In the game of poker, an Ace is considered to be the most powerful card in the deck. Ranking atop all of the other cards in its suit, an Ace’s power doesn’t only come from its ranked strength, but also because in many variants of poker (such as Texas Hold’em and Omaha),

Aces can also be considered low, giving it an added element of deceptive strength and function!

That’s right – in the most common forms of poker, an Ace is considered to be both high and low! This fact means that not only will a pair of Aces beat a pair of Kings, but it will also form the low ends of “wheel” straights, like in A-2-3-4-5.

When Is an Ace High? When Is an Ace Low?

In nearly all “made hands” in poker, Aces are going to be considered as a high card value. The following chart illustrates this:

When an Ace is High:

When an Ace is Low:

High Card: A9532 beats KQJ53

“Wheel” Straights: A-2-3-4-5

(“5-high straight”)

NOTE: A “wheel” straight would lose to any other higher straight. For example, A2345 would still lose to 34567. In this case, the Ace in the straight is low, meaning that the hand rankings would be a 5-high straight vs a 7-high straight.

The same principle would be true for “steel wheels,” or rather straight flushes that have an Ace being low: As-2s-3s-4s-5s would lose to 6s-7s-8s-9s-Ts (5-high straight flush vs T-high straight flush).

One Pair: AA beats KK

Two Pair: AA88 beats KK99

Three-of-a-Kind: AAA beats JJJ

“Broadway” Straights: AKQJT beats QJT98 (“Ace-high straight” vs “Queen-high straight”)

Flushes (always): As-Qs-8s-6s-2s beats Ks-Js-Ts-9s-7s

Full Houses: AAATT beats KKKJJ

TTTAA beats TTTQQ

Quads: AAAA beats 7777

Royal Flushes: As-Ks-Qs-Js-Ts, which of course beat any straight flushes, such as 9s-8s-7s-6s-5s.

Therefore, as you can see, in all cases other than low straights, Aces are going to be considered high. When an Ace is part of a wheel straight A-2-3-4-5, it’s a 5-high straight instead of an Ace-high straight, simply because the Ace is being used as a lowest card of the straight in this instance.

Common Aces in Poker Variants

Granted, most of you reading this will likely be geared to play No-Limit Texas Hold’em. However, it’s still essential to address how Aces are ranked in different forms of the game.

They won’t always have the same high/low function across all types of poker. Sometimes, Aces will only be high; sometimes,Aces will only be ranked low!

The following chart shows how Aces function across various poker game types:

GAME TYPE:

ACES: High or Low?

Texas Hold’em

Both: High always except in wheel straights (A-2-3-4-5)

Short Deck Hold’em

Both: High always except in wheel straights (A-6-7-8-9)

Omaha Hi

Both: High always except in wheel straights (A-2-3-4-5)

Omaha Hi-Lo

Hi Hand: Both – as standard Omaha

Lo Hand: Low only (8 or lower) – Straights and flushes do not count against your hand. Therefore A-2-3-4-5 is the best possible hand for the low half of the pot

7-Card Stud

Both: High always except in wheel straights (A-2-3-4-5)

2-7 Triple Draw

High Only: A-2-3-4-5 is not a straight, but rather Ace high.

Note that straights and flushes count against the strength of your hand.

5-Card Draw

Both: High always except in wheel straights (A-2-3-4-5)

5-Card Omaha

Both: High always except in wheel straights (A-2-3-4-5)

Badugi

Low Only.

Straights do not count against the low hand of this game.

Suits/pairs of cards matter greatly, of course, in this variant.

Razz (Stud Lowball)

Low Only.

Straights and flushes do not count against a low hand.

Chinese Poker

Both – Aces will only be able to be potentially used as low cards in the 5-card hands (i.e. if wheel straights are made). In the 3-card hand, Aces will always be high.

Ace Poker: Rules/Hand Ranking Power

As discussed, in the most common forms of poker, Aces are primarily going to be considered and used as high cards. This fact is crucial in games like No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) and Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO), where the aim of the game is to try to make the highest possible hand!

As such, having an Ace in your hand can give you added power, but it can also be a detriment to you in other situations.

