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04/11/2005 No.22
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday November 4, 2005
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Last week, we talked about what to do with a pair of aces. But if that's the only hand you ever worry about ... I wish I had your problems.

A much trickier proposition is a single ace. The most frequent mistake that new players make is to get overexcited about a lone bullet by itself. When I do commentary on amateur or celebrity poker tournaments, I invariably find myself shaking my head in despair as yet another player fritters his chips away by refusing to pass any hand with an ace in it.

The problem is, everybody likes aces. If you bet with an ace, someone else will call with an ace. And if you're playing A6 or A7, your opponent is likely to have a bigger "kicker". If you miss the flop, you've got nothing. If you hit a pair of aces, you're still losing. What a mess.

AK, an ace with a king, is obviously a big hand. Now you're the one with the best kicker. We will return to those two cards next week, as AK merits a column by itself - but for now, yes, you can raise with them. AQ is also strong. AJ is moving into the tricky territory where you need to start being careful. As for an ace with any other kicker, inexperienced players should just throw it away. Don't get involved. And A9 is not just a poisoned chalice, it's a goddamn beaker of arsenic.

The only exception I would make is with "suited wheel cards", where you're in late position and nobody else has raised. With A2, A3, A4 or A5 of the same suit, you are drawing to the nut flush and a straight, as well as two pair. But the key is to remember what kind of hand you're aiming for. If you hit the ace to make one pair, don't get excited and put all your money in. You'll only get called by a bigger ace.

So: either play very big aces, or very small aces with a focused goal in mind. Put the middle-sized ones in the bin. Like plastic lobsters in a Chinese restaurant window, they aren't nearly as tasty as they look.


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