Aces Facing Check-Raise and Barrels

The other week I faced a difficult spot where I had pocket Aces at 150BB effective, I 3-bet preflop and c-bet on a dry flop of :

8 ♣️ 5 ♦️ 3 ♠️

and faced a check-raise, then a turn barrel, and a river jam with 150BB effective. I ended up paying off the “obvious set” in a big 300BB pot. I went home and saw a meme on /r/poker where a top comment was “Me AA vs obvious set today”. So this is clearly a relatable situation.

The problem is it’s not obvious if we’re being results oriented. Two facts stand in opposition to each other.

Fact 1 - it’s hard to make a hand in hold’em and if you get in the habit of throwing away Aces on dry boards, you can be completely run over by an aggressive opponent.

Fact 2 - most poker players, especially many regs, underbluff on the big barrels on the dry boards, and so, you can find hero folds versus these opponents.

But rather then simply say, “it doesn’t matter what GTO says, if he doesn’t have the bluffs, we can fold”, we can be more rigorous and use node-locking to try to figure out how much our opponent needs to be underbluffing before the solver agrees that a fold is a good idea.

There’s so many ranges to consider and so many boards to consider, that I plan to delve more deeply into more situations with some followup posts, but in the interest of brevity I’m starting with one configuration.

The Ranges

The specific configuration we’re looking at is hero in middle-position 3-betting vs an early-position open.

As hero, we’re 3betting all our big pairs, all our AK, all our suited King-broadways, some of our big suited Aces, and our A5s-A4s. On this board it’s an important question of whether or not we have 88 in our range, and board coverage in spots like this is a great reason to occasionally mix it in, but it’s a bit wide against a 9-max early-position open so I’m more often folding or flatting 88. I ended up walking through this spot with both 88 in the range 50% and 0%.


We can lock down our own range, but our opponent’s range is a guess. I assumed he’s 4-betting AA and KK 100%. For all the suited Aces and suited broadways, I assigned him a 50% probability since I think many of these hands can be flatted but also 4-bet or folded. The pocket pairs are heavily represented since I think we’ll see those hands open and flatted vs a 3-bet quite a bit, though 33 might be open-folded. Another very important thing to try to figure out is how often our opponent opens hands like 76s from early-position as that will be the open-ender on this board.


As usual I’m open to critique on the ranges, however in my experience most of these combos don’t affect too much as long as you don’t completely remove combos that end up being especially relevant.

Flop Check-Raising Strategy

Again, the flop was 8 ♣️ 5 ❤️ 3 ♦️ at 140BB effective after we put in 10BB with our preflop 3-bet, so the pot is 20BB. In-game, I bet 10BB for half-pot. My opponent raised to 25BB, in this configuration the raise is to 20BB which is close enough.

Let’s look at how often the solver check-raises as OOP in this spot:

The solver is almost never using a bigger raise sizing. It’s doing a lot of raising with Queens for value and protection. It’s check-raising 88 but not as pure as I would expect and check-raising 55 a lot less often that I would expect. The set of 3s is almost a pure value raise, however. It bluffs with the 76s about half the time, the A4s gutshot about 30% of the time, and the A2s gutshot about 70% of the time.

One bluff to note is the AKs with the backdoor which gets worked in as a check-raise 22% of the time. I don’t think most players are finding this.

The bluffs that I really don’t think people are finding are hands like 66 with the 6 of hearts, which gets check-raised about 30% of the time. 66 has two different cards that can turn an open-ender, a 7 or a 3. The 6 of hearts is also a good card to do it with since there’s no heart on the board, it unblocks our opponent’s backdoor flush draws that will call flop and fold turn once the flush draw misses. Since we’re making this flop check-raise with the intention of semi-bluffing more when we turn an open-ender, we want our opponent to have a hand that calls flop and folds turn.

There’s also combos like 87s that are check-raising for a weird mix of value, protection, and an ability to semi-bluffs on later streets. That’s a 30% raise that I doubt many humans make.

The one spot where I suspect humans bluff a lot more than the solver is the 76s which is about a 50% raise. It’s a very intuitive and obvious high equity bluff. Many humans like myself probably recognize that we don’t find enough of the “bluff 20% of the time” combos so we try to “make up for it” by over-doing the open-ender. While this is simpler, it does have the massive problem that you are far too weighted towards value when the open-ended straight draw arrives.