Take the following two examples:

Example 1: Ace Kicker Poker

For a first example, suppose if you hold AK and your opponent holds KQ. The board runs out K8632. At showdown, both you and your opponent hold a pair of Kings. In this instance, you will win the hand because your Ace is a better “kicker” (the high card that will affect total hand ranking) than your opponent’s Queen.

In essence, your five-card hand would be K-K-A-8-6 while your opponent’s would be K-K-Q-8-6.

Having that powerful Ace kicker makes all the difference!

Example 2: Pair of Aces, Kicker Problems

For the next example, this one is to illustrate how having an Ace in your hand can be useful in making high pairs, but a detriment if you don’t always have a decent kicker to go along with it.

For instance, you have A3 off-suit (A3o), and your opponent has AK suited (AKs). The board comes A-J-8-6-2. Right now, your 5-card hand is a pair of Aces with a Jack kicker (A-A-J-8-6). Your opponent has a pair of Aces with a King kicker (A-A-K-J-8).

In this situation, you’ve run into what’s called “kicker problems.” Yes, you have a high pair in the form of two Aces, but you aren’t faring so well because of your low kicker. If you knew with 100% certainty that your opponent had an Ace, the best situation you could hope for would be a “chop” (split pot) if your opponent had A5, A4, or A3.

All three kickers would be made up from the community cards on the board, rendering the kicker that you hold in your hand useless. (With low kickers in your hole cards, both yours and your opponent’s hands would be A-A-J-8-6).

Even if your opponent had A7, he would still win the hand because his third kicker would be better than yours (A-A-J-8-7).

Overplaying Hands Containing and Ace

It’s essential to realise the value that having an Ace can hold in the game of poker. However, in place of the last point on “kickers”, it’s also crucial to realise that not all hands with an Ace are considered equal.

NOTE: In poker, when one refers to a hand as AX. This means that they definitely have an Ace in their hand, and the X could be representative of any other unpaired card. For example, AX can refer to A2 / A3 / A4 / A5 / A6 / A7 / A8 / A9 / AT/ AJ/ AQ / AK.

Many beginning players get into the habit of playing every hand that has an Ace in it, and this isn’t good. Against good players who are going to play a tighter (smaller) range of hands, the Aces that they are going to play will usually be better.

Therefore, beginners will often run into “kicker problems”, having the potential of losing more hands and money than otherwise, because of how many (AX) hands they are playing.

What Hands With Aces Will Good Poker Players Play?

Good players will not play every hand with an Ace in it, but they will often look for ways in which their 2nd card has the potential to interact with the Ace in their hand.

  • Does it have the potential of making broadways straights (A-K-Q-J-T)?
  • What about wheels (A-2-3-4-5)?
  • How about flushes (suited combinations)?
  • Is there a high kicker to go along with it?

Additionally, good players also note that they’d rather play a hand like A5s than a hand like A6s because of the playability aspect. In both cases, the kicker is low, and yes, while the 6 is still better than a 5 when it comes to determining “kickers,” sometimes this won’t matter. If the community cards were high enough, this factor would make them irrelevant. (i.e. A6 and A5 on a K-J-8-7-2 board would both make up the same 5-card hand of A-K-J-8-7 for Ace-high). 

However, coming back to playability, A5s will play better than A6s because of the bonus of being able to make wheel straights by using both hole cards (i.e. if a 2-3-4 came out in the community cards). With the A5 hand, you can semi-bluff more often and easily when you have, say, gut-shot draws. You can pick up the pot more often, too, by gaining fold equity (where you win the hand when your opponent folds to your bet).

Beginners vs Pros: Playing Aces In Poker

To summarise the previous section, good players will usually try to play –

  • Suited Aces (AXs)
  • Broadways Aces (AT+)

- if they play a hand with an Ace in it at all!

The extent of how much trouble new players can get into by playing too many AX hands can be fully seen when looking at combinatorics in poker. Taking Ace-King, by multiplying 4 Aces by 4 Kings, it becomes evident that there are 16 different combinations of this hand. Of these, we can determine that there are 4 suited and 12 unsuited combinations.

