Getting Sneaky With Bullets

This week's blog post comes to you from Shanghai, China! I won't have enough time for a trip to Macau, but that's certainly on the radar for next time.

Some of the first conventional wisdom we learn as poker players is never cap the action with AA pre-flop at a cash table. Given the option, just keep raising and reraising until all the money goes in. The sneakiest action we contemplate is a limp reraise in early position, but that move is easy to read and will put you in a tricky spot if no one opens the action. I want to give you an alternative idea for bullets to maximize value and deception at the table.

To mix up my play (especially at tables where I don’t know anyone) I like to employ the following move with AA. Let’s explore the following situation:

$1/$2, 9 handed, I’m in middle position with 100 big blinds, everyone else has the typical wide variation in stack sizes you see at a low stakes cash game.

Action folds around to me and I make a standard raise to $12 with A♣A. The cutoff (with around 65 big blinds) three-bets to $32, and the action folds back around to me.

Most players exclusively do one of two things here: either four-bet to around $70, or shove all in. Either play is perfectly fine (and the way I play AA most of the time). But it’s frustrating to make that big four-bet and see your opponent muck their cards. There’s another option here - just call.

If I call in this spot there’s $67 in the pot and my opponent has about $100 left in her stack. Let’s say the flop comes down 5♠10♣J. If I check, my opponent will usually make a standard continuation or value bet of $30-40. I’m then going to check raise her all in unless the flop is extremely connected (I will address that situation a little later).

Of the likely hands your opponent might three-bet you with pre-flop, KK, QQ, AJ, or KJ will call here, as will J10 or a set. She will also sometimes call if she has AK, AQ, A10, or KQ given her remaining stack size and (incorrect) assessment of her outs. My reraise will fold out most lower pocket pairs, Ax hands that missed the flop, suited connectors, and other random junk that could have three-bet pre-flop (but I will sometimes get a loose call from one of these hands as well). I’m around 90% against KK, QQ, AJ, or A10, around 80% against AK, AQ, KQ, or KJ, and a surprising 27% if she happens to have exactly J10. I’m about 10% against the unlikely sets. On balance, I’m WAY ahead on most flops.

The whole point of this move is to let the villain think she is ahead and get her pot committed with the second best hand. By capping the action pre-flop, I’m allowing hands that would likely fold to my four-bet to proceed with the hand. These holdings include Ax, KQ, KJ, K10, pocket pairs 1010 and below, suited connectors, and possibly AK unsuited and JJ. I can then earn either one extra bet or an entire stack when I otherwise won’t make any money with my premium holding.

Some notes about this move:

It is essential that one of us is short stacked so my reraise on the flop is an appropriate size for her to call. I’m looking for calls from top pair decent kicker, overpairs, and hands that (she thinks) have appropriate drawing odds. Practically, this means a stack size of 45 - 75 big blinds pre-flop, and ideally somewhere near the middle of that range. If one of us has more than 75 big blinds a lot of the hands that will otherwise call my reraise on the flop will simply fold, which significantly decreases the equity of this move. With less than 45 big blinds, I might as well just shove pre-flop as any hand that makes a three-bet will almost always call given the pot odds. Remember, the whole point of this move is to get a player pot committed on the flop with a hand that would not go all in pre-flop, and larger or smaller effective stacks don’t allow your opponent to make that mistake.

Don’t pull this move against a maniac or a rock. Against a maniac, just get it all in pre-flop as they will likely call you down with a wide range of holdings. Against a rock, make a standard four-bet or shove as they are only three-betting with premium holdings in the first place and will likely call you. Target players who have a balanced three-betting range but are tight enough to fold anything except AA, KK, QQ, or AK to a four-bet.

I always let the villain close the action pre-flop and start the action post-flop to maintain the illusion she is ahead. But there will be some hands where my opponent checks behind me on the flop. If that happens, I can either check raise or just lead out with a standard value bet on the turn. If I get two checks, I make a small value bet on the river.

This move works equally well if I’m in position. Let’s say I raise on the button and the reraise comes from the small blind. I can still call pre-flop and shove once she makes her bet on the flop. If she checks the flop, I usually just check behind and follow my advice above on the turn unless the flop is extremely draw heavy.

And some final words of caution:

If the flop is super connected with a lot of high cards (something like 10♠J♠K♠) I need to at least consider folding unless I’m holding the ace of spades. There are now a lot more probable holdings that have me beat or at least have a much stronger draw than in the previous example. The possibility of a flop like this is a valid argument against playing aces this way in the first place, and in spots like this I have to be very confident in my post-flop read of my opponent to proceed.

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of a million poker players screaming that playing aces this way is only opening you up to trouble. And they are 100% right - this is a risky move and not recommended for anyone who can’t stomach the risk of getting their aces cracked. But fear prevents you from even considering alternative ways to play your best opening hand. Aces hover around 82% ahead of a sample range of hands your opponent would likely three-bet you with pre-flop. While there are definitely risks this move can go south, there are also risks in playing a premium holding the exact same way every single time. The benefits of this move can be equally valuable for both your bankroll and your table image - you will be a nightmare for your opponents to read if you successfully pull it off. Good luck!