-raising range. 

It’s better to come in for a raise because it’s almost always going to yield the highest amount of EV.

By limping, you fail to build a pot with the best starting hand in Hold’em. You allow other hands to come into the hand relatively cheaply. This play will lower the preflop equity with your Aces.

If another player has already limped, don’t trap or play passively by over-limping!

Punish the limper, deny them their equity, and raise! Generally, 3x the big blind + 1bb for every limper is an acceptable raise size. For live play, though, you can usually bump this up to 4-5xbb + 1bb per limper because players frequently want to see a flop. 

Note: You can also add an extra bb if you’re OOP in the SB or BB.

Raise_RulesShould You Always Raise AA, Preflop?

3bet Pots:

If another player has already raised, always come in for a 3bet, especially if the stacks are deep. 

Furthermore, if other players have already called that initial raise, you’ll have even more incentive to raise!

Pocket Aces are going to perform best in HU pots (1 player vs 1 player). They retain their highest amount of equity versus only one other opponent. 

Note: If there are three opponents in the pot, your Aces will drop down to winning about 50% of the time.

For 3bet sizing, you can generally make it smaller when you’re in position vs the opener (2.5x to 3x the open raise). When out of position, like in the small blind or big blind, you can make it 3x-4x the open-raise size.

Perhaps the only time when you should flat Aces, instead of 3betting, is 10-15bb deep in a tournament from the big blind. 

You block many of the AX combos Villain might call if you jammed preflop. The Stack to Pot Ratio (SPR) will already be super low that it’ll be easy to get the money in by the river, if not sooner. 

That said, it’s never going to be a disaster if you look to shove AA, preflop.

4bet Pots:

Again, you’re almost always going to come in for a 4bet with AA if someone else 3bets. 4betting gets more money into the pot preflop. It brings the SPR significantly down for the flop. 

AA doesn’t have much potential to improve further than its current one-pair strength. So, getting as much money as possible in preflop will simplify post-flop decisions.

You’re almost always going to comfortably commit and “go the distance”, regardless of many board textures.

Contrast this with an SPR of 5 or more. All of a sudden, things can get a little bit tricky on certain runouts. You’re not always going to want to slam-dunk “get it in” by the river. 

In general, using anything between a 2 to 2.25x 4bet size IP is acceptable. 

When OOP, you should size up slightly to 2.25x to 2.5x for a 4bet.

The deeper the stacks, though, the larger the 4bet you can make. This sizing will cutdown that SPR. It will make things more difficult for your opponent’s continuing range.

Going All-in Preflop:

In general, 5bet jamming or going all-in with Pocket Rockets will never be a poor play preflop. This situation is especially true if starting stacks were around that standard 100bb stack size - typically the case in cash games.

But as stacks get deeper (even 150bb+, but certainly 200bb+), you should aim to very frequently call vs a 4bet instead of 5betting. By this point in the hand, the ranges are so narrow that it’s better to protect your call-vs-4bet range. 

By 5betting/going all-in, you might split your ranges up even further. (It can also be difficult to 5bet in a balanced fashion.)

How to Play Pocket Aces: Postflop

  • IP vs OOP: The deeper the SPR is, the more you should be looking to check your Aces OOP. This advice doesn’t mean to just check-call. A check-raise in many situations can be acceptable.

    A small bet out-of-position will also bode well in many instances. In position, you can be much more aggressive (albeit with small bets if necessary).You’ll have your positional advantage.
  • Board Textures: One thing to be wary of is the board texture - especially in relation to your opponent’s ranges. Say you raise from early position. The big blind defends, and the flop comes all low cards. Even if the BB checks to you, you should check back your strongest/least vulnerable pocket pairs, like Aces. If you do bet, you’d want to bet small.

    Why be more passive here? Because the board very much favours your opponent’s big blind calling range.

    This board texture may give your opponent a range and nut advantage. Their hand may contain many more low card holdings than yours. But on broadway card “high-high-low” textures, you can usually cbet a more polarised range. You should aim for a larger bet size at a lower frequency. Aces will almost undoubtedly fall under this category.
  • Board Development: Just because the flop might’ve been good for you doesn’t mean the turn and river will be. Don’t be married to your Aces from the get-go. Always factor in your opponent’s betting patterns. Use the info from this, as well as the board runout, to determine how to proceed optimally.
  • SPR: As the SPR gets smaller, the easier it is to “commit” to your Aces. You need to determine which betting line to take to get all-in. With deeper SPR, you must be more cautious with Aces. Many players lose big pots with Aces because they become committed to AA too prematurely in high-SPR pots.
  • Villain Tendencies:
    • Does your opponent have any exploitable tendencies? 
    • If you bet, are they often raising on boards favourable for their range? 
    • Are they more passive? 
    • Are they elastic or inelastic based on the bet sizes you use?
  • 3b+ Pots: In these pots, you’re mostly going to go all the way to showdown with your AA. This fact is due to the lower SPR on the flop. That said, you will still have to tread carefully. Know when to fold Pocket Aces when the SPR is 5 or more, even in 3b pots.

Dealing with Coolers

Poker CoolerDealing with Pocket Aces Coolers

A quick word to say that AA won’t always win. Sometimes there’ll be a post-flop suckout, where your opponent might bink a straight or a flush. 

Other times, you’ll face Pocket Jacks preflop, get all the money in, and lose that 20% of the time. 

While you can’t control the luck of the cards, you can control how you play your hands to expect the most profit. 

Stay level-headed and move on from the bad beats. This mindset will surely help boost your long-term profits. 

Poker players need to focus on the long game.

Pocket Aces FAQ

Q: What are the odds of getting Pocket Aces, preflop? 

A: On average, you’ll be dealt Pocket Aces every 1 of 221 hands.

Q: What are the odds for Pocket Aces vs Ace-King suited?

A: Against bullets, AKs is in a world of hurt. This hand can, only improve to one straight (Q-J-T), a flush, or 3-of-a-Kind Kings. As such, Aces will usually crush AKs, winning on average around 88% of the time!

Q: How should I be playing other high pocket pairs like Pocket Kings or Queens?

A: For the most part, playing the other high pairs will involve remarkably similar strategies. But you should account for some subtle differences. Check out these links to learn the best way to approach playing Pocket Kings and Pocket Queens.

Bottom Line: Pocket Aces Summary

Pocket Aces are a powerful hand to in Hold’em. They are going to give you loads of profits in the long-run. But how much will largely depend on how you choose to play them.

  • Be aggressive in almost all preflop scenarios (to help lower that flop SPR)
  • But be capable of letting them go on board textures/runouts that are not favourable. 

Remember, Aces is a powerful starting hand, but it doesn’t have much ability to improve beyond that. 

So, tread carefully on wet, well-connected boards.

About the Author
By
Matthew Cluff is a poker player who specialises in 6-Max No Limit Hold’em games. He also periodically provides online poker content for various sites.
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