Poker Tips by George: Playing Ace-rag

By George Epstein
January 27, 2021

The best card in the deck is an Ace. Playing Texas Hold’em, the best starting hand is a pair of Aces. Therefore, you can expect to see an Ace in the hole one out of 13 hands dealt to you. On the other hand, the odds against looking down on pocket Aces in the hole are 221-to 1. Far more likely, you will have Ace-rag. A rag is a small card, 7 down to deuce.

ace rag

Many, if not most, recreational Texas Hold’em players are inclined to play any-Ace (A-x), including Ace-rag. That includes folks playing at brick and mortar venues as well as online at some of the best New Jersey Gambling Sites. Occasionally, depending on the board and with lots of luck, the Ace-rag will take the pot. More often, it is second-best — a loser. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting at the Hustler Casino in LA, the Bellagio in Las Vegas, or at, an Ace-rag hand is usually something you ought to muck.

Suggestion: Use the Hold’em Algorithm to help you decide if your A-x hand is playable. It depends on several factors, including value/rank of both cards, betting position, any raises, number of opponents in the pot, and table texture. Other criteria depend on whether your hole cards are connected or suited, for which they get a bonus depending on position. Muck your hand if it does not meet the criteria for the Hold’em Algorithm.

Proof of Concept

To best illustrate, suppose you are in a low/middle-limit hold’em game with a full table, and are dealt A-6 offsuit. Your toughest decision is: Should I invest in this hand to see the flop?

My answer: Muck your hand unless you are in a late position and there has not been a raise. If you are in a middle position, glance to your left to see if any opponent is gathering enough chips to make a raise. (That would be a valuable tell.) Likewise, if there is an extremely aggressive player to your left, assume they likely will make a raise, and save your chips by folding.

With an unpaired starting hand, you can expect to pair up one of your hole cards one-third of the time on the flop. If you flop a pair of Aces, you have to worry that an opponent is also holding an Ace in the hole – but with a better kicker than yours. In that case, you are a big underdog. Pairing your kicker for two-pair on the turn or river may give you the best hand – provided that an opponent with an Ace in the hole does not pair up his bigger kicker. If they’re a tight player and opens the betting or raises a previous bet, you have your answer: Save your chips and fold your hand. (Avoid chasing with just a few good outs.)

If an opponent opens the betting, ask yourself, “Is he a deceptive player?” If so, a call would be reasonable. You might even consider raising to thin the field and to get more information. In all other cases, look for tells to help you decide whether to call a bet on the flop. As a rule, when in doubt, muck your hand.

If you fail to connect on the flop, be prepared to muck your hand. But, if everyone checks on the flop, you get to see the flop for free. (Never refuse a free card!) If you are in a late position and the betting is checked to you, consider making a raise to steal the pot. (Your opponents have no idea as to the strength of your hand.) In effect, you are semi-bluffing. Use the Esther Bluff to help you succeed; bet with confidence and use a reverse tell (such as  leaning forward in your seat). A bit of deception can work best if you have been playing tight up to that point. That’s your image.

In Summary

Ace-rag is a poor starting hand. Yes, it is tempting to stay to see the flop. Many players do just that – no matter the kicker.  Should the flop include another Ace, the opponent with the higher kicker will almost always take the pot. When you are dealt Ace-rag, use your self-discipline to avoid the temptation to stay to see the flop. Most often, improving on the flop will only serve to keep you in the pot, investing your precious chips until you lose on the showdown. Of course, all of the aforementioned advice pertains to Limit Hold’em. As for No-Limit Hold’em, that’s a whole other ballgame.

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George Epstein

After a long and productive career as a leader in the aerospace industry, upon his retirement in the 1990s, George Epstein chose poker as his “second career.” George has been widely recognized for his many significant accomplishments and contributions to our society. These include pioneering and innovations in various materials, testing and manufacturing technologies for […]

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