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The “Rag Ace” problem

This is a big problem for players that have learned to play primarily from friendly home games. It’s a bad habit that, if carried over to casino play – as bad habits tend to stick around – can cost a lot in the long run without even knowing why.

In texas hold ’em a rag ace (also called ace rag) is any ace paired with a low kicker. Generally, lower than ten is the cut off. Though I wouldn’t put them in the same category, I’ve learned to be a bit wary of tens as well. These are not good hands – ever. There are times when they are playable; it is possible to win with them. But, there are times when its appropriate to play suited low connectors too. Just because a hand is sometimes playable doesn’t mean it is a generally good hand. This is the very trap that players get themselves into. Home game experience tells them that any ace is good. Why is that?

Home games typically are relatively small. A handful of buddies get together and play. The fewer players there are, the less likely that another player will have an ace. The skill level at the typical home game is also very low so players will stay in with hands that they have no business playing. This means that showdowns end in heads up high cards way too often. These factors create the illusion that any ace is good.

When moving to a more competitive environment, this bad habit begins to hurt. All of a sudden limping in a 10 handed, more skilled table finds rag ace throwing away a few bets only to fold as the betting gets too hot to handle.  And that’s a good scenario with this habit. A worse case is that someone actually thinks their rag ace is good all the way through only to get beat by another ace with a  worthwhile kicker.  Since getting a rag ace is not terribly uncommon, this can mean bleeding a lot of chips for what seems like a good call. It’s not.

At a full table with a decent average skill level, players are not going to be in a hand with something that doesn’t beat a rag ace. What can a rag ace possibly be up against that it can beat, K8? No one is going to play these hands. The scariest position playing rag ace is actually when the ace hits. It’s not a bad bet that somebody else is holding an ace with a better kicker. Really, the only comfortable flop for this hand is to hit your kicker as the top pair. This leaves your ace to ensure the strength of your top pair. But that won’t happen often. The few times it does happen is certainly not worth the chips that will be thrown away limping in with every silly ace that comes along. Being suited also does little to improve the quality of this hand. Don’t use that as an excuse.

But there are some situations when it is advisable to call with the rag ace. Tune in later this week for that discussion.