Should You Limp with AK? Here's What the Pros Do

Should You Limp with AK?

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Ace King is the strongest drawing hand in no-limit Texas Holdem, and it should be one of your biggest money-making hands long term, trailing behind only premium pocket pairs, from pocket Tens and upwards. 

Players tend to either hate or love the Big Slick (Ace King). 

While certainly one of the best starting hands, players often overplay it because they overvalue the hand preflop, and some don’t play it fast enough, leading to a lot of problems postflop. 

This article will break down how Ace King performs, and give you some guidelines as to how to play it most effectively.

Let’s start with answering the most important question: Is there a situation where limping with Ace King is the optimal play?


1. Why You Should Play Ace King Fast Preflop


As a general rule, you shouldn’t limp with Ace King  preflop (or other hands for that matter).

Open limping (being the first to open the pot with a call instead of a raise) is a suboptimal strategy for a number of reasons.

First of all, you can’t win the pot uncontested if you don’t raise preflop. This means that you rely only on your hand strength to win the pot. 

And since making a strong hand in no-limit Texas hold’em is more an exception than the rule, it’s simply better to give yourself more options to win the pot, that is winning it without showdown.

This is something that BlackRain79 discusses in much more detail in Modern Small Stakes for example.

Secondly, if you open-limp, your opponents can raise behind you, often leaving you playing out of position without a range advantage. 

A player has range advantage when he theoretically has more strong holdings in their range than their opponent. 

The preflop aggressor has the range advantage over the callers, because he can potentially have strong holdings like pocket Aces, pocket Kings or Ace King, while his opponents can’t, because they would have reraised themselves had they had them.

This means that you have the initiative postflop, and you have the opportunity to c-bet and dictate the tempo of the hand.

BlackRain79 discusses this concept further in this video on how to play Ace King optimally at the micro stakes:


And lastly, if you open-limp preflop, you’re inviting players after you to do the same, which can lead to playing in a multiway pot. 

It’s harder to win a multiway pot than the heads-up pot, because you have more opponents to beat, and the more opponents, the bigger the chance some of them will connect with the flop in some way, thus reducing your equity.

So open-limping is hardly ever an optimal play.

Limping behind (calling after one or more players limped in) can be a correct play in some cases (like playing speculative hands such as small pocket pairs or suited connectors, for example) but a strong hand like Ace King should almost always be played aggressively, especially in low stakes games.

If you are the first to open the pot, you should therefore do it with a raise. If one or more players limped before you, you should raise to isolate them, because they are highly likely to be recreational players.

By isolating limpers, you are putting yourself in the best money-making position postflop, and you can get action by a lot of hands you dominate (a bunch of Ax and Kx hands, for example).

If somebody raised before you, you should 3-bet them to three times the open-raising size if you are in position, and 4 times the size if you are out of position. 

You can adjust your 3-bet size based on your opponents. If you’re up against fishy opponents you can go for a bigger 3-bet size. 

Same goes for open-raising, of course.

Is there a situation where limping with AK can be a correct play, though? Well, unless you’re Johnny Chan playing high stakes against world class professionals, the answer is no. 

If you’re playing mid or high stakes, there can theoretically be a situation where you might want to go for a deceptive line like limping or flatting with AK. 

For example, you limp behind a player expecting to get raised by a hyper aggressive opponent behind you, and trying to induce them to barrel into you postflop. 

If this theoretical aggressive opponent puts you on a range, he won’t expect you to have AK in your range, so you can get action by hands you dominate, like AQ, AJ, KQ and the like.

But again, going for deceptive lines like this isn’t advised in most situations. 

It can only theoretically be acceptable if you are playing against totally balanced thinking regulars, and playing ABC poker can only get you so far. But as this is hardly ever the case in low stakes games, playing your strong hands straightforwardly is the correct way to go.

If you try to go for deceptive lines, you should be aware that it can backfire for the reasons mentioned above, that is seeing the postflop without the initiative and range advantage and potentially playing in a multiway pot. 


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2. How to Play Ace King When Facing Aggression Preflop


As mentioned before, you should try to position yourself as the preflop aggressor with AK a large majority of the time, especially if you play low stakes games.

By the way, if you want to know the 5 best poker games to make money these days, make sure you check out BlackRain79's latest video:

    
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But back to being the preflop aggressor with Ace King, this means we should be open raising or 3-betting. So let’s take a look at what happens when we encounter aggression against our raises.

Should we just flat call or shove all in preflop and hold our breath? Let’s take a look at the first situation, when we encounter a 3-bet.

We have three options here: fold, call or 4-bet. Folding is out of the question, of course. 

Should we call or 4-bet depends on a lot of factors: are we playing in position or out of position, what type of opponent is 3-betting, what are the stack sizes, just to name a few. 

There is no one-size fits all answer, so here are a few guidelines.

If you are playing out of position, you should be more inclined to 4-bet rather than call. This is because it’s very hard to play a hand out of position without the initiative and range advantage. 

If you 4-bet, you’re putting tremendous pressure on your opponent, and are going to the flop with said initiative if they call, so the hand basically plays itself. 

From there you can just shove on the flop, as there won’t be much money left behind at that point. Also, Ace King blocks pocket Aces or pocket Kings, meaning it’s harder for your opponent to hold those hands. 

