Should you always 4-bet AA and other questions on big pairs

December 3, 2016

Big pocket pairs (AA, KK and QQ) are always fun to play because the majority of the time you are scooping a pot by the end of the hand. When comparing AA to the rest of the hands in holdem there is a significant difference in performance but most players play AA too aggressively and end up costing themselves additional profit.

In this post I will answer a number of common questions on AA, KK and other premium hands. If you have any follow up questions to my answers in this post then please write them in the comments section. Let’s begin.

Should I always 3-bet and 4-bet AA?

The short answer to this question is no. Like most spots in poker the best play depends on a number of factors. AA is the strongest hand in poker and wins +-90% of the time across a large enough sample size. Most players realize this fact and try their best to build a pot. This typically involves 3-betting and 4-betting raises from opponents.

Lets first talk about the option of 3-betting AA pre-flop. You should 3-bet AA the vast majority of the time for the following reasons:

  • You need to include your strongest hands in your 3-betting range in order to balance your range. If you never 3-bet AA, KK, QQ etc then you can never defend against 4-bets profitably and you will become easy to exploit. Showing down AA, KK or QQ after 3-betting will remind opponents that when you 3-bet you have the goods and this will allow you to find more spots to 3-bet wider in the future.
  • You are only going to be dealt AA once in roughly 220 hands. You want to take advantage of these situations and the best way to do it is by raising or 3-betting the hand. Every now and then you will be dealt AAs and one of your opponents will be dealt a premium hand. It is less likely that you will stack your opponent if you don’t build the pot pre-flop.

So when should I just call a 3-bet with AA pre-flop?

The one situation I may just call with AA pre-flop is if an aggressive player raises and it is folded to me and I’m in a late position. This will mean that I should be heads up or in a 3-way pot. If I have any reason to believe that two or more players might call after me then I will 3-bet because I don’t want to get into a pot with more than 2 opponents when holding AA.

Now that I’m heads up with the aggro player with a very disguised hand I can play my hand a number of ways depending on the flop. If it comes all low then I may lead out representing a small pocket pair or some kind of draw. If my opponent is holding any higher pair he will almost definitely raise, and he may raise anyway, trying to push me off. Assuming my opponent raises I can either reraise him, depending on stack sizes, or just call and trap. If the flop comes 2 2 3 for example then my hand is basically a lock unless he hits a 2 outer or running runner straight/flush. If he is holding a hand like AK, AQ, KQ then he has around 2% equity and a pocket pair has only 8% assuming my opponent didn’t flop a set or full house.

Depending on stack sizes and the turn you can check raise and get it in or bet the flop and go from there. You should aim to get the money in on the turn.

So when should I avoid 4-betting with AA pre-flop?

If you understood my thinking behind my reason for not 3-betting with AA pre-flop then you can simply apply the same logic to a spot when an opponent 3-bets you when you are holding AA. The main difference between the spots is that I’m a lot less likely to 4-bet with AA when facing a 3-bet than I am to 3-bet with AA when facing a raise. The problem I have with 4-betting in general is it immediately raises alarms to most players and it is now easy for them to put you on either AA, KK or QQ. I don’t want my opponents to put me on my exact range because that makes it very easy for them to play against me.

The one scenario where I will almost always 4-bet my opponent is if one of us is short after the 3 bet. Lets say I raise to $50 with AA and I’m sitting with $500. My opponent then reraises me to $300. If I just called I would have $200 left or 40% of my starting stack. I have to assume that if my opponent is willing to put so much money into the pot pre-flop that he is not folding to another $200. In this case I shove every time. Another reason for doing this is if an A hits the flop, or it comes 3 of the same suit and my opponent doesn’t have a card of that suit he might find a way to fold his hand.

Another situation where I will almost always 4-bet is if both my opponent and I are very deep. The main reason for doing this is to build up a pot pre-flop so that I can try and get all the money in on the turn. I also want to give my opponent the chance to bluff 5-bet or 5-bet with a hand like AK, KK or QQ. If I just call his 3-bet and the flop comes wet then I will most likely win a smaller pot than I could have won or worse, put myself in a very awkward spot for a lot of money.

The main situation where I won’t 4-bet my opponent is if I want to trap him. Some aggressive players will decide to represent monster hands at times and if you can trap a player that is overplaying his hand with AA then you can win a monster pot. If your opponent decides to 3-bet you with A 8 and you come over the top with a big 4-bet then he will have little choice but to fold his hand. This kind of play should be reserved for players that get out of line and are a bit more creative. The weaker players who play their hands face up can be 4-bet more frequently since they won’t be able to lay down their JJ or AQ and will over call and get themselves into trouble.

