Playing Rag Aces

written by: John

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Playing rag aces (A9 or lower) is a problem area for many players. Some players just seem to think that any hand with an ace in it is extremely strong and a potential moneymaker.

The issue with this train of thought is that hands like A2 through A9 are often dominated by hands like AT through AK. When you play a weaker ace, you're never comfortable enough when you flop a pair of aces to try to get value out of it and the times when the money does go into the pot you're actually just paying off a better ace.  

The moral of the story: you're never that far ahead with a raggedy ace which results in little pots won. These little pots will never make up for the big pots lost when you overplay your raggedy ace paying off a stronger ace.   

When (If Ever) to Play Ace Rags

Because raggedy aces are going to get you into more trouble than they're worth, it's often best to just fold them preflop and avoid the hassle altogether.

However, I do feel that there are a few exceptions. If a player can avoid be overly excited with their ace rags, there are a few times I'd say it's ok to play them.

In the Blinds

I'm willing to play ace rags from the blinds simply because most times when I do, I'm getting an extremely good price to do so.

For example, if several players limp in preflop and I'm in the small blind, often times I'll be getting 5, 6 or 7 to 1 on my money. These are good odds to take, especially since I stick to a plan of playing certain aces and only continuing on the flop if I make a certain hand or better. Here are my personal guidelines:

- I will complete the small blind with any suited ace if several limpers have already entered the pot. I'm looking for two pair or better on the flop to continue, or a flush draw that I can draw to cheaply.

- If my ace isn't suited, I will muck off A6 thru A9 and only play A2 thru A5. The reason for this is that A6 thru A9 is forcing you to play "A" high only since most times your kicker won't be any good. By playing A2 thru A5, you're giving yourself the opportunity to hit or draw to the wheel (A2 thru A5) straight. Again, several limpers need to already be in the pot to make this worth doing.

Now, if the action has folded to me and I'm in the small blind, what I do will depend on the player in the big blind. The tighter he is, the more inclined I am to raise my aces here. What I've been noticing recently (as of early 2010), more and more players are not giving you credit for a hand in the small blind and have been resorting to flatting or 3betting frequently. Strategy for dealing with either of these situations are far too involved for this article, but as a general rule of thumb I'll just muck off my small blind to these players. There is no point in playing out of position with a marginal ace.

If I'm in the big blind and can see a flop free, I'll do so. The exception is if the action folded to the small blind who calls/folds a lot - I'll raise my aces then. If the small blind raises me, I'll muck off my worse aces and flat the aces that have potential (straights/flushes) since I can play the hand in position.

On the Button

Similar to the small blind, if there are several limpers preflop I might be willing to flat a suited/connected ace on the button. Again, I'm only doing this to hit two pair or better on the flop, preferably with a flush or straight draw as well. If one player has entered the pot and did so by limping, I'll often raise to isolate that player and play them in position. If they fold to my iso-raise preflop, then I'm more than happy with that too.

If you want to flat or isolate from the button, than you also need to be aware of the tendencies of the blinds. If the blinds like to squeeze quite a bit then you'll have to tighten up and stick to the middle or top of your range. To be able to isolate or limp behind on the button you'll want blinds that are tight/passive in nature.

If it has been folded to me and I'm on the button, I'll raise with any ace. I'll adjust how raggedy of an ace I'm willing to play depending on how tight/loose the blinds seem to be. The same holds true for the cutoff, although it's important to also take in the characteristics of the player on the button into consideration as well. 

Playing Ace Rags

Aside from the button and the blinds, I'm simply folding ace rags every time I'm dealt them. They are just a strong enough hand to get you into trouble and lose your stack, but not strong enough to stack someone else. That should make it obvious that playing ace rags is a losing proposition in most cases in the long run.

However, if and/or when you do play rag aces, it's crucial that you have the discipline to fold them if you are faced with a lot of action and have nothing better than top pair with a weak kicker.