I was playing in a 6/12 game yesterday, and a woman turned over her pocket aces to lose a giant pot on the river. “I always lose with aces… I don’t know why I even bother playing them.” I hear this a lot at low-limit tables, and I wanted to talk a little about this perception.
First of all, she didn’t raise before the flop– everyone was able to see the flop for just one bet, and the big blind got in for free. This meant that the pot was contested 8-way, and her aces were at least a 2:1 underdog before the flop. In this particular game, most unraised pots were contested by 7 or 8 players, while raised pots tended to have only 3 or 4 players seeing the flop. Had she whittled the pot down to 4 players with a raise she would have been even money to win the pot– very different.
People forget that, while your aces are 4:1 to win heads-up, they shrink to a 3:2 favorite against 3 opponents, and are about even-money or maybe a slight underdog against 4. The problem is the “implicit collusion” created by multiple callers: as individuals, they only have a few outs to catch up to your big hand, but those outs add up. As you have more opponents, you run into a situation where most of the cards in the deck help at least someone at the table! If your aces don’t improve you’re in trouble in a multiway pot.
So not raising was a mistake. However, the flop came with an obvious strait possibility, and three cards to a suit (she didn’t have the ace of that suit.) If this woman were smart, she would have folded to any big action on the flop, but she chose THIS moment to start being aggressive, when it should have been obvious she was already beaten. She kept paying off bets and raises to the river– she wound up losing 8 bets instead of 1 (or two, had she raised pre-flop.)
Remember: poker is about getting as much money as possible into the pots you win, and putting as little of your money as you can into pots you’re going to lose. She failed on both accounts: she didn’t raise when she had the best hand, and she didn’t fold when she had an obvious second-best hand.
Of course, many low-limit players can sympathize with her– “why raise? Nobody will fold anyway?” Well, that may be true– I’ve been at those tables too. However, even though you’re a 3:1 underdog to win the hand in the end, the pot is laying you 8:1! Adding a raise still has a positive expectation, even if you know it won’t narrow the field!