January 21, 2010

Playing AK, or is that Ace-King?

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is just how unsure people seem to be when playing AK. At 6max, players seem positively desperate to get all their money in with it. I don’t get it.

In this post I will talk about having AK and facing a raise preflop.

AK is 47% against a range of all pocket pairs, AQ and the medium suited connectors up to JTs. You hear that…….47%!!!!!!

Therefore the skill with AK is in either making everyone else fold (who wants a call with AK..), or make weaker aces call. That’s making weaker aces call!!!!

Lets discuss making people fold, or fold equity first. Making people fold is a skill. Shoving isn’t. Understanding fold equity is about reads and betting patterns. It’s complex and requires experience of player types and board textures. Pre-flop, knowing whether your AK shove is going to show a profit is entirely down to player reads, and is therefore much more about guesswork due to the lack of information available. And guessing in poker means –EV generally. Especially as most who play the micros lack experience and should therefore avoid tough spots. In my experience, 99+ will call a 3bet almost always from almost all 100nl regfish. They just can’t bring themselves to fold. But after 3betting your AK, and then your automatic cont bet when called (and almost certainly behind) of usually around 18bb puts you in a horrible spot. Yet you miss the flop 60% of the time. Now you don’t need me to do the maths here for you I hope to show how horrible this is for you.

Lets look at it from the other point of view.

How do you make weaker aces call? Lets think…..ummm….by floating. But what do almost all TAGS and LAGS do at the micros? They 3bet. Regardless of the position and history of the other guy, it’s an automatic 3bet. But thinking for oneself just doesn’t seem to be the way it’s at just now in no limit, probably due to the massive amount of information out there that says auto 3bet AK. Very simple really. Everyone 3bets because……well…. just because. Do you think about it? Do you?

Successful cash poker is about extracting value from weaker hands. Not throwing your pile in the middle with 47% equity, as noted above, because that’s the range that’s calling your shove in 4bet pots. Extracting value entails not blowing dominated hands like KQ, KJ and any ace out of the water preflop.

If you can’t understand this premise, you won’t progress.

Finally lets illustrate this idea of extracting value by showing how to play AK in pos against a 20/15 villain with a 100% fold to 3bet. Villain steals 25%.

$0.50/$1 No Limit Hold'em Cash Game, 6 Players
Poker Tools by Stoxpoker - Hand Details

MP: $193.05 (193.1 bb)
CO: $101.50 (101.5 bb)
Hero (BTN): $174.25 (174.3 bb)
SB: $107.50 (107.5 bb)
BB: $60.60 (60.6 bb)
UTG: $100 (100 bb)

Pre-Flop: Hero is BTN with K of hearts A of clubs
UTG folds, MP folds, CO raises to $3, Hero calls $3, SB folds, BB calls $2
We avoid 3betting here in position, and conceal the strength of our hand.

Flop: ($9.50) 3 of hearts K of diamonds Q of clubs (3 players)
BB checks, CO checks, Hero bets $7, BB folds, CO calls $7
KQ and 33 beat us. JT will bet, as will AQ, KT, JQ etc etc. standard to call here to maximise value due to concealing hand.

Turn: ($23.50) Q of diamonds (2 players)
CO checks, Hero bets $13, CO raises to $26, Hero calls $13
My feeling is a full house and trips against a standard player here continues betting. I am not in love with the check raise but it seems a bit fishy.

River: ($75.50) 6 of spades (2 players)
CO checks, Hero checks

Results: $75.50 pot ($3 rake)
Final Board: 3 of hearts K of diamonds Q of clubs Q of diamonds 6 of spades
CO showed 9 of clubs K of clubs (two pairs, Kings and Queens) and lost (-$36 net)
Hero showed K of hearts A of clubs (two pairs, Kings and Queens) and won $72.50 ($36.50 net)

I hope you see that if I had 3 bet AK preflop, I would have won a paltry 4.5bb as he was pushing the fold button quicker than light, whereas I ended up winning nearly 10 times that, by maximising value and being prepared to play a bit of poker.


  1. Good post. I think if I have a reasonable number of hands on villain and he has 100% fold to 3bet this is a good play to mix it up. He has a lowish steal so I think we can assign him a slightly stronger range - as the hand shows we can often dominate his made hands with AK. I think we have to be alert to the rare times he has a stronger hand i.e. AA/KK and an A or K lands on the flop. Early in a session when you have no reads then I expect its correct to 3 bet to deter future steals and fold the blinds.

  2. Great post. Smart way to look at big slick. T.J. Cloutier calls that hand "Walkin' back to Houston," because he went broke with it so many times in the early days in Dallas card rooms!

  3. Nice post,

    I agree that AK is not an auto 3 bet hand. I like to play it based on the opponent. I have no problem 3 betting it to isolate a bad player. Though in your example the player with K9 is probably so stupid that he might pay off regardless. He seems oddly commited to making a play with the K9.


  4. I guessed he had a King and Weaker kicker hence the turn raise to stop a Flush draw hitting. But I think you missed value on the River, I would have bet half the pot to get a weaker King hand to call.