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.

Stakes $2/$5

Folds to Hero A♥ Q♥ in MP ($1K) who raises to $25, CO ($700) calls, BB ($500) calls

Flop ($77) A♣ 7♠ 6♠

BB Checks

Hero Bets $50

CO Calls $50

BB Folds

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

CO Calls

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.

CO Calls

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.

Stakes $2/$5

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

Hero …

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:

Raise?

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.

Call?

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!

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Showing 7 comments
  • Anton
    Reply

    Excellent article Chris. That spot you mentioned about putting pressure on the turn when you pick up a monster draw (nut flush draw with AKs) is only a recent discovery for me. I noticed that you can get good amount of folds in that spot. A lot of people follow-through double barreling on the turn in desperation, like “please fold, I missed the board bad” – and raise or check-raise on the turn gets them to fold good amount of the time. If not, then still remaining 3 x A and 3 x K are usually your outs to make a winning pair, plus 9 more spades make the nuts. That gives 7 outs for absolute nuts, 2 outs for second nuts (board pairing on two of the spades), and 6 more (A:es and K:s) for a hand with a decent SDV.

    Wow, I sound so smart to myself… I wish I could start playing smart as well 🙂

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      Thank you Anton! The key is to have a plan for your hands and begin to get away from “hit or miss” poker. You should always be on the look out for new ways to win pots, without being too spewy of course.

      • Anton
        Reply

        Yes, I do try. With time I learn more. But some games have players who are so stubborn that game turns into “must have a hand to win” poker. Like smaller stakes online or some live games where people are just so clueless, that while you thinking of perceived ranges and the board texture, they call you down against all odds and win by sheer stupidity. That is not saying of course that I’m very smart in my game, but I will rarely call pot sized bet in a spot where I’m most likely beaten (like flush fills by the river and board pairs as well) with only TPTK that I made with my AK, while in most games people call “just in case he’s bluffing” or to see the opponents cards for immense price at the river. So games like that really dim the ability to play not only your hole cards, but also cards on the board. In this case I just tighten up immensely and wait for very strong hands to play – which makes game much less profitable, not to mention more boring. I’m sure it will be less of a problem with more hands “under my belt” and more experience playing. Am I talking bubbles out of my fishy behind or that makes sense what I said? 🙂

  • Christian Soto
    Reply

    Hey,

    So I agree that in games where your opponents are not folding and playing all sorts of hands for larger than normal pots, it may be boring to sit there and wait for stronger hands. However, it is not less profitable to do so. This is because your opponent’s are likely to pay off enough when you have it to offset the other hands.
    Also, consider adding some depolarized 3betting in games of that sort in position. You will likely pick up the hand pre-flop since their ranges are so wide, and if not you will have equity going post flop with your depoled range and likely some skill edge. This will help add to your win rate nicely.

  • Roberto
    Reply

    great article, thanks! The idea sounds very appealing but it’s also necessary to find the right spot to implement it because in the small live games you often find an avalanche of overcallers once you flat the initial raise and I am not sure the same principles apply in multiway pots

  • Duevyn Cooke
    Reply

    In the hand with AK where you turn the draw, why would the 6spade be bad, but not the 9spade? To me, it seems the 6spade is more likely to help us than the bettor.

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      9s helps us more as the flatter given we can rep it more than our opponent.

      The 6s is similar however TT+ still feels very comfortable moving forward.

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