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A Tale of Four Aces

December 18, 2010

After my remarkable comeback at the Pokerati game on Thursday, I figured there was no better way to spend a rainy Friday night in Vegas than by slinging cards. To the Venetian!

I played my first big pot about 30 minutes into the session. In this hand, a player in middle position raised to $10 and his buddy called him from the hijack. Action folded to me on the button where I looked down to find pocket Aces. Now, I know many people would consider slow playing their hand on the button since they have position on the original raiser, but I’m not really a fan of that move, especially with a third player in the hand. What’s more, if the original raiser has a strong hand, I figure they can stand a re-raise, so I made it $40 to play.

Action folded back to the original raiser who considered his options for a few seconds before three-betting all in for about $150. His buddy folded and I made the easy call.

“You have Aces?” he asked. When I said yes, he just nodded and tabled his pocket Kings. “Nice hand,” he said.

“As long as they hold up,” I responded. And they did. Thankfully.

As I scooped up the chips, the kid in the hijack said I was lucky his buddy shoved on me, because he would have called my $40 bet with his Q-10 and flopped two pair on me.

Granted, that beat would have sucked, but I would have walked away from the hand feeling like I had gotten unlucky rather than that I had played it badly by not making my opponent pay to see a flop with a marginal hand. And while my bankroll wouldn’t have appreciated the difference, my psyche certainly would have.

And that brings me to the next two Aces.

In this hand, the pot was again raised to $10 and one other player flat called before action again got to me on the button. This time, I looked down to find pocket Jacks, and I again re-raised to $40. The small blind folded and the big blind, who was relatively new to the table, three-bet to $95. Everyone else folded, and the action returned to me.

At this point, I figured I was up against one of three hands – A-A, K-K, or A-K. Still, with position and a good-size stack in front of me, I had no issues making the call and seeing the flop, which was very, very bad for me, coming K-Q-7, with two hearts.

When my opponent checked, I happily checked behind. The turn brought a black 10, and my opponent gave me another free card, which I again took happily. When the As hit the river, my opponent confused me by checking yet again.

If my original reads were correct, he was holding either trip Aces or Kings, or at worst, top two pair with A-K. All very strong hands, except for one thing – his slow-playing had let me make Broadway with my pocket Jacks. With no flush draws, I was sure I had the best hand and my decision was figuring out how big a bet I could get him to call. After a few seconds, I decided that $150 was the right number and my opponent thought for about five seconds before making the call.

When I turned over my pocket Jacks, he disgustedly tabled his pocket Aces for a rivered set before paying off the bet.

Looking back at the hand, I have to wonder what my opponent was thinking by slow playing his cards for so long. The only thing I can think of is that he put me on pocket Kings or Queens before the flop, and figured that I had out-flopped him. The only problem with that theory is that, if true, I certainly would have bet my hand by the turn in order to extract some sort of value. In fact, I probably would have bet the turn with something as weak as top pair, just to see where I stood.

I’m also confused by my opponent’s lack of a bet on the river. At this point, he had made his hand and I had shown weakness on the previous two streets so, unless he could specifically put me on a Jack, he was passing up potential value by checking to me a third time. And, if he put me on a Jack, my bet on the river should have told him that he was beat.

Whether or not any of these thoughts crossed my opponent’s mind is beyond me, but I’m likely to think that they didn’t. My guess is that he thought he was trapping me the whole way with his big hand and that he had suckered me into a bet on the river.

If I had been holding my opponent’s cards in this hand, I would have been on massive self-induced tilt when all was said and done because instead of extracting maximum value with my Aces, I instead lost a huge pot that I didn’t need to. Sure, a K-Q flop can be scary for Aces, but by checking my hand, I’m not gaining any information about my opponent’s holdings and I’m missing an opportunity to take the pot down right there if he’s holding – as I was – a hand like pocket Jacks.

And this is the problem I have with slow playing. Again, if I had been the one with Aces and gotten raised after betting them on the flop, I’d have a good idea that I’d been out-flopped and had simply gotten unlucky. It happens. However, by giving my opponent free cards and the chance to catch up, there would be no one to blame for getting beat but myself. And, for me, that’s much worse than getting unlucky.

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