The Dilemma of Pocket Aces
In Texas Holdem, Pocket Aces is of course the best hand you can get. Call them what you want, but they only get dealt once every 220 hands (according to statistics). In reality you might see them more often, or less often for that matter, if you're having a bad run for example.
The less experienced player will often make a fundamental mistake, although you also see this happen with many of the best players in the world. When getting dealt pocket Aces in a No Limit cash game, you might want to, instinctively, push in your entire stack immediately. The question I'm asking here is...why?
No matter if you're playing online your live, cash game or tournament, the goal is to play your hand as profitable as possible. If you're the type of player that pushes all-in with pocket Aces (or pocket 'paint' pairs, KK, QQ and JJ) then you're wasting a couple of golden opportunities. In most cases with pocket Aces you have the chance to build up the pot early or take the pot down quickly. But one thing is especially important when playing pocket Aces: you need to understand that you can lose a big pot or even all of your chips to a worse hand.
Let's look at it from the logical standpoint of the game. If you get pocket Aces in early position and raise, you SHOULD only get called by players holding paint pairs or maybe AK or AQ. The chance of your opponents holding AK or AQ is fairly low, as you yourself already have two Aces in your hand. So you can assume your opponent is holding a paint pair or, if you see that this player has a big stack or you know he is a maniac, he could have everything from pocket pairs to suited connectors. With pocket Aces in your hand you want players to call you and you certainly want them to re-raise!
If you're sitting in middle or late position then that's definitely a re-raise position. You want to try and minimize the number of players seeing a flop. If you only call a raise before the flop, then be prepared that you could lose the hand, even if you were ahead in the beginning. If you don't get players out of the pot, you give them a chance to hit, which increases your chance of losing the hand.
The other day I was in the late stages of a tournament sitting in the cut off with a nice stack. I had just been moved to the table so I hadn't had a chance to observe my opponents yet and didn't have a read on any of them. I got pocket Aces and watched how a player in early position raised and 5 players called. In a situation like this a call would get me into trouble, so I re-raised all-in. From the 6 players originally in the hand only 2 players called me, one player with AK (as I had expected) and the other player with J-x (?). I won the hand and tripled up.
Limit Holdem is a whole different story. You can't protect your hand like in No Limit, so the risk of getting beat by a worse hand is considerably greater. The No Limit ground rules, however, remain the same. You want players to call and you certainly want to know that they're going to re-raise so you can fire back at them. Make sure to pay attention to your opponents and, as painful as it might be, you should be ready to fold even the best hand in the game.
Sadly enough most of the players don't often feel like playing poker. They prefer to just push all-in preflop, often resulting in the other players folding and wasting a good opportunity to win some chips. It might be the right tactic when playing a tournament and trying to win, but if you're trying to build up your stack it's not the best way to play the hand. Play the game how it's meant to be played, take chips from other players when you have the right hands to do so and always be aware of scary turn cards that don't help your hand. What you can hope for in this game is that luck will come your way if you put your stack on the line, and that if you get pocket Aces, you can safely assume that you have the best hand before the flop.