Do you have a problem turning a profit with aces? If so, you’re not alone. A pair of aces is the most powerful starting hand in Texas Holdem, but it’s not indestructible. People lose with aces all the time. The key to playing aces well is to always remember that they are not a guarantee of any sort.

There are a number of possible reasons why you always lose with aces. It’s a hard problem to diagnose without watching you play them, but the odds are it’s related to one of the following errors.

1. An Error of Perception

One of the most common mistakes is one of perception. If you look down and see a pair of aces, it’s great to feel confident. But you should never feel entitled to win the pot. It’s a great starting hand, but it’s still just a pair.

In other words, don’t feel entitled to win the pot. If your aces don’t improve to a set or better, you’ll need to play the postflop stages just as you would with any other pair. Aces still lose to 2-pairs, sets, straights and flushes.

2. Slowplaying before the Flop

This is a mistake that I see from newer players all the time. Again, a pair of aces is still just a pair. There are many other hands that can come along and beat your aces. This hand is far from strong enough to play it slow.

Get as much money in as early as you can. The best case scenario is to get it all-in before the flop. Your aces statistically have the best chance to win the pot, so get it in early and charge other people to draw against you. The last thing you want to do is give people a bunch of free chances to catch the cards they need to beat you.

Of course, you can’t always force the action to go all-in before the flop. What you can do is always make the other players pay to play. In most cases, it’s a bad play to limp in with pocket aces. You give everyone at the table an opportunity to see a cheap flop and crack your aces. A raise charges people and makes it more likely that you’ll play a heads-up pot, which increases the likelihood of you winning the showdown.

If you raise before the flop and get a bunch of callers, that’s OK too. You’re still getting money in the middle with the best hand. You won’t win as often with multiple callers, but you do win over the long term by getting people to commit money with statistically inferior hands.

Let’s say you make a standard 4x raise before the flop with Aces and four people call. The odds are you’ll need help to win the pot. However, that is not a bad thing. Your aces will still win more often than the hands the other people have. The math says that you will make money in this situation.

3. Getting Attached

Postflop play is where most people go wrong with aces. You see that beautiful starting hand, imagine the chips sliding your way and become unable to let go when it’s clear you’re beat. This is a surefire way to lose big pots. It’s something we all struggle with from time to time.

Big pairs are great at winning small pots and losing big pots. This is an old saying that has some truth. You win small pots because people tend to fold if they can’t even beat a pair of aces, but you lose big pots because people are more than happy to stay if they hit something better. This makes for a dangerous situation to those of you who get too attached.

If you don’t get any help from the flop, you need to proceed with caution. You probably still have the best hand, but it is by no means guaranteed. Continue to play the hand as if it’s the best, but keep your eyes open for clues that indicate otherwise.

Think back to all the big postflop pots you’ve ever seen. How often was one of those won with a single pair? Most normal people don’t get all their chips in the middle after the flop with a pair. If someone else seems willing to build a big pot, you’re probably looking at something better than a mere pair or a wild bluff.

Here’s another way to look at it. People with trashy starting hands have no attachment whatsoever. They play the hand, look for something big and fold if they miss the flop. You, on the other hand, expect to win the pot because you already have a big hand. You are more likely to get attached and make a big mistake. It’s easier to lose a big pot with aces than it is to lose a big pot with a pair of twos.

There will be times when the best choice is to grit your teeth and fold. It hurts but it’s common. You shouldn’t get into the habit of going all-in with a single pair. Take cues from the other people. If someone flat calls your raise before the flop and suddenly comes alive after the flop, you need to be wary of the set. The same thing also goes when the board pairs, a potential straight appears or the third card of any suit shows up.

This doesn’t mean you should play your aces like a nit. It’s a great hand that deserves to be played with aggression. But if someone starts coming right back at you with bets and raises of his own, it’s time to take a step back and study the situation. If your opponent isn’t a maniac, you might be beat.

4. Transparent Play

Some people play such a tight game that it’s easy to put them on aces or kings because those are the only hands they ever raise before the flop. Don’t be that guy. You need to be willing to raise other hands as well. Hands such as AK, QQ, JJ, TT and AQ should all be raised before the flop in most positions.

If you only raise (or only re-raise) before the flop with aces and kings, people will put you on that exact hand. They can then play perfect poker against you. They’ll call with trashy hands, try to spike something and only continue if they have you beat. You need to mix it up enough to where people can never quite put you on aces or kings.

5. Sometimes You Can Do Everything Right and Still Lose

Aces do get cracked sometimes. Even if you get it all in against a lower pair, you’ll still lose about 20% of the time. This means that over the long run, you’ll lose 1 in 5 times you get it in with a lower pair. Over the short term, you can expect to see lots of weird things happen. It’s not uncommon to lose with AA three times in a row.

The thing to remember about odds is that they are calculated over the long run. An 80% favorite will win exactly 80% of the time over many trials. But in the short term, you’ll see streaks in both directions. That’s just the nature of the game. Don’t let it discourage you. If you consistently get your money in as a favorite, you’re doing it right. Stay vigilant. Your luck will turn eventually.

As humans, we tend to focus on when things turn out poorly. It’s the natural way of learning and avoiding bad things (like hot stoves). When something goes wrong, it makes an impression on us. Just remember that over the long term, your aces really are the best possible starting hand. You just have to play an aggressive game and be willing to fold when other people give you indication that you’re beat.

Last Word

I don’t mean to give you the impression that aces should be played timidly. A pair of aces is a great starting hand that you should absolutely play with aggression and confidence. Get money in the pot and charge other people to play against you. Get value for your cards.

What I do mean to say is that you cannot get into the habit of thinking your aces are invincible. Aces are just like any other strong starting hand: they’ll probably win, but it’s not a sure thing. If someone else gives you trouble, be prepared to let it go.

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