Knowing this, let’s consider the number of AX combinations a good player might play (even though exact hand ranges would vary by position and situation). There would be 16 x 4 = 64 combos of broadway Aces, and 4 x 8 = 32 other suited combinations of Aces (A2s – A9s), bringing the total AX combos in a good player’s range to 96.

On the other hand, if we take a look at the combinatorics for an amateur’s range of all AX hands, we’d see that they have 16 x 12 = 192 combinations of AX.(This number is precisely DOUBLE the number of AX combos a “good” player might play in any given situation!)

These calculations go to show just how easily beginners can get themselves into trouble with “kicker problems”by playing so many AX hands. Situations will arise, all too frequently, where their AX hand will be “dominated” – that is to say, where their kicker with their Ace will be inferior to their opponent’s.

Horse with a saddle labelled A3 kicking a player backwards

Playing Specific AX Hands

In this section, we will shed some light on the most powerful unpaired hand combos with an Ace(AT+) – the value they have and recommendations on how to play them:

Poker: Ace-King

Ace-King is one of the most formidable hands in poker! Whether it’s suited or unsuited, the high broadway potential of this hand is fierce, making it playable with either with a raise or a re-raise!

Yes, while it is not a “made hand” before the flop(unlike any pocket pair), against most pairs QQ or below, it usually carries about 50% equity (chance of winning) before the flop. It crushes most other unpaired hands!

Going all-in with AK before the flop is undoubtedly a frequent play in poker (depending on stack sizes and opponent profiles) - most notably in tournament poker when stacks get shallow.

In cash games, while stacks are often much deeper, if you aren’t going all-in with AK preflop (it’s usually acceptable to if you have 100bb or less), then you’re definitely going to want to up your post-flop game. You will need to maximise your winnings with this powerhouse after the community cards come out.

Poker: Ace-Queen

As the second-strongest AX hand in the deck, AQ certainly carries some power potential too. From almost all positions, you’re going to want to play AQ. (The only exception might be AQo from Under The Gun (UTG) – the player first to act preflop– at a very tough/strong table.

Additionally, you may want to 3bet (re-raise vs an initial raise) many of your AQs combinations for value. When you compute the strength of this hand compared to many of your opponent’s opening/raising ranges, AQs is usually going to do very well. Additionally, the playability of this suited high-card hand does very well in position.

Unlike its suited counterpart, you don’t have to always 3bet AQo preflop and many times you can do well to call, too.This hand is going to do better than a lot of your opponent’s range much of the time. It can also work as a decent candidate to help strengthen your preflop calling range (so that you’re not always calling with medium or speculative hands and 3betting your strongest).

Post-flop, if an A or a Q comes, you’re often going to have the best hand with top pair and an excellent kicker, meaning you should frequently bet your AQ’s here for both value and protection. If you face resistance from your opponent, you’ll have to assess that player’s tendencies to know how to adequately continue. (Are they capable of semi-bluffing/bluffing, or do they only ever have made hands of two pair/sets or better?)

Poker Ace-Jack

While AJ suited could undoubtedly be opened from EP at a 9-handed table, AJ off-suit should more often be folded in the same spot. While the “suited-ness” of a hand will usually only add about 2% equity to one’s holding, in terms of playability, suited hands will play much better than their off-suit counterparts.

Furthermore, with numerous “in position” players left to act after you, AJo can certainly get you into some tough post-flop spots.And even in preflop situations, while AJ hand will usually be good enough to open, you must be careful when facing a 3bet+ after you open. This play is especially true if your opponent is a tight player and is only re-raising better hands (AQ+ or an overpair).

In fact, in lower limit cash games, most players will rarely 3bet preflop as a bluff and more often 3bet only with solid premiums, against which AJ doesn’t fare so well.

If another player raises first and the action folds to you, AJ also poses an interesting choice of how to proceed:

  • You couldopt to 3bet but would usually hate then facing a potential 4bet;
  • Calling opens you up to the chance of being squeezed with a hand you can’t call with (unless maybe if it’s AJ suited);
  • And folding is often too weak a play for a hand as strong as this.

