By: Paul Hewson
You're sitting at the poker table playing no-limit Hold'em. Here come your cards: two shiny black Aces. Bullets. Pocket Rockets. It's the best possible starting hand in the game, and you fold without giving it a second thought. Wait, what? You folded Aces preflop?
Yes, and it was absolutely the right thing to do. That's because you're playing in a satellite tournament, and you already have more than enough chips to make it past the bubble. Context is everything in poker; if you had played those pocket Aces, you would have risked losing chips and maybe getting bounced from the tournament – and for what? Just because they were Aces?
Bad Beats, Bad Beats
Folding is one of the biggest challenges poker players face. This is a game, after all, and when you fold, it feels like you're choosing not to play. If feels even worse when you fold what looks like a premium holding. But that's poker. Folding is part of the game, just like betting and calling and raising. If the situation dictates, you should be willing and prepared to fold any two cards.
Remember, pocket Aces are not invincible. Just ask Conor Drinan; he famously had his Aces cracked by Cary Katz' Aces at the 2014 World Series of Poker Big One for One Drop. There was only a 2% chance of that happening once they went to showdown, but the board ran out with four hearts, and Katz had the Ace of Hearts in his hand. Or ask Matt Affleck, who had his Aces cracked by Jonathan Duhamel's pocket Jacks at the 2010 WSOP Main Event. Duhamel went on to win the tournament for a cool $8.9 million.
Regicide Is Painless
Of course, if you're not playing in a satellite, then there's not much reason to fold Aces preflop. But what about Pocket Kings? This is another hand that beginners are taught never to fold, but in theory, it can make sense to fold KK, even in a regular cash game. Let's say you're playing 6-max NLHE, 100bb deep. The lojack (under the gun) raises, and you're in the hijack (middle position) with KK, so you 3-bet. Everyone else folds. The lojack 4-bets. You 5-bet small, and the lojack jams all-in.
Believe it or not, this could be a good spot to fold and save yourself the last 50bb or so in your stack. What cards would the lojack be shoving with here? Perhaps Aces, Kings, Queens, and Ace-King suited, if they're solid enough. Against that range, your Pocket Kings are about a coin-flip, so sure, go ahead and call. But what if you know your opponent is tight? If they're only shoving Aces and Kings in this spot, you'd better fold, because your KK only has about 23% equity. Do the right thing, even if it hurts. The consequences of doing the wrong thing are much, much worse.