Should I limp reraise with AA if I’m dealt AA UTG?

I personally don’t like to make this play since it is usually very obvious to your opponents and unless someone has a premium hand (KK, QQ, AK etc) you aren’t going to win a big pot. The exception to this rule is if you are playing in a ridiculously aggressive game with a lot of straddling and 3-betting. If you are very confident that someone will raise then go a head and limp with all your premium hands when UTG or UTG+1. From middle position and in later positions you should raise every time with AA so you are balancing your range and not playing AA multi-way.

Should I always get it in pre-flop with KK?

You will run KK into AA roughly 4.5% of the time in a 9-person game. That means that out of every 100 times you are dealt KK, around 5 times one of your opponents will have AA. This statistic immediately tells us that yes, if you can, you should get all your money in the middle pre-flop with KK. The odds of you running this hand into AA is so small, and there is so much more random plays by opponents these days that folding KK pre-flop is a big mistake.

Below is a list of the pre-flop equity of KK vs. common hand combos which might end up 4-betting KK:

  • KK vs. AA = 17.09%
  • KK vs. QQ = 82.35%
  • KK vs. AK = 69.38%
  • KK vs. AQ = 71.72%
  • KK vs. JJ = 81.96%
  • KK vs. 1010 = 80.3%
  • KK vs. KQ = 90.96%

Notice what a massive favorite you are versus the entire range. Since the odds of you running your hand against an opponent’s hand which is not AA is so much higher you will be making a fortune in the long-run getting all your money in the middle pre-flop with KK.

If you do get a huge number of blinds in the middle drawing to 17% with KK pre-flop it is a cooler and you should shake it off and move onto the next hand.

How should I play JJ pre-flop?

JJ is a premium hand in poker but too many players over play JJ pre-flop. A great piece of advice I got regarding JJ from a good poker friend is to play JJ pre-flop like you would play 1010. This immediately puts the hand in a different category and should be played like a medium strength hand. You definitely want to raise and 3-bet JJ most of the time but you shouldn’t be happy if your opponent is willing to build a big pot when you are holding the troublesome jacks.

If you are up against a tight, decent player then opt to call his open raise with JJ in order to disguise the strength of your hand and control the size of the pot. Since an over card will hit the flop the majority of the time when you are holding JJ the hand becomes tough to play post flop. This is another reason why you don’t want to get into an inflated pot with JJ since you will be donating money if you can’t call a c-bet at least some of the time.

Against weak opponents JJ becomes a top tier hand and should be played quickly and aggressively. More often than not your weak opponent will over play their medium pocket pair or A rag hand allowing you to build a pot with the majority of the equity in the hand. Against some weak players you should be willing to commit pre-flop with JJ. This obviously depends on a number of factors from stack sizes to the attitude of your opponent, and your read (assuming you are playing live).

Why do I seem to lose so much money with AK?

First of all it is unlikely you are losing money with AK. AK is a premium hand in poker and unless you are experiencing dramatic variances or tilting off your money you should show a profit with AK. If you are losing money with AK over a significant sample then you are most likely very poor at post-flop play and you are most likely a big loser in the game.

The biggest problem with AK is that it is a drawing hand and if you are playing in games where your opponents are very sticky (don’t like to fold) then you will struggle since the hand will only flop a pair or better around 30% of the time. If you are going on a bad run you may only flop a pair a small percentage of the time and since your cbets aren’t working, you will end up losing a lot of money.

AK is a dream hand vs. weak players who like to over call with all their medium strength aces and king combos since when you flop your pair you will fleece these players.

Another common scenario is you will get AK all-in pre-flop vs. a pair like 88 and be flipping for a lot of blinds. Since you are a small underdog in these spots you should expect to lose more often than you win. There is also a ton of variance with AK since you will be a 70/30 favorite a good portion of the time, 50/50 some of the time and a massive underdog a small percentage of the time. In the end it averages out to around you being a 60/40 favorite which is no where near to the equity advantage you experience with KK or AA.

Did you find this post helpful? Let me know which questions I should add to this post in the comments section below.

Justin Butlion

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Welcome to my blog. My name's Justin Butlion and I'm the owner of The Great Grind. At The Great Grind I share my thoughts on beating the game of poker. The blog covers poker strategy, game theory, poker related statistics and the psychology needed to grind out consistent profit at micro and low stakes online poker.