24/01/2008

What’s Inside Your Selection Box?

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

This week I will be getting back on track with my favourite form of poker…..limit texas hold’em. The week before last I discussed the differences in how small pocket pairs played pre-flop and post flop in short handed six man games. In this weeks article I will be taking a look at how ace type hands play and the differences between full ring and short handed.

Despite the fact that this is my main form of poker and my best game, there have been numerous times over the years in which I have asked for help from other players. In fact I approached someone on the forum only last week for a view on my NLH game and NLH in general and his analysis and comments helped me a lot, that person was Balloo (promised I would mention him).

Like I told Balloo last week, I have no problem in asking for advice and no problem in who knows about it, the only problem I have is when I lose money. But I discussed the changing face of limit hold’em with a top Vegas pro and well known author a couple of years ago and just how hands differed from full ring to short handed.

In full ring games, ace rag type hands are mainly junk type hands but they do improve somewhat in short handed games. But just the like the small pocket pairs in the last article, many people over value ace rag hands even in short handed play. I see players who either call (terrible) or three bet with hands like A-6.

One of the major problems with hands of this type is that they get very expensive when you flop an ace if you are outkicked because in short handed play then you simply have to pay off all the way most of the time. If you lay down top pair especially heads up on the vast majority of boards in a five handed game then you are going to get run over plain and simple.

So once you have committed and then hit the flop, you are in pay off land. If I am in early position in a six man game or if there has been a raise then I will muck all ace rag hands up to and including A-6. This prevents you from getting into an awful lot of trouble after the flop falls. Plus a hand like ace rag suffers from other potential problems as well.

If you hit top pair then the ace is a real scare card and especially if you have three bet so your action can freeze up and you don’t get paid off when you flop the ace and are ahead. But it is when you flop your kicker and not the ace that further problems can start. Also a hand like A-5 is in trouble against a hand like pocket sevens for instance and that is another drawback of the hand.

Do not get me wrong here, I am not saying that you cannot play small aces. They still have value in stealing the blinds and also in defending them. But too many players get carried away with three betting small aces. I am perfectly aware that you have to randomise your range of raising hands in any form of poker and there are ways to do that and I will be going into that in later articles.

But you can randomise your play a lot more safely than three betting with low aces as building potentially dominated hands can get very expensive. Because so many players favour small aces then hands like A-7 become playable but even that is marginal in many situations.

Many people have asked me over the years who is it best to keep an eye on at your table. I like the advice that was given by noted poker theorist Mike Caro when he said that trying to watch everything on the table was impossible yet this is what many people try to do. He stated that it was better to maybe focus on two players and really get to know them. Obviously I am assuming that you don’t have Poker Tracker here and you don’t know anything about your opponents when you sit down.

The answer I give them is not always welcome because it all depends on how you play poker and what you are trying to achieve. For instance, in limit play I very rarely call pre-flop and will either re-raise or fold most of the time. If I choose to re-raise with a hand like A-8 then I need to know just what type of hand I am three betting because three betting A-Q with A-8 is not going to earn you money.

Three betting is increasing your action and with it your volatility so it is not a decision to be taken lightly. It is for this reason that I like to pay particular attention in a limit game to the two players immediately on my right above all others. This is because I want to know if I am correct to three bet or not with certain types of hands based on what I think the range of the raiser is.

I want to be fairly certain when I three bet that I am not doing so with a dominated hand and this is one of the keys to aggression in short handed limit games.

Moving onto the bigger aces above A-7 and they improve in strength to how they play in full ring games. Hands like A-8 to A-10 have numerous advantages over smaller aces and one of those is that you now have a two card hand where pairing either card can win you the pot. A pair of nines is far more likely to stand up and be the best hand by the river than a pair of deuces of a pair of three’s.

You will also be dominating players who like small aces as well and this will be a far better situation for your bottom line than if the situation were reversed. Another advantage to having bigger aces is that you now have a far better chance of victory against other players who are playing small pocket pairs against you.

A hand like A-9 is far superior to a hand like A-5 when up against pocket sixes for instance. I hope that this article on ace type hands has been educational and anyone who would like to discuss any part of this article with me is welcome to do so through the forum as usual.

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