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The other day I was playing a game where I was playing relatively conservatively, waiting for a good hand. Then I got a pair of aces, and as soon as I bet just a couple of chips, everybody immediately folded, so I wasn't really able to capitalize on it.

What's the best way to play in this situation?

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2 Answers 2

It depends! What are your definitions of "conservatively" and "good hand" and "couple of chips"? And how long had you been playing at this game, allowing your opponents to develop an impression of your play?

First, you can't make any generalizations based on this single hand. The fact that you got dealt AA doesn't entitle you to win a big pot. It could well be that you played your hand just fine and nobody else happened to have a hand with which to challenge your opening raise. It happens sometimes. You just have to sigh and smile as the dealer pushes the blinds your way.

But, maybe it's a pattern. Based on your description of your opponents' reaction to your bet, it sounds like you might be playing in a nitty way where you are waiting for premium starting hands. If this is true, and your opponents know it's true, then your best course of action is to selectively widen your opening hand ranges. If, for example, you're opening with things like:

88+, ATs+, KJs+, AQo+

That's only about 7% of hands. If your opponents have seen you playing for a while, perceive your tight play, and have seen you show a few premium hands at showdown, they are going to be noticeably reluctant to enter one of the few pots when you open. You can take advantage of this reputation by open raising with a wider range of hands, particularly in later position. Exactly how best to do this isn't so clear, since it depends on so many different factors: opponent tendencies, stack sizes, your absolute position, your position relative to other key players in the hand, etc. Getting the most out of your position is something that distinguishes elite players from the rest of us, and it's a learning process that gives a little boost each time you learn more.

In general, tight play can often win at lower limit cash games like typical live $1-$2 games and against certain player types, but you can do better. Do some searching on the web for articles on how your hand selection should vary with position, and learn how to mix it up a little at a time. I stress that you should do it a little at a time, because it's easy to get lost when you try to play a lot more hands without the skills to back it up.

An excellent book that describes benefits of position and other common concerns in modern smaller no-limit cash games is Ed Miller's Small Stakes No-Limit Hold 'Em. IMO, you can't go wrong with this or any of Ed Miller's other books.

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The answer to this question addresses the 100 hands before you got your AA, not the AA itself. If you get AA, then usually cram and press pre-flop. Unless, of course, you feel unusually lucky and feel like playing a subtle hand and try to outplay your opponents - good luck. As Doyle Brunson put it, AA is a great way to win a small pot or loose a big one. Aces are best played heads up, not against a 2 or more players.

This is a great example of why you need to mix up your play pre-flop. If you are a rock, then you are going to get too much respect from a raise pre-flop. If you loosen up your play just a little, then you'll sow the seeds of doubt in your opponents in order to reap the benefits of position and value bets.

I look at playing too conservatively the same as "scared money." Are you afraid to loose? Or you just don't want to see your stack go down at all.

You have to look at poker over the long haul. Occasionally your AA will get snapped off and you'll loose a stack - it's just part of the game. By loosening up your game - pre-flop raises or re-raises with air, calling strong hands with little suited connectors like 5-6 or 2-3 - it causes your opponent to occasionally misread your hand. If you can do that more often than not, then your occasional loose play will payoff in the end. For more information, get into Expected Value calculations based on bluffs - sometimes bluffs mathematically pay off better than straight up play.

Oh, and as Chris Farmer adroitly put it, "Getting the most out of your position is something that distinguishes elite players from the rest of us" and "Exactly how best to do this isn't so clear." Sage words.

One of the biggest advantages of tight-aggressive (conservative) play is when you DO decide to push with a weaker hand - like J9o or A-rag suited or complete air. This is what is known as taking advantage of table image. What you are doing is increasing your odds of the other player folding by representing a strong hand - which is a long topic unto itself. If you only raise with premium hands, you'd might as well just turn your cards up on the table and then bet.

Poker is a game of skill. You do not need the best hand to win. You can manipulate the perceived card odds and Expected Value based on HOW you play - not just the value of the cards. This makes poker different than Pai Gow and Blackjack.

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