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Fundamental Play with Ace-King

Published December 08, 2008 - RSS/XML Feed RSS
Nicknamed “Big Slick†the hand of Ace King will either win you a ton of money or lose you a ton of money depending on how well you play the hand. Inexperienced poker players tend to overplay the hand tremendously thinking that this holding guarantees themselves some sort of treasure trove of fortune. Nothing could be farther from the truth. However, as players gain experience they begin to lose faith in Ace King and then play it meekly preflop – another huge blunder costing you money. The key to Ace King, just like any other hand, is to play it strongly preflop and re-evaluate it on every street. Don’t play the hand passively preflop and don’t think it’s a guaranteed winner ever time you hold it.
Although we could probably write an entire book about Ace King alone in every possible situation and game, let’s take a look at some of the more common experiences with Ace King with some recommended moves.
Playing Ace-King from Late Position
Let’s say you are in either the hijack, cutoff, or button position and everyone has folded to you in a full ring game. It’s time to raise 100% of the time. There is never any time in any cash game or tournament setting (outside of a few satellite games where folding any hand is the best option) where you aren’t raising here. For proper bet sizing options you should read the bet sizing article which should help you figure out how much to raise.
Now let’s say you make the raise. Good for you! Now there are three possible things that can happen – everyone folds (that’s fine don’t sweat it), someone calls, or someone raises.
If you get a caller and they have position (i.e. you are on the cutoff and the button flat calls you and everyone else folds) you’re going to have a tougher time winning this hand. If you have position you’ll be in a much better spot to take it down. Remember to review the continuation bet so that you know when to continue to bet on the flop and when not to. Chances are if you are heads up at the flop with AK and you have position on your opponent, you’re cbetting a wide range of the time.
For the sake of example, let’s say you are playing in a shorthanded game and you are facing a raise but you have the button. This is clearly a classic 3bet situation. For example:
Playing Ace-King from Early Position
You’ve got a big hand from a terrible position so the idea is to play the hand aggressively and ideally get heads-up or at least just see this hand against the blinds. The worst thing you can do is just limp in, as Ace King is a very vulnerable hand in multi-way pots. If you do limp in you might end up with top pair, but one of the other limpers might have flopped two pair, a set, or who knows what. Make your standard raise and chances are you’ll probably just get called by either someone in late position or the big blind. If you get called by just the button, for example, then you’re right back in the first scenario of playing AK out of position but heads up. If the big blind flat calls this is a great scenario because he’s shown no strength and you have the position.
However, lets say you make that AK raise and the button doesn’t flat call you but actually 3bets you (re-raises). Everyone folds around and it’s back to you. What now? Well, you certainly are not folding unless you have a sick soul read and KNOW he has AA, KK, or QQ (hands that a player in late position in this scenario are shoving preflop). So you have the option of either flat calling or making a rare 4bet (raising him!).
If you decide to flat the 3bet out of position you’re putting yourself in a spot where you either can easily get away from the hand cheaply if the flop bricks and you check and your opponent shoves, or you’ve put yourself in a spot to “hopefully hit the flop†and then bet. I’m not a big fan of playing passively and hopefully hitting the flop but this is definitely a debatable spot to be in.
I think the best move here, especially if this is a tournament, is to either 4bet your opponent or just shove. A 4bet here maintains to your opponent that you have the control of the size of the pot, have a strong hand, and aren’t giving in to what might be his positional-based play. If he 3bet you lightly from the button (as would regularly happen in a 6-handed game) then your 4bet will take it down right there and then. 
Now, if this is a full ring cash game calling a player when you have AK against someone who shoves all-in (assuming 50+ big blind stacks) is considered somewhat of a cardinal sin at stakes below 100nl because nobody stacks off preflop with less than QQ meaning you have poor equity in making this move long term (and there is no fold equity). Making this shove here just might fold out hands like AK (if you were up against it), JJ, or maybe even QQ, but overall players at these microlimits aren’t 3betting and if they see a 3bet, just flat call to see a flop. 
This situation is one that extends itself to the blinds play, as if you are on the big blind and see a 3bet, you can use the 4bet with Ace King to show tremendous strength and take down a reasonable pot. Let’s take a look at a good example of this situation. 
Final Comments
There’s a lot more we can do and experience with Ace King and for now this fundamentals guide should give you some good insight into what should be done on a basic level with the hand. Just try to remember:
-          Don’t play the hand passively preflop. There’s a huge chance you are crushing everyone at the table with your hand.
-          Don’t overplay the hand postflop. Bad things can happen in multi-way pots to Ace King, so if you find yourself in a hand with 4 people at the flop, and there are huge fireworks before you even act on a 89T rainbow board, it’s just time to fold and move on to the next hand.
-          Don’t be afraid to 4bet an opponent that 3bets you if you are in EP and he is in LP. You probably have him beat and he’s probably playing his position (as he should be).

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