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Home > Poker Pros > Articles > Phil Hellmuth

Articles - Phil Hellmuth

When to Fold Aces Preflop
by Phil Hellmuth

While playing recently in ESPN’s World Championship of Poker, the following hand came up. With the blinds at $2,000-$4,000 and an ante of $500 a man, Michael picked up A-A in first position and folded it. I stand by Michael’s play and claim that it was the right move, 100 percent!

Why do I support the laydown? How can it be correct to fold pocket aces before the flop? Well, here are the facts: Michael was at the table before the final card was dealt, he had the chip lead at the table, there were 55 players left, and 45 of them were going to get paid. So, what the heck was going on here?

Michael Madsen is a famous actor who has been in 64 movies. You might know him from Reservoir Dogs, a recent James Bond movie (as Felix), or his starring role in Kill Bill: Volume Two. Or, perhaps, you know him as the lead character (Don Everest, nicknamed “The Matador”) in the new ESPN series Tilt. By the way, ESPN’s World Championship of Poker exists only in the show Tilt.

Things went down like this: I was on the set of Tilt, sitting in the No. 7 seat, with The Matador in the No. 4 seat, when the director, Jeremiah Chechik, said, “Michael, we will deal you a hand, and you fold it and walk over to talk to another character on the rail.” Michael then looked at his hand, but it took him almost a full minute to fold it. I noticed that he was slow to fold the hand, but thought nothing of it.

When the scene was over and we were all sitting back down for the next take, Michael looked over at the dealer and said, “What the hell, man, why did you have to deal me pocket aces that last hand?”

I said, “I noticed that it took a long time for you to fold.”

Michael responded, “No kidding, man, it was pocket aces.” At this point, a good laugh was had by all.

I then said, “That’s the only time I’ve ever heard of it being correct to throw away pocket aces before the flop!” Look for my scene in episode eight, where I conduct myself with my usual table decorum …

By the way, poker star Annie Duke tells me that she has folded pocket aces before the flop on at least one occasion. Of course, there are situations in which this would be the correct play. For example, in a supersatellite when you have, say, 30 percent of the chips, eight players win seats, there are nine players remaining, and a player with more chips than you moves all in, it would be correct to fold pocket aces.

Why risk getting eliminated when you’re only a 4.5-to-1 or less favorite? Why not simply fold and wait for someone else to go broke? After all, the eight players all get paid the same in a supersatellite. It is a very rare case indeed that it would actually be correct to fold pocket aces before the flop, but it just goes to show you, never say never in poker! 


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