Here’s a node-lock that I think is more representative of our opponent’s check-raises that I will use for future exploration.

Flop Check-Raising Defense

Facing this flop check-raise, we’re never folding an overpair. In fact we can sometimes 3-bet Aces, but more often Kings which are still ahead of our opponent’s Queens but benefit from getting the wheel gutshots to fold since they also have overcard outs.

Now, I mentioned our opponent probably underbluffs this flop. So, what happens to our defense range vs the node-locked response?

As you can see, we’re still never folding an overpair. We stop 3-betting with our overpairs since we no longer fold out semi-bluffs but instead run into sets too often. And we almost entirely get rid of our light overcard floats like AQs, AJs, and AKo. But we’re not folding overpairs.

Intuitively, it makes sense we can’t fold Aces to this check-raise. For one thing, our opponent has to be under check-raising to an absurd degree before we’re actually behind. For another, even against sets we’re getting a great price to to outdraw them, and with plenty of chips behind, we still have plenty of implied odds to outdraw our opponent.

So we’re never folding Aces on the flop. However, it is possible. If our opponent only check-raises sets and nothing else, then we start mixing in folds with Aces. But it basically has to be sets and only sets, and even then we mix in calls with Aces.

So we pretty much should never fold flop, which makes sense. Let’s look at later streets.

The Turn And River

In-game, the turn is the Q ❤️ and the river is the 6 ♣️ . On turn, our opponent leads out for 45BB into 60BB pot, and ton the river jams all in for 75BB into a 150BB pot, so on the river we need to call 75BB to win 300BB , thus we need to win only 25% of the time for it to be the right call.

I will keep it simple, skip over a lot of uninteresting stuff, and spoil the equilbrium solution - we don’t fold Aces, ever. Our GTO opponent not only has tons of bluffs, but he also was check-raising hands like AQs on the flop that now continues big-betting for value with top pair. Aces is ahead of not just tons of bluffs but tons of value.

So if you stack off with Aces in these spots, I don’t think you should beat yourself up too much because it’s rarely a massive mistake. We might be missing some opportunity to exploit underbluffers with hero folds, but we need some confidence our opponent is missing a ton of bluffs and thin value in order to make these folds.

However, let’s look down the turn and river against the node-locked opponent who bluffs a lot less on the flop, has lots of sets, and mostly just has the open-ended straight draw as the bluff.

Looking at the OOP turn strategy after the node-locked flop check raise, you can see our opponent’s range is now incredibly set-heavy. We still give our opponent some credit for the open-ender but that’s mostly the only major bluff.

Even against this set-heavy range, we never fold overpairs and still raise with Kings:

The river is a similar story where we call off with overpairs.

So Can We Ever Fold Aces?

It seems like an open-and-shut case to stack off with Aces here but there’s still a lot of nuance to this story. We’ve seen that even if we node-lock our opponent to significantly underbluff, we should still stack off for 150BB on this board with Aces. So, does that mean we should always call even against an uber-nit?

The answer to that is a resounding no We can fold Aces on this board. We just need to be much more aggressive with reducing our opponents bluffs.

In this case we still gave our opponent a lot of open-ender bluffs and a few gutshot bluffs. But once we start reducing those gutshots closer to zero, and reducing the open-ender bluffs, we do start folding. In fact, we start folding Aces before we start folding Kings because Aces block the suited wheel gutshot draws that miss that we’re hoping our opponent has when we call.

Given our node-locked flop check-raising strategy, the main bluff for out-of-position is the 76s open-ender which becomes a pure bluff on the turn. If we reduce that bluff to only 50% instead of 100%, now we can mix in folds with Aces on the turn.

It’s even possible to get the solver to agree to fold Aces on the flop to a min check-raise, as long as we node-lock OOP to only check-raise sets and nothing else. That adjustment is at the absolute extreme of underbluffing.

The least extreme spot to fold Aces is on the river, where despite our great price, if all the high equity draws miss for our opponent, then he needs to be able to bluff with nothing for us to make the call. If we give our opponent credit for going for it with a busted open-ender, we simply have to call river given pot odds. But, for the regs who just don’t have the triple barrel bluff in them, you can fold river. If you’re beat, you’re beat.

