Monday, January 28, 2008

How to Play A-K Profitably

A-K (whether suited or not) is a top 10 ranked hand in Texas Hold’em. The odds against getting A-Ko or A-Ks are 82 to 1. No one folds it pre-flop but many people do not seem to know why it is such a powerful hand and what one is supposed to do with it to extract maximum value from it. I have some decent players in my home game and a few prefer to limp in with A-K because they claim it rarely improves.

I do not believe this is the right way to play it unless you are in early position and planning to limp-raise with it. If you limp it, you almost have to hit it to continue after the flop because you have invited every small to middle pair to join you in the pot cheaply. Had you bet or raised pre-flop with A-K you could follow up on a flop that missed you with a continuation bet and have a reasonable chance of winning the pre-cultivated/sweetened pot right there. If you limp, you cannot C- bet with any success. If you limp it in you also invite more players to take the flop with you and that increases the probability that the flop will improve an opponent’s hand. If you are in late position and the pot is limped to you, holding A-K, I suggest a pot sized bet. You will often win the pot uncontested, right there. If not, you have cultivated a decent sized pot to pursue on the flop. I usually want to thin the field to one or two opponents. That (in my opinion) gives me the best chance for my C-bet to work if the flop misses me.

Without improving, A-K is strongest pre-flop and (somewhat less so) on the flop if you follow up with a continuation bet. By the turn and river, if you have not paired (or better) and you are getting action, you do not likely have the best hand. Why would you want to give up so much of A-K’s power by not betting/raising pre-flop? If you do not pair, your hand gets weaker on every street because it becomes more likely your opponent can beat Ace high. Here is a little comparison for you:

A-K vs. weaker Ace = 70% to win
A-K vs. weaker King = 70% to win
A-K vs. unpaired undercards = 60% to win
A-K vs. QQ – 22 = 45% to win
A-K vs. KK or AA = less than 20% to win

Thus, pre-flop you are a favorite against any non-pair, roughly a coin flip against any pair Queens or lower, and only at a significant disadvantage against the best two starting hands in hold’em. Furthermore, if you play A-K like I am recommending, you will also win 100% of the times your opponents fold either pre-flop or on the flop.

When the flop misses you (70%):
If you bet pre-flop as I recommend, even if the flop missed you completely, you must bet again. A three-quarters of the pot to a pot sized bet ought to take it down. If you are called on the flop, try to figure what your opponent is calling with. If you think he has 2nd or bottom pair, another bet may induce a fold. If checked to me on the turn, I will fire a third bet but if I am in early position, I may check the turn. If your opponent is a solid player, has called your bets pre-flop and on the flop, he will probably lead into you on the turn. If so, it is probably time for you to fold.

When the flop hits you (30%):
What you are hoping for (in the ideal case) is for one of your opponents to play a weaker Ace or King against you and then an Ace or King come on the flop. This is where the big hands are won with A-K. People like to play suited Aces (and to a lesser extent suited Kings) and you can trap them. You want a “rainbow” flop with an A or K high and the card values spread out (i.e. A-9-3 or something) to minimize the probability of a straight. If the flop is a rainbow (all different suits meaning no flush possible) and the cards are not coordinated (close in rank) then you are only worried about 2 pair or a flopped set if you have taken my advice and raised pre-flop. After a flop of this sort, your opponent is probably check-calling since he has a pair of Aces or Kings with a weak kicker - so value bet them to death. If he re-raises you, particularly on the turn, you may be up against 2 pair or better. If you are raised on the turn or river by a tight opponent, you are almost certainly beaten so be careful in that case – your opponent is telling you with his bet/raise that he can beat TPTK. I can’t tell you how many times I have called a bet/raise of this sort with my TPTK only to be shown a set.

I hope this helps to de-mystify playing A-K. Good luck at the tables.


Joaquin "The Rooster" Ochoa said...

Not sure if you've read Abdul's take on AK and it is sort of close to what you are saying...but he always looks for a limp raise with this in early position.

Lucypher said...

Rooster, No. I haven't but I would like to. Can you send me the link? Thanks.