My moniker at a couple of online sites is “IonlyPlayAA.” Way back in 2004 when I went deep in the main event of the World Series, one of my opponents commented, “He only plays aces.” The comment made the TV broadcast, and hence, one of my online monikers was born. It’s always fun to be dealt aces with that kind of online name.
You will often hear people say that you shouldn’t go broke with pocket aces when the stacks are deep. Every scenario is different, and I’m going to discuss a hand that I played recently in which my play looks very passive. It is important to understand that both aggressiveness and passiveness have a place in poker. Good players adjust their play based on what the situation demands.
This is the Sunday Brawl at Full Tilt Poker. It is still early in the tournament, with blinds of 80-160 and no antes. The average chip stack at my table is about 6,000. I am sitting on a healthy stack of 10,405. The under-the-gun player, with a stack of 9,565, raises to 480. My read on him is that he is a good player with advanced-level thinking.
Two players fold and it is my turn to act in middle position with the A A. I decide to make a larger-than-normal raise to 1,700 — hoping to communicate a hand that doesn’t want action, like A-K. The action is folded around to my opponent, who elects to call.
The flop comes Q 5 2. We both check. The turn is the 10, and we both check. The river brings the 7. My opponent bets 3,040, and I call.
On the surface, this looks like extremely passive play. After all, I stood a good chance of doubling up if my opponent had a hand like K-K or A-Q — if I had played the hand more aggressively.
I posted this hand on the Forum at my website, and practic ally all of the comments related to how I could play my hand this way:
“The pot is over 3K and the villain barely has 7K left. I don’t think this is a deep-stacked situation anymore.”
“If you played your aces passively because you somehow sensed strength, please let me know what made you think so. I would never be able to make that read in this spot.”
There were several factors that went into why I played the hand this way. First, and quite importantly, I pegged this player as being advanced. This is important because it significantly narrows the range of hands on which I put this player. Had I been up against a “typical” player, this would have been an easy situation for trying to get all of my chips into the pot. Second, and again quite importantly, we both were deep-stacked, having a stack-to-big-blind ratio of around 60 when the hand began.
The big question is, what hand range do you put this opponent on preflop? Once you determine a range, the hand really plays itself after the flop.
First of all, my opponent makes a standard raise from under the gun. It is the new trend with some players to raise rather weak from under the gun, but with no antes, a raise from under the gun generally indicates a strong hand.
Second, I make a substantial reraise. I am in middle position with a deep stack, playing against another deep stack. It is fairly obvious that I am not playing around here. I would expect my opponent to put me on a range of something like Q-Q+ and A-K.
Given this, I would expect my opponent to push all in with K-K. And given that he is a good player, I would expect him to call with Q-Q or J-J to see the flop. Some players might push those hands, but my thinking was that this player would be more cautious, given the strength I was showing. I don’t think this player calls with a hand like A-Q suited out of position. If anything, my big reraise is indicative of a hand like A-K.
So, I am basically putting my opponent on a range of Q-Q+, A-K, and possibly J-J. But I’m not even certain he would call with A-K, given the situation. I actually thought that Q-Q was the most likely hand in this possible range.
Given this range, the hand plays itself out from here.
If he has A-K, I gain nothing by betting the flop, as he will simply fold. Checking the turn is a little more risky, as A-K now has four outs. On the other hand, by checking the flop and the turn, I might be able to squeeze some additional chips out of him, especially if an ace or king comes.
Given my reads, I gain nothing by betting the flop. I can beat three hands — A-K, K-K, and J-J. I felt that he would have pushed K-K before the flop, so I don’t include that hand in his range. If I bet when he has A-K or J-J, he will simply fold, and I gain nothing. Of course, if he has Q-Q, I am crushed. Some opponents might just call with A-A or K-K preflop, and some might try to make a move there, so I would be forced to call if my opponent pushes all in. The only risk with checking is that I give a hand like J-J two outs on the turn.
I was planning on betting the turn, but the 10 scared me a little. It wasn’t exactly in the range that I had decided on, but there was the small possibility of 10-10 being in his range. Again, he has very few outs no matter what he has, so I was willing to see the river card. I do think the turn decision is close. Betting the turn would protect the pot and also might induce some type of bluff from my opponent, or even a weak call with a hand like J-J.
On the river, it is an easy call, given the way I played the hand.
The point of this column isn’t to debate the merits of whether or not I played the hand correctly, but to demonstrate that sometimes you should consider passive play as part of your overall arsenal.
Poker isn’t always about aggression. Sometimes you need to make good laydowns. Sometimes you need to just call and let your opponent do the betting for you. And sometimes you simply need to check. In this particular hand, I was in a situation in which I was likely either way ahead or way behind, so I took the passive approach.
It turns out that my opponent did have Q-Q, so my read and instincts were correct this time. Yes, when my read is wrong, sometimes he might turn over K-K, and sometimes he might have A-Q. But in poker, you must always trust your reads and play accordingly.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.