Still, I want to emphasize that you have to fight the solver to convince it to fold Aces and aggressively reduce all bluffs to nothing. An opponent who only misses every bluff but always bluffs with the open-ender is enough to make Aces a pure-call down. Still, there’s probably many live opponents who lack the guts to barrel all-in with a busted draw, and against those players we can fold river.

The Importance of Eights For In-Position

One big factor in whether we can ever fold Aces is how often we’re 3-betting pocket Eights. I looked at this spot with Eights in our range 50% and 0% and it was much easier to get the solver to fold Aces when Eights was in our range. This makes intuitive sense since the more traps we have in our range to easily pick our opponents off with, the less we need to bluff-catch with one pair hands.

While Eights is a slightly loose hand to 3-bet from middle-position against a tight opening early position raise, if you think you’re against an opponent who likes to open small pocket pairs like 33 and 22, then set-mine against a 3-bet, 88 is a great hand to 3-bet as you’re ahead of his range and get a chance to cooler him set over set. Just make sure not to get too trappy and check back top-set on this dry flop, since your range really wants to c-bet .

Even with Eights in our range, we never fold Aces at equilibrium, but with the Eights in our range, we need our opponent to less severely underbluff in order to convince the solver to fold Aces for IP.

Key Takeaways

  • Find more bluffs. It’s much easier to beat yourself up over calls you made that went wrong then bluffs you didn’t make that would have gone right. While I was mostly curious about my decision to stack off with Aces, my play as the in-position player calling down is much closer to equilibrium then how I would play this hand as out-of-position, where I’m most certainly underbluffing. On the flop, OOP has almost 25% of the pot as expected value or 2.5BB but if we node-lock to underbluff, that drops down to 18%, or about 1.5BB which is very significant. In other words, underbluffing as OOP is a 100BB/100 mistake. Besides open-ended straight draws, you also want to find some flop check-raises with hands like AK, AQ, 87, and 66 then continue to barrel with some later.
  • When deciding whether to call with value, it’s equally important to figure out how often your opponent undervalues as they do underbluff. An equilibrium opponent should be check-raising a lot of top-pair and smaller overpairs on this flop. If you’re against opponents who might always just-call with a pair of eights on this flop, that should affect your willingness to 3-bet or call down with an overpair, since you no longer beat as much of his value.
  • Against strong aggressive opponents, you very rarely fold overpairs on dry board with no trips. It feels really stupid to get stacked by a set with your Aces, and against some opponents you can fold your pocket rockets. But it’s hard to make a set, so your opponent needs to very significantly underbluff before you can consider making these big folds. Many opponents do significantly underbluff, so it’s worth considering, but it’s also rarely a massive mistake in theory to pay people off either. The bigger mistake would be to get run over by aggressive players.
  • But if you’re beat, you’re beat. Most of the money in live poker does not come from beating GTO bots, it comes from beating players who diverge significantly from equilibrium. Your opponent needs to be severely underbluffing to fold Aces on these boards, but many players - even experienced professionals - are severely underbluffing in these spots on these boards. They’re also not check-raising enough for protection and value with medium pair hands. If you think your opponent can’t find the gutshot bluffs, the overcard bluffs, and the pocket Sixes bluff, then proceed with caution. If you think your opponent will give up with the busted open-ender rather than bluff all-in, then fold river. If you think your opponent can only ever raise with a set, then fold flop. When in doubt, call. But if you remove everything from your opponent’s range except sets, even the solver will agree with the fold.
  • Which street to fold? We definitely don’t fold flop given our the price and with outs to a better set. Whether to fold turn or river depends on whether you think your opponent still keeps going for it on the turn with high-equity draws like open-enders.
  • Preflop 3-betting of hands like TT-66 is strong against opponents who play open small pocket pairs. Most preflop charts I look at open fold hands like 33 and 22 from early position, and mix in folds with hands like 88 vs an early position raise. But if your opponent does raise baby pocket pairs from early position, 3-betting with the medium pocket pairs will give you more board coverage and hopefully win more set-over-set coolers, and also makes it more reasonable to make hero folds with overpairs since you have more sets to defend with.

Enjoyed this post?

If you enjoyed this post, join our Discord here to provide any feedback, sign up for the email list on the home page, or follow Live Poker Theory on Twitter to be alerted on new posts.