When to Fold Aces Preflop: A Few Rare Occasions


Even the newest poker players know that pocket aces is the strongest hand combination in Texas No-limit Holdem. Unlike lower pocket pairs, you don’t need to worry about ever folding them preflop. But is that truly the case?

when should you fold aces preflop
Should you ever fold aces preflop? Let’s find out. The answer might surprise you.

What if I tell you that there are scenarios where you should fold aces preflop. It might happen that next time you are in an exact situation, and this article will save you a lot of money and also ease your mind, that you made the correct decision. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should start folding aces every time there is a lot of action preflop. You must know how often you are expected to win with AA in the first place. For that, you can read this detailed article I wrote about winning with AA.

You are correct to stack off preflop with aces almost every time, but there are some critical situations where you should be folding.

When to fold aces preflop? It can be correct to fold aces in the following scenarios:

  • If you play Sit and Go or a tournament as a short stack, it is the bubble, and many shorter stacks went all in already, and big stack called their allin.
  • In satellites, if you have enough chips to pretty much guarantee yourself a ticket, and shortie goes all in and the biggest stack on the table calls him.

This is the only time you should be folding poker aces preflop, and you will be correct to do so. There were also some TV shows with special poker cash game rules on a TV a few years back where you were to keep a certain amount of money above what was your starting stack. Because that money was so substantial, many players invited to that show often decided to fold poker aces and not gamble for their winnings.

That was, of course, completely custom scenario and players were uncomfortable losing that amount of money as it was a truly life-changing amount of money, often it was over $100,000.

Of course, if you play with your own money, then you should always follow bankroll management, and losing a few buyins is not something you should be concerned about. If you are and consider folding pocket Aces preflop because of that, then you have a more significant issue to deal with. You need to start following proper bankroll management.

What is the meaning of bankroll management?

Bankroll management simply means you are aware of the risk that poker brings and have proper amounts of buyins behind if you were to lose an all in. You will never play on a table with all of your money but would often have 30 buyins behind if playing live games. And even 100 and more buyins if you are a professional online poker player. The amount of buyins, you need to have to play a specific limit, varies, but roughly stick to those for online games:

  • 50 buyins for full-ring cash games
  • 100 buyins for 6max cash games
  • 150-200 for tournaments
  • 300 for hyper turbo sit and go’s

These are the numbers for professional poker players. That money is their livelihood; if they lose it all, they are broke and can’t play poker professionally anymore. For a recreational player, that number is a lot lower, as you can simply redeposit money whenever you wish to.

For live games, this number can get a lot lower, due to lower variance and higher winrates. Not to mention, you can play only one table at a time. Many live poker pros will have only 30-50 buyins for their limit.

Folding pocket aces preflop in tournaments

Folding aces in tournaments and sit and go’s can be a correct move on rare occasions. This happens due to ICM. ICM stands for the independent chip model. ICM could be an article of its own, but just remember that it is used to calculate your equity in the tournament.

If you lose an allin in a tournament and it was for all your chips, then you are out, no chance to win a bigger prize or to get into the prize money in the first place.

This is why sometimes, especially more often in sit and go’s, you could be correct by folding AA.

Imagine the following scenario. You are playing in a 9max sit and go. There are four players left, and you are the shortest stack. First, three players will get paid. You get dealt pocket aces on the big blind. In front of you, one shortie went all in, and then the 2nd biggest stack on the table shoves all in himself. After that, the biggest stack goes allin.

This is a scenario now where you should be folding everything. I mean everything literally. You can simply watch other short stacks getting knocked out. In the worst case, shorties would double up, but that will not happen that often. If you triple up, you would still be pretty short, and chances for you to win against 3 allin players is only 63.8%. This means that more than ⅓ of the time, you will be out.

AA equity against 3 opponents
Chance to win with pocket aces preflop against 3 opponents.

But if you fold, the most common scenario will be that at least one of the players with a bigger stack than you will be out, and you will now get at least 3rd place prize.

Moreover, sometimes big stack will win and eliminate 2 opponents, now you are to receive 2nd place prize pool. This is something that would be very hard to achieve otherwise. Remember, you were to win only 64% of the time with aces.

Let us have a look at a second scenario: you are now second-biggest stack on the table, and it is again 4 handed. First, 3 get paid. 2 shorties in front of you go allin, and the biggest stack shoves all in. Still here, you need to be folding. With sitting comfortably on the 2nd place, you are quite likely to win 2nd place reward, but if you lose, you risk it all.

The biggest stack simply has a huge advantage in such a scenario, and every good player knows this. Nonetheless, you need to fold here. The situation would be different if you had the chance to shove allin before the big stack. Then, of course, you wouldn’t fold but would have gone allin yourself.

Folding pocket aces preflop in a satellite

On big satellites folding pocket aces, preflop can be quite common just before the bubble. Imagine playing in a satellite with a few thousand other players. It is the WSOP ticket, for your favorite tournament, that you always dreamed of playing, but you can’t afford to pay $10,000 entry buyin. Now is your chance, you are so close. Out of a few thousand players, you are down to only last 6. And only the first 5 will get the ticket. Just one player needs to go out, and your dreams will become a reality. Let us have a look at two different scenarios:

1. Short stack

What if you are a shortie on such satellite, and you witness the following action in front of you.

AA equity against 2 opponents
Do you want to risk getting a ticket when you have a 73.5% chance to win? When by folding your chances to win it would be bigger?