As such, AJs will be either a call or a 3bet for value, typically, while AJo could be either a call (if facing a super loose opponent), a fold, or a 3bet as a bluff (if you have a 3bet bluffing range). In the caseof 3betting with AJo, taking the initiative in the hand gives you the potential to win it either preflop or postflop with fold equity, instead just trying to make a strong made hand. This decision is important because it won’t have as many ways to win as its suited counterpart with the added “playability” of being suited.

Poker Ace-Ten

Ace-Ten is the most difficult of the above AX hands to play. While AT beats weaker Aces, there becomes more and more of a possibility that you could be up against a better AX hand yourself.

ATs can always make up the bottom of your opening range from UTG in a 6-max game but should be easily folded from EP in a full-ring game.

Similar to AJ, flatting with ATs becomes more acceptable because of the hand’s playability, while ATo is usually better as a 3bet bluff or fold.Even though AT can look prettypreflop, remember that it can easily get you into many nightmare/tricky-to-manoeuvre situations post-flop. Therefore, sometimes it’s better to ditch it pre.

A Word on Table Position: Playing Aces in Poker

Table Position

6-Max Cash Game AX Playability Chart

You’ll likely have noticed in reading this article that, the earlier position you are in, the tighter a range you need to have to open. By the same thought, in an unopened pot, you can open-raise with a broader range when you are situated in later positions.

As a suggestion to help you determine which starting hands to play from which positions, it’s recommended to use the free 20 Poker Charts by 888poker. Using these as a baseline for your preflop decisions will help you better understand and become accustomed to the fundamentals of hand selection, based on position. It will also help you determine where and how to deviate from “standard” preflop play, depending on the circumstances.

As for hands that you flat call with vsa raise, a good rule of thumb to use is that you should flat with hands that either –

  • beat/dominate hands in your opponent’s opening range but would be too weak to 3bet with for value;

OR

  • hands with good implied odds, such and low to mid pocket pairs.

Lastly, the very best hands in your range should be re-raised (3bet+) against another player’s open-raise. This strategy is to gain value from weaker hands, control initiative, build a pot, and gain fold equity - by realising all your hand’s equity and Villain realises none of his by folding.

You could also add “3bet bluffs’ to your range to “balance” this out and not be so predictable. But this is a topic for another article.

In Summary

As this article illustrates, not all Aces are created equal. It’s essential to think of how the second card in one’s AX hand will interact with the Ace to potentially make a strong hand (i.e. suited for flushes, low for wheel straights, high for broadway straights/good kickers).

That said, an Ace is still a powerful card in the deck, as it can be valued both low and high in specific situations. However, having any Ace in your hand is never a justification to play it. You must see what other card(s) you are dealt and play optimally accordingly.

About the Author
By
Matthew Cluff is a poker player who specialises in 6-Max No Limit Hold’em games. He also periodically provides online poker content for various sites.
Related Content
4 Reasons to Leave the Poker Game

Top Four Reasons Why You Should Quit a Poker Game?
 

4 Good Ways to Improve Your Game

Top FOUR Ways to Improve Your Poker Gameplay Starting Today!

Everything You Need to Know About Being a Rock in Poker

Is It Smart to Play Poker like a Rock?

Why Settle for Two when You Can Play Four Card Poker Games?

Why Settle for Two when You Can Play Four Card Poker Games?

Learn to How to Play Loose-Aggressive Poker

Can You Win More with a Loose-Aggressive Poker Playing Style?

RFI Strategy in NL Hold’em – Crucial Items to Consider

Learn Why RFI Strategy Should Be at the Forefront of Your Poker Game!

Study these Top Three 5-Card PLO Strategy Tips

Top 3 Strategy Tips for 5-Card PLO from Team888’s Vivian Saliba!

How Fold Equity in Poker Affects Your Bottomline

Why Fold Equity Should Be a Priority in Your Poker Game!

20 Advanced Poker Tips to Up Your Game to the Next Level

Top 20 Advanced Poker Tips to Take Your Game Up to the Next Level!

Dealing with Bad Beats in Poker

Why Bad Beats Happen in Poker and How to Handle Them without Tilting!