I hate Ace-King. It’s a drawing hand. It only gets you in trouble, and I never hit with it anyway!
Coming from an online background, I am taken aback by these comments. Three, Four, and Five-bets are common place with AK on the virtual felt but it seems we have entered an alternate universe called live no limit.
Over time however, I learned something from my brick and mortar opponents. Flatting AK has its merits. If you are a live player, it is possible you already call open-raises with AK as a default strategy but may not comprehend the correct thought process behind doing so. If you are an online player, this may be unchartered territory.
I begin, as usual, by giving a hand example. Unfortunately, we are on the losing end of this one but the lessons learned are vast.
Folds to Hero A♥ Q♥ in MP ($1K) who raises to $25, CO ($700) calls, BB ($500) calls
Flop ($77) A♣ 7♠ 6♠
Hero Bets $50
CO Calls $50
This is a standard continuation bet, as I would bet this flop with strong made hands as well as some bluffs in a three way pot.
Turn ($177) 2♥
Hero Bets $115
River ($407) 6♣
Hero Bets $235
Given this run out, I expect to have the best hand often. I also do not expect my opponent to bet many worse Aces if I check to him, as many live players do not value bet thinly enough. Secondly, I am unsure how often he will bluff missed draws or if he even has draws often given the action. With these assumptions, the best course of action is to bet for value, and $235 is a healthy size.
Hero Shows A♥ Q♥
CO Shows A♠ K♦ and wins the $877 pot
Needless to say, when our opponent only calls the river, I am expecting to win a large percentage of the time.
It is important to note that if our opponent had 3bet us preflop, it is likely I would have folded Ace-Queen to our opponent’s first 3bet. This is further solidified since we had no information to sway us in another direction. Instead by flatting in position, our opponent was able to win a big pot off someone who is capable of value betting thinly.
It is important to understand that against most opponents if we are flatting AK preflop, we cannot always give up when do not hit. In No Limit Hold’em it is difficult to make a pair, and AK will remain the best hand after the flop a decent percentage of the time.
In other words, AK qualifies as a good floating hand. Hand examples always better help illustrate the concept.
EP ($700) open-raise to $25, Hero (covers) calls A♠ K♠ from the button, everyone else folds
Flop ($57) 9♥ 6♣ 3♠
EP bets $35
We missed, but this board is unlikely to hit our opponent either. Ace-King rates to be the best hand a reasonable percentage of the time.
A plan is needed if we want to continue, so we will go through the different branches of thought and available options:
Raising does not accomplish much. Our opponent folds all the hands we are beating and only continues with hands that have us beat. Rarely will our opponent fold better than AK since we do not represent many combinations of hands on this flop when we raise.
Calling seems like a viable option. Our opponent is likely to be betting his entire range on this board and AKss performs well against his range as a whole. However, as you may have suspected, the calling branch simply does not end here. We will need a plan for the remainder of this hand.
Let’s go through the different possibilities which we may encounter once we choose to float:
The board currently reads 9♥ 6♣ 3♠ and on the turn…
Our opponent checks: As a default, when our opponent checks we will be betting. Our float plan has come to fruition and we can expect our opponent to fold enough of the time for this bet to be profitable. It can be argued that since we rate to have the best hand often at this point, we can check and keep worse hands involved. However, this bet is done to fold out equity from our opponent’s hands. It also prevents us from making errors on the river. Occasionally, our opponent will fold a better hand like 44 once we bet.
Our opponent bets: If we fail to improve and our opponent bets, it is safe to say that we can fold out at this point. For example, the turn is a J♥ and our opponent bets. There is not much we can do at this point without a lot of information on our opponent’s tendencies.
Our opponent bets on a spade: A turned spade gives us a backdoor flush draw. This is a perfect turn card to semi-bluff raise. A turn raise maximises fold equity. We can expect our opponent to fold enough of the time to make this play profitable given fold equity in addition to our equity in the pot. There is one exception; the six of spades may not be the best card to pull the trigger as it reduces the amount of possible combinations we may have and therefore reduces our fold equity.
Our opponent bets on an Ace or King: As the game continues to evolve, we can expect our opponent’s to double barrel bluff with better frequencies. An Ace or King will hit the turn 12% of the time and against more advanced players we can be assured that they will use these cards to double barrel. When this happens and we have AK, we should only call and allow our opponent to continue unleashing barrels. If our opponent checks the river, we can safely value bet our hand.
The key to a float with AK, as with any float, is to plan ahead for future cards and actions. Success with this concept will consist of stepping outside of the hit or miss mentality and finding additional ways to win pots.
This article thus far has described different facets AK may be played. I have always been a proponent of playing AK aggressively. However, with some planning for both pre-flop and post, flatting AK may be a nice addition to your arsenal. There is more than one way to make money in poker, and it may be incorrect to continuously use the same default lines. With practice and study you will become more knowledgeable of which line is optimal for the situation at hand. These multi-layered thought processes will allow you to become a more difficult player to face on the both the virtual and live felt.
Want to learn more about playing AK? Check out the Optimizing Ace King book!