Pocket Aces in Weird Spaces

pocket aces

It was Friday night, which means a low-stakes, live Texas Holdem cash game.  After a frustrating first hour, my stack sits at about 65 big blinds.

Now the player under the gun raises to 11 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Derrell.”  Derrell is a very loose and aggressive player; I don’t have a lot of history with him.  This is still an unusually large opening raise for him or anyone else at this table, where initial raises have mostly been 3-6 BBs.  A few hands earlier, he lost a very large chunk of his stack in a 3-way all-in, where his 2-pair was way behind a nut flush and 2nd nut flush.

I’m next, and look down at pocket aces.  What should I do here?

Some players open with unusually large UTG raises with big pocket pairs like KK, QQ or JJ that become very difficult to play post-flop from out-of-position against multiple callers.  They would rather just win the blinds than have to play out the hand.  It’s a massive bet-sizing tell, but I cannot say from experience that this tell applies to Derrell.  He has shown down a couple of hands where there was no correlation between his pre-flop betting and hand strength (i.e., raising with junk!).

A re-raise, especially with the rest of the table still to act, screams massive strength.  Would that make it easy for Derrell to fold?  What is the weakest hand he might call with here?

My stack size is awkward.  If I raise to 3x Derrell’s bet, or 33 BBs, everyone else folds but Derrell calls, the pot will have 68 BBs.  My 30-35 BBs remaining leaves only a half-pot sized shove for the flop.

On the other hand, if I just shove now, it’s 6x Derrell’s bet.  Does that make me even more likely to lose my customer?  If I was in a later position, especially after at least one caller, this would be more appealing.

The non-standard line here is to just call, to set a trap.  Doesn’t that look more like I have AK?  If the flop is all low cards, he would bet again with KK, QQ, JJ or TT, or maybe total junk and shoving over his continuation bet would no longer be an overbet.  If we are heads-up, calling again on any flop would also be an option.

If my call sets in motion a cascade of other calls, I’m increasing the risk of getting out-flopped by 2-pair or better.  Is it worth that risk to try to position myself to win a larger pot?  Each additional call increases the temptation of calling for the next player.

What would you do to maximize the value of AA here?  Why?


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  1. Raise for value. Fancy Play Syndrome (FPS) has personally cost me far more money in these kinds of spots than I’ve made. Give both his position and bet size, I think he’s got something like 99-QQ and doesn’t really want action. Or he could have the AKo-AJo type hands, too (though you block quite a few of those combo). Regardless, I recommending raising for value.

  2. I’d be tempted to shove here. It makes it look like you have a hand like AK, AQ and are trying to force him off something like 88-QQ. Or trying a steal. If you make a 3-4x raise you are really giving yourself pot sizing troubles and a 2x raise just screams AA to me. Ideally you want him guessing at your hand strength. Part of your problem is you have a lot of people to act after you. Of course I’m no expert and doing the opposite of me is often the better choice.

    My wife the poker queen on the other hand says she would just call here. Her view is the original raise probably won’t be called by many people because of its size. Also if a few people call there is always the chance a big stack tries to squeeze everyone and you can go all in then. She thinks I’m wrong and the best way to maximize your return is to play it coy. She’s probably right.

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