If you hold Ace King, your opponent can only have 3 combos of Aces and 3 combos of Kings. If you don’t hold any blockers, with pocket Jacks, for example, there are a total of 12 possible combos of Pocket Aces and Kings your opponent can theoretically have. 

If you are in position, you can consider flat calling, as stacks will be deeper, so there’s more maneuverability postflop. 

Remember, AK is still only a drawing hand, and if you decide to 4-bet, you might only get action from Aces, Kings and Queens. Against that particular range, AK has only about 32% equity.

That’s why it’s important to know what kind of opponent you are facing in order to assess how aggressively you should play preflop.

If you are playing against tight regulars, you should be careful not to overplay your Ace King, because as we already mentioned, it’s still only a drawing hand, and it’s actually an underdog against premium pocket pairs (and all other pocket pairs, for that matter). 

Poker pros therefore often opt to just flat call 3-bets when holding AK against very tight 3-betting ranges, and see the flop without committing a huge chunk of their stack preflop. 

This is because they want more maneuverability postflop with deeper stacks, and the opportunity to outplay their opponents, or simply give up cheaply when the board texture doesn’t favour them.

For much more on how poker pros approach all aspects of the game, check out the complete guide on becoming a poker pro.


3. How to Play Ace King Postflop


Now let’s take a look how Ace King performs postflop and try to draw conclusions on how to play it most effectively. 

We already mentioned that Ace King is the strongest drawing hand. This means that if it hits the flop, you’re always going to have a top pair, top kicker hand (TPTK).

If the board is dry, you can be confident you hold the best hand a large chunk of the time. 

What’s great about TPTK is that you don’t have to worry about kicker problems, and your opponents can and will continue with dominated hands like top pair, weak kicker. 

This means you can confidently bet for value and get action from second best hands. Also, you don’t have to worry about overcards on the future streets.
 
And thirdly, if you fire off a c-bet on a dry board, like A8♠3♣, it will look like a standard c-bet, and your opponents might assume that you would play that way with close to a 100% of your range. 

This means that they can’t automatically put you on your exact hand.

Finally, if you flop a straight or a flush draw, you will always be drawing to the strongest possible straight or flush, which means you don’t have to worry about losing your whole stack with a monster hand that turns out to be only the second best.

If you flop such a strong draw, you should also play it very fast. 

As a general rule, the stronger your draw, the faster you should play it. That way you can win the pot without even needing to improve, and even if you do get called, you can still win a huge pot by completing the draw.

However, most hands miss most flops, and Ace King is no exception. Let’s see how Ace King hits the flop. 

You should at least be aware of these percentages in order to make better in-game decisions.

It’s worth mentioning that AK offsuit and AK suited hit the flop quite similarly. The only difference being that AK suited can also flop a flush draw. So there really isn’t much difference as to how they should be played preflop. 

Like most hands, Ace King misses the flop two out of three times, or 67%. But not all is lost if you miss the flop completely. 

You still have an Ace-high hand, and your opponent will also miss the flop two out of three times. This means you will still technically have the strongest hand.

And if you followed the previous advice and didn’t limp with the Big Slick, but raised preflop instead, you have the opportunity to c-bet the flop and take the pot down. 

Even if you get called, you will still have two overcards to improve on future streets. In that case, you have six outs left (3 Aces and 3 Kings), so your chance of improving from flop to turn and river are 12% and 24%, respectively.

As far as the drawing hands go, Ace King will flop an inside straight draw 11% of the time. AK suited will flop a flush draw additional 11% of the time.

Both AKo and AKs will flop a top pair 29% of the time, and will absolutely smash the flop (meaning two pair hand or better) about 4% and 4.6% of the time, respectively. 

So we see that there is no significant difference between AKo and AKs, except for the additional 11% possibility of flopping a straight draw, and the negligible 0.6% more of smashing the flop. 

If you want to learn much more on how to do equity analysis like this check out the complete BlackRain79 guide to the best poker software.


Summary


Ace King is the strongest drawing hand in no-limit Texas hold’em, and should be one of your most significant long-term winning hands. 

It should therefore be played fast both preflop and postflop in most situations.

Limping with Ace King is ill-advised, as by doing so you are not giving yourself the opportunity to win the pot preflop uncontested, you increase your chances of playing in a multiway pot, thus reducing your equity, and you won’t see the flop with the initiative and the range advantage.

You should therefore go into the pot with an open-raise or a 3-bet. 

If you encounter aggression against your raise, it’s important to recognize what kind of opponent you are up against so you don’t overplay your hand and end up walking back to Houston, as the old saying goes.

Poker pros will therefore sometimes opt to flat call Ace King against 3-bets instead of going crazy with it preflop, as it’s still just a drawing hand, and it will in fact miss the flop completely two out of three times.

If you are the preflop aggressor, however, even if you do end up missing the flop, you can still try to take the pot down with a c-bet, as you still have two overcards. 

This means you will improve to a TPTK hand 12 or 24 percent of the time either on turn or river, respectively.

If you flop a straight or a flush draw, you should also play it fast, as it is a great spot for a semi-bluff. You can either win the pot by making your opponents fold, or improve on future streets to a monster hand and win a huge pot. 

In conclusion, Ace King is a great hand to hold, but it’s important not get carried away with it just because it looks pretty. There’s a life lesson somewhere in there too.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy to crush small stakes poker games, make sure you grab a copy of the free BlackRain79 poker cheat sheet. 

Should You Limp with AK?