The ace is either the highest or lowest value card in a poker game. Its origins trace back to the Latin word as, which simply means “a unit”. Thus in its first incarnation our ace was a one. How it moved from there to its top value is uncertain. Its dual nature is however unique; it gives certainty to the player who holds one and doubt to the player who doesn’t.
The High Card
In standard games the ace has the highest value in forming hands. This applies to single cards as well as hands. For example, As Ac is worth more than Ks Kc. This affords the player holding aces a particular assurance that somebody with the same hand type as their own cannot beat them.
Abdul and Thorsten are both showing flushes. Abdul feels rather comfortable since he is holding the ace of his suit; he knows he cannot be beaten. Thorsten however has a queen high, and the bets from Abdul are unnerving him a great deal. In this case Abdul holds the nut hand and simply needs to make sensible value bets to maximize his profit.
Sitting in the highest position one tends to see a disproportionate number of games won with an ace in the hand than any other card. This is not to say however that this is the natural distribution. Indeed it may more be that people overvalue the ace and tend to play more often with it.
This should be noted as a point of caution. The ace is not magical. It sounds silly, but many people, particularly in hold’em tend to think of it as such. A pair of aces is at its heart still a pair. It won’t win against three of a kind, even three twos.
Duality In virtually all games where the ace is high, it may also be used as a low card. This of course only makes sense in the context of a straight, in particular a five high straight such as 5♥ 4♦ 3♣ 2♠ A♥.
Such a nature gives an ace a significantly improved value over other cards. It is almost like holding two cards rather than one. This results in a significant increase in the number of outs.
The Low Card
In lowball games the aces are normally considered low. Several variations exist however, so it is best to pay attention to the fine points of the game being played. Being low simply means it has the value of one and loses any special status.
In stark contrast to ace high games, the ace does not have any extraordinary value in lowball. Since it is the lowest card, it comes last when comparing the value of two hands. Having an ace doesn’t improve your chances that future cards will better your hand.
In a game of Razz Crystal forms a low hand of 9♣ 7♦ 5♣ 4♦ A♠ and Ming shows 8♦ 7♣ 6♠ 5♦ 3♠. The A♠ in Crystal’s hand does nothing to improve the fact she has the high 9♣ sitting there.