This article is based on an episode of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by poker pro and coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike: Hello again, thanks for choosing to level-up your poker game with us today. I’m Mike Brady and I’m joined by the one and only, poker pro Gary Blackwood.
Gary: What’s up guys and girls? Today we’re going to talk about ace-high boards in single-raised pots. When to bet big, when to bet small, and when to bet in between.
Mike: Ace-high flops are the most common type of flop in the game, but they certainly aren’t the easiest to play correctly. Many poker players employ an oversimplified strategy, lumping all or most ace-high boards into one basket and playing them all the same way, betting with roughly the same range for roughly the same size.
But that is far from the best way to approach ace-high boards. Instead, you must consider the subtle factors that separate one ace-high board from the next and how those factors should impact your overall strategy.
To keep the scope of this topic manageable, we’re going to hone in on playing ace-high flops in single-raised pots. We’re talking cash games with no antes and 100 big blind stacks.
No 3-bet pots today, maybe we’ll do that another time. We’re talking about cash games with no antes and 100 big blind stacks, unless we say otherwise.
Note: Attention tournament players! The new Road to Victory course created by Darren Elias and Nick Petrangelo is coming out this Monday (May 8th). Sneak a peek inside the course here!
When To Bet Big On Ace-High Flops
Mike: Let’s kick it off by jumping straight into some examples. Suppose you raise on the BTN and the BB calls. What’s an ace-high flop that would make you want to bet big, and how would you build your betting range on such a flop?
Gary: So this is a really nice topic to start with, and if you guys watched the previous episode (titled When to Bet Big), it’s something we discussed then, but really awesome to go over again.
You want to use a large c-bet size on ace-high boards that you hold a nut advantage on. The solver loves to bomb the flop to allow it to play for stacks by the river. If you bet 1/3-pot then you can’t bet turn and shove river, but if you go big here, either 75%-pot, or pot, or 133%-pot, then you allow yourself to overbet the turn and comfortably shove the river.
So what boards do we have a nut advantage on? The BB is going to 3-bet AJ, AQ, AK, so those A-J-4, A-Q-5, A-K-8 boards are SO good for us that we want to use big bet sizes and press our nut advantage when we bet.
Remember though that we lose the significant nut advantage on A-Q-Q, because the BB has Q2s, Q9o, etc., and also on AQT because the BB has reasonable KJ combos. So when the board is paired or there’s a flopped straight possible, or the flop is monotone, we no longer press our nut advantage, because we no longer have that nut advantage. Really important to remember that intricate detail.
Mike: The BB is going to be 3-betting AJ, AQ, AK. And that’s why those boards where those hands make top two pair are particularly good for us. We’re the only player that can have those two-pair combos, and we’re the only player that can have the high sets, like AA and JJ on an A-J-5 board.
But how much does it change when you raise from an earlier position, and thus your opponent in the BB isn’t going to be 3-betting as many of those high Ax hands? They’re always going to 3-betting AK and AQ suited, for the most part. If you raise from an early enough position, your opponent, especially in practice, is going to start just calling with a lot of AQ offsuit, AJ suited, AJ offsuit, AT suited.
Gary: If you open from UTG or MP, you’ll see that the solver is still bombing most A-K-x and A-Q-x boards, using the overbet very clearly. But on a board like A-J-x, A-T-x, the solver is no longer absolutely bombing it for 133%-pot. You’ll see some smaller bet sizes. I don’t mean 33%-pot or 50%-pot, but the solver will start to mix between the 133% size and the 75% size, and a little bit of pot size as well.
So I’ll use a 133%-pot size when I have a significant nut advantage, like A-K-x, A-Q-x, A-J-x on the button. But when I have a reasonable nut advantage (but not an incredible nut advantage), I’ll use a 75%-pot size. So middle position (MP) vs BB, on A-J-x, A-T-x, I’ll use 75%-pot for example.
Mike: So 75%-pot is still kind of a big bet size, but you’re not absolutely shoveling money into the pot. Like on the A-K-x when you’re betting 133%-pot.
Buy the way, if you haven’t listened to our When to Bet Big episode, definitely go back and listen to that podcast after this. We go really in-depth on how those bet sizes work.
Building Your Range With The Big Bet Size on Ace-High Flops
Mike: Let’s go back to that BTN vs BB spot, and say we’re using the very big bet size. The flop comes A-K-4. How are you going to be building your betting range on the flop?
Gary: So again, referring to our last Level-Up episode, when we use a large bet size, our betting frequency comes down a little bit. So we’re not betting our entire range. The most important thing to remember is that you want to protect your checking range.
You’re not going to bet QQ, or JJ, or K5. And there’s going to be a lot of air in your range. So you protect your checking range with your weakest top pair. On A-K-4, AQ is going to bet very, very often. A2 is going to bet very, very infrequently. We’ll use a hand like 55 as a bet on A-K-4, but not QQ, because 55 needs a ton more protection than QQ.
For example, on A-K-4, a hand like J8 offsuit has reasonable equity versus your 55, but it’s never going to call a bet. So when you bet 55, you get to deny that 25-30% equity from a hand like J8, and stop your opponent from turning a pair.
So it’s kind of like a ladder effect. Your QQ will rarely bet, your JJ will bet a little bit more, your TT a bit more, and so forth. So then you get to lower pocket pairs, which like to bet for protection purposes.
