Should you ever fold aces?
A recent post in the PITR forums had a guy asking about folding QQ on the bubble of a traditional SNG (sit-and-go) with a very short stack, and where the big stack had raised in front of him and he would almost certainly make the money. This reminded me of a thread I’ve seen pop up far too often in almost every poker forum I’ve been to: is it ever right to fold aces? Usually this comes in the form of a question like “If you get AA on the first hand of the $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker Main Event, would you go all in preflop?” or some variant where everyone goes all in before you or some such.
Even if people don’t fully understand the concept of chip equity versus money equity, by asking questions like this they implicitly are aware of it. Of course in a cash game it’s always correct to get in preflop with AA. You’re always ahead and you will never lose money in the long term doing this. However in some situations in sit-and-gos and tournaments it can be correct to fold, almost always in situations where there is a flat payout structure such as double-or-nothing sit-and-gos which have popped up in the past few months on PokerStars as well as Cake Poker, and in satellite tournaments where the top X finishers all get an entry to a higher buy-in tournament.
Consider a DON (double-or-nothing) SNG that started with 10 players and is now down to 6. The top 5 all get the same prize: 20% of the prize pool. Consider the following situation:
UTG: 4000 chips (goes all-in)
UTG+1: 4000 chips
CO: 4000 chips
BTN: 4000 chips (our position)
SB: 101 chips
BB: 201 chips
Blinds are 100/200, and UTG has shoved. We are on the button with AA and should fold without a second thought. Even against a hand such as 23o, we will lose 11% of the time. It is not worth risking it when one of the blinds is certainly going to be busted soon. If we call here, the big blind, even though he would only have 1 chip left behind, would be correct to fold. This is because it is almost certain that one of the 4000 stacks (UTG or us) will bust and he need not risk busting out at the same time.
Now let’s consider a situation on a standard SNG bubble:
CO: 2500 chips (goes all-in)
BTN: 2500 chips (our position)
SB: 200 chips
BB: 300 chips
Blinds are at 100/200. In this case calling with AA is correct. Even though we will get beat part of the time, the majority of the time we will win and have a 5000 chip stack going into the money, virtually guaranteeing first place which is worth a lot more than 2nd or 3rd place. We can’t go nuts here and call with hands like KQ, though. Even though KQ is strong hand, we aren’t ahead of a hand with an ace in it and against most pairs we are slightly behind in a coinflip situation.
Any time there is a payout structure in which 1st place gets more than 2nd, 2nd gets more than 3rd, etc., it’s usually correct to get in with AA.
There’s another subject to discuss here as well — the utility of money. That is, say you feel you absolutely must cash in a sit-and-go because the difference between having 20% of the prize pool (3rd place) and 0% of the prize pool (4th place), is more to you than the difference between having 50% of the prize pool (1st place) and having 20% of the prize pool (3rd place). If this situation happens usually you are not playing within your bankroll or the value of the money is influencing your decision causing you to not play to win.
We’ve seen situations like this in recent final tables of the World Series of Poker, including this year’s where Kelly Kim nursed his short stack while Craig Marquis, with a larger stack, gladly got in a coinflip situation and lost. A similar situation happened in 2006 where Paul Wasicka folded an open ended straight flush draw. To these players the value of the next $400,000 or $2,000,000 respectively was worth more than playing to get the top prize.
Of course if you had the choice between taking $5,000,000 or a box which contains either $0 or $20,000,000 (so an expected value of $10,000,000) you would probably take the $5,000,000 sure thing because the value of the first $5,000,000 to you is worth more than the value of the second $5,000,000. This is the utility of money.
For more information on mathematically calculating the value of your chip stack check out this page which has a brief description of independent chip modeling (ICM) as well as an ICM calculator.