An opponent with about average stack size goes all in, after him a shortie shoves. Then the biggest stack on the table decides to shove over. Do you really want to go all-in with aces here yourself? You have a 73% chance to win against 2 opponents holding random hands. I can tell you; I would be folding myself if either I am correct or wrong. You should be folding AA here.

The chance that at least one of the other 2 players will be out is just too good. Just fold your hand and watch, and later you can tell buddies how you folded AA to get into biggest tournament in the world.

2. Medium stack size

You have an average stack size. There are 6 players left. A shortie went all in. Then the biggest stack shoves. Your only option here is to fold. And it is the correct decision. It would be quite a mistake to go all-in with AA. Even if shortie doubles up, then you are still more than likely to finish in the top 5 and go to the tournament of your dreams.

How often do such scenarios to fold AA preflop happen?

Of course, these scenarios aren’t super common. But you must know that they do exist. Most often, you will just shove your AA and be correct to do so. It would mean that you would at least double up and, more often than not, triple up.

Only in the situations above in tournaments and satellites, you would be correct to fold AA. The vast majority of the other times in tournaments, you are happy to go allin. You will have enough chips to be able to play some postflop if you win, and if you bust, well then you busted with the best possible hand, it happens.

I personally folded AA less than 10 times on sit and goes, and I have played more than 10,000 of them. I have never had a situation to fold it on tournaments, and I have played a few thousand tournaments online.

I was also never in a situation to have an AA in a satellite on a bubble and face such preflop action. This is just to put things into perspective. You can find yourself in a scenario that you need to fold AA preflop, but those situations are super rare, although they do exist. 

Folding AA preflop in cash games

We have covered tournaments, sit and go’s and satellites so far. But how about cash games? Well, in cash games, you don’t have any ICM. Equities don’t change depending on stack sizes and your hands, but it only depends on your hand.

This means if you are ever folding pocket aces preflop in cash games, then you are making a mistake — actually, a huge mistake.

If you follow proper bankroll management, then you aren’t playing with scared money. And having 64% equity against 3 opponents is better than eating your favorite food. Having one or 2 opponents allin in front of you in cash games is a dream come true.

Pocket aces are the strongest hand, and you will win the most amount of money with them. Look at my graph of pocket aces: almost no variance, just a steady line up.

Graph of winrate with AA
Winrate with AA. Winnings go up at a steady pace, the variance is almost none existant with a sample of more than 10,000 AA hands.

Even post-flop, often, you should be value betting your AA on several streets.

Unless you timed out or miss clicked, there is no excuse to fold AA in cash games preflop. And if you miss clicked or folded because of time out, then that is a no excuse either, it merely means you should pay more attention to the table.

Not being comfortable stacking off with AA

If you are not comfortable stacking of preflop with AA, then either you play too high and out of your comfort zone, or you are a super nit, that needs to have a 100% chance to win when you go all in. If either of the scenarios is true for you, then you have a severe leak in your poker game and overall strategy.

Remember that bankroll management is king, and as long as your play according to that, then you have nothing to fear. You can lose several times in a row when going all-in with AA preflop; I must have lost at least 5 times in a row before, if not more. But because of proper bankroll management, it didn’t affect my play style.

Don’t think, when you play cash games, your losses, and wins in terms of money. Instead, just know that you made a correct decision and move on. The more correct decisions you make, the more money you will make in the long run. Money is just what comes with it eventually.

Good rakeback is your simple solution

An excellent way to make you more comfortable at poker tables is by having a great rakeback deal. Poker sites will take a small portion of the pot for every hand. And as a part of their reward program, they will often give some of that money back to players. Most often, you need to be involved in the hand to qualify for rakeback for a specific hand.

rakeback in poker
A good rakeback deal can more than double your winrate. Read more here.

The amount you get back varies greatly and depends on your affiliate manager also. A good rakeback deal can add 4 or even 5big blinds per 100 hands to your winrate. This means that an NL100 player can be making $25/h or more just for playing. If you know of a poker pro, that is playing 150 hours per month; then, he makes $3750 each month only by being smart and choosing the right websites that offer great rakeback deals. This is free money that for example on PokerStars you wouldn’t get (rakeback there these days is almost none existent). This is $44,000 per year, for free. Just for sitting down and doing what is their job in the first place. If you wonder where to get such good deals and want to know more about the importance of good rakeback, then I have a great article I wrote that has everything covered.

A great rakeback deal will achieve the following things:

  • Fixed hourly income
  • Relieves you from stress to win every time that you sit down
  • As much as you play, that much you get paid
  • Can double winrate or even turn you from a breakeven or losing player into nicely winning one
  • A lot less stress when on a downswing

Can you fold aces preflop?

Of course, nothing stops you from folding whichever hand you want preflop. But folding aces preflop in cash games doesn’t make sense. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Aces will always be a favorite preflop, no matter how many players you are all in against.

AA vs AA vs random hand
Even if one opponent has also AA and other opponent has a perfect hand against AA, we are still favorite to win the hand.

Even if it’s three-way all-in and you and one of your opponents have AA, the third guy has the best hand to have against AA, that is 89s. Do you think we are still favorite to win? We definitely are, we have 37.7% to win, 37.7% of course for the other player with AA, and only 24% for 89s.

Conclusion

Now you know that there are times when you need to fold with pocket aces preflop. Those times are indeed scarce, but they do exist in tournaments, sit and go’s and satellites.

And for cash games, you shouldn’t ever fold AA preflop.

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