When To Bet Medium On Ace-High Flops
Mike: Same example, you raise BTN and BB calls, what’s an ace-high flop on which you’d go for a middling size? And what’s your betting range going to look like?
Gary: So you don’t really need to use a middling 50%-ish size if you don’t want to, but there are some spots where it can be nice to have, and it’s only really when the other two cards are middling and connected.
So I would have 50%-pot on A-7-6, A-8-7, maybe A-8-6, and the reason for this is that generally the more connected the board, the more resistance you will face. Obviously, the BB has more gutshots, straight draws, etc. on A-8-6, so you kind of have to bet at a lower frequency.
As a result, you like to just size up a smidge to 50%-pot. Again to reiterate that point, this isn’t a mandatory strategy that will suddenly double your win rate, you can just bet 33%-pot in this spot, but if you want to size up slightly, these are the boards to do it on.
In terms of the range that wants to bet, your range is dictated by the global betting frequency, which we speak about all the time on this podcast. Your global frequency is how often your range wants to check, or bet, or do XYZ.
In this instance, your global frequency is going to be around 55-60%. You have 3-4 types of hands that are going to want to check at a medium frequency.
You always want to protect your checking range with your weakest top pairs. Then you have your immediate underpairs to the highest card. So KK is going to bet a whole lot less than 99 on A-8-7, for example.
You then have complete airballs like on . It’s going to bet sometimes, but nowhere near as often as a hand like , for example.
And then you have your marginal showdown hands, like KK, 76s, KQ. So that’s how you construct your range when you’re not betting your entire range. Those are the types of hands you protect your checking range with.
When To Bet Small On Ace-High Flops
Mike: Are there any ace-high flops on which you’d want to bet small (33%-pot) in this BTN vs BB match-up?
Gary: Yeah, really easy one to answer, super disconnected boards. There’s a heck of a difference between A-8-3 and A-8-7 in terms of combos that can continue, so your c-bet success is going to be higher on a really strung-out, disconnected board like this, and therefore you get to bet small and very often!
You also want to use the small bet on monotone and paired boards.
Mike: The big difference between monotone or paired boards, and the A-8-3 board, is that you’re going to bet the A-8-3 board fairly often. There aren’t many missed hands that BB can have that can comfortably continue on A-8-3. How often do you bet on a board like A-8-3?
Gary: People tend to c-bet a little too much on a board like A-8-3. But when you c-bet , your opponent is supposed to continue with , , , and QJ offsuit, all of those types of hands. Even the really good players are going to struggle to continue as much as the solver will.
So we want to bet really wide, but we still want to have a checking range on a board like A-8-3. You don’t want to simplify your strategy to where you always bet. You want to have some checks with marginal made hands like KK and A2.
The Effect Of Position On Ace-High Flops
Mike: How much does position play a role here? Does your range or size look much different if you raised from MP instead of the BTN?
Gary: My sizing scheme is the exact same; 33%-pot on the disconnected boards, 50%-pot on the somewhat connected boards. The only thing that changes for me is that I will use a 75% bet size on A-J-x and A-T-x when UTG and MP instead of the overbet, and it’s just to do with the BB now flatting some AJs, ATs hands, so we have a nut advantage, but not as unbelievably huge on those types of boards.
But overall, really similar strategies, and also important to note that the 33% and 50% sizing scheme rule applies to K-high and Q-high boards as well, not just the A-high boards. The only difference is that we c-bet a little more often on K-high and Q-high boards.
For example MP vs BB we bet always on K-8-3, but on A-8-3 we bet 65% of the time. That’s one really big leak people have when c-betting is they don’t realize that A-high boards are not REALLY high-frequency c-bets, you have to be checking even the super disconnected ones at a reasonable frequency, and if we look at for example you will see that check frequency go up a little bit more.
Playing As The Big Blind On Ace-High Flops
Mike: Let’s quickly jump over to the BB side. How are you approaching these spots versus a c-bet, assuming your opponent chooses the proper size given the specific ace-high flop?
Gary: The bigger the c-bet, the less frequently we check-raise. Against bigger c-bet sizes, your raising range doesn’t change, but the frequency at which you raise changes. Say you’re in the BB, and the BTN c-bets for an overbet size on A-K-6. The BB is supposed to raise there 1% of the time.
You don’t raise that much, and you use a bigger size when you do raise, given how polarized you are. We did a fantastic episode on check raising from the BB, and the same concepts we spoke about that day very much apply here.
When you are not raising often your raising range is easy to work out, it’s centered around equity. Straight draws, flush draws, bottom pair with weakest kicker, those are the three types of hands you’ll raise on a board like A-7-5 for example, and if you have a board like A-8-3, you’ll have some 52s and 54s combos, and then your T7s and 97s with a backdoor flush draw hands.
Mike: I want to reiterate that point you just made. When you’re up against that big size, when your opponent has polarized their range, you raise quite infrequently against that size. When your opponent bets huge like that, they’re saying they have a very strong hand, or they have a bluff. Generally speaking that means they’re going to do the same thing on the turn. They’re going to bomb it with good hands and bluffs.
So why would you check-raise with really anything against that size? Because if you have a good hand, you’re going to face a big bet on the turn quite often. So let them do that, give them a chance to continue barreling into you.
But when you’re facing those smaller sizes, it’s totally different. You’re facing a merged range, and you can challenge that merged range with a robust check-raising strategy. Gary mentioned our first episode was about check-raising, go back and listen to that one.
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