LAPT7 Peru: Come play Mata Aces... it's killer

"So it's like a combination of hold'em, stud, and... and draw?"

"Yeah, exactly! But no, no it's not. It's not like any of those."

Such was the exchange I had earlier this year with Team PokerStars Pro Christian de Leon after he explained to me a relatively new poker variant that has swiftly captured the imaginations of players in his native Mexico.

Think Badugi... or Chinese poker... or open-face Chinese poker. Then prepare yourself for something altogether new...

Mata Aces!

De Leon had to miss LAPT Panama a couple of months ago -- only the second LAPT he's ever missed -- and so I had to wait until today to ask him for a more complete introduction to the game. As if to prove how addictive it is, he took up an entire break this afternoon to deal us a few hands, and was ready to deal another when the restarted tourney clock pulled him away.


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Team PokerStars Pro Christian de Leon, playing no-limit hold'em but thinking of Mata Aces

"First you can play with an ante or a bring-in. Or both. It depends on how much action people want," he began as he dealt us each one card face down and a second face up. He had an ace showing, while I had a nine.

"Now I'm the only one who can 'kill'," he said, pointing to the ace and alluding to the name of the game which means "kill aces." He explained how in order to win a hand at showdown, a player has to have at least a pair of aces, something only he at that point could potentially have.

A round of betting ensued, followed by the dealing of three community cards.

"It's kind of a flop but it's not a flop," he explained. "In Spanish we call it ayudas which in English would mean 'the help.'"

Unlike community cards in hold'em from which players can use as many cards as they need to build a hand, here only one of the three cards could be used. And there would be no "turn" or "river," either. Rather, subsequent rounds are dealt one card at a time to each player until each has five cards -- if it gets that far.

Along the way, players continue to bet after each card is dealt face down, with yet another twist added that allows players to choose either to check and turn each new card over, or bet and keep it face down (with one card at most always turned face down).

Starting with two cards feels like hold'em, though having one of them turned up does not. The deal feels a little like five-card stud, too, if not for those three cards up top falsely impersonating a flop. And the aces-or-better restriction does recall draw games with minimum requirements to open, but there, too, the comparison quickly breaks down.

If it sounds complicated, it is. And with up to five betting rounds, there's lots of action, indeed.


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The last round of betting arrives in a hand of Mata Aces

De Leon explained strategy along the way as well, and how the restriction of only being able to win a hand at showdown with aces or better necessarily affects betting decisions -- and folding decisions, such as when a player who is showing the potential of having a pair of aces or better bets and an opponent who has worse than a pair of aces has to step aside.

What happens when you call a fifth-street bluff by a player who doesn't have at least a pair of aces and you don't either? A chopped pot!

The game is currently dominating poker rooms in Mexico, and if others' love of it matches that of de Leon it may perhaps be ready to find its way into the rotation elsewhere soon as well.

We'd managed to play three hands before time expired. De Leon looked up and grinned.

"We play again next break!" said "el grillo" with a wink.

Photography from LAPT7 Peru by Carlos Monti. Check out the start-to-finish live streaming coverage (in both Spanish and Portuguese) at PokerStars.tv. Click here for live updates in Spanish, and here for live updates in Portuguese.

Martin Harris is Freelance Contributor to the PokerStars Blog.