Never Play Your Ace King Like This (Top 3 Common Mistakes)

Never Play Your Ace King Like This

This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.

A lot of poker players have a love-hate relationship with Ace-King. 

They love getting dealt the “Big Slick”, but hate the fact that they don’t win as much money with it as they (think they) should. 

Or worse yet, they sometimes lose money in such horrid ways that make them question should they even bother with playing the stupid hand in the first place.

Whatever your attitude towards Ace-King, it should still be one of your biggest long-term winners in your poker career. 

But only if you play it the right way.

This article will show you 3 common mistakes players make with AK, how to avoid them, and what to do instead.

By avoiding these mistakes, you won’t have any more mixed feelings towards AK, and you’ll love it like all the poker pros do.

1. Slowplaying Ace-King Preflop

Love it or hate it, Ace-King is a premium hand, and should be played as such. Playing Ace-King aggressively preflop has a couple of benefits:

A) You are building up the pot while your hand is likely ahead. 

You will often get action by weaker Aces or weaker Kings, which you completely dominate.
(By the way, a dominated hand is the one that’s highly unlikely to win against another hand. 

So if you hold Ace-King and your opponent holds Ace-Queen or Ace-Jack, your hand dominates theirs).

You should take advantage of the fact that you can get action by a lot of weaker hands, and put as much money into the pot as possible as soon as possible. 

This will also translate to easier play postflop, which brings us to the second point.

B) You are building a shallow stack-to-pot ratio (or SPR for short). 

As the name suggests, SPR is a ratio between the effective stack size (the smaller stack of the players involved in the pot) and the pot size. 

For example, if your stack is $100 and the pot is $20, the SPR is 5.

It shows you how committed you are to the pot, or in other words, how willing you should be to put the rest of your stack in the middle. 

The smaller the SPR, the more committed you are, and the bigger the SPR, the less willing you should be to put more money in the middle.

As a general rule, you are automatically committed with a top pair hand or better when the SPR is 3 or less.

So why is this particularly important when it comes to Ace-King? It’s simple. If you connect with the flop, you will ALWAYS have a top pair top kicker hand or better. 

This means you will be automatically committed to the pot if the SPR is small. 

And the only way to build a small SPR is to build up the pot preflop by playing aggressively. 

By the way, if you struggle vs aggressive players, use this simple trick as Nathan discusses in his latest video.

But back to our discussion of Ace-King here, this means open-raising and 3-betting (raising against another player’s open raise) when you have the chance.

This way, you can keep applying the pressure postflop as well. 

Even if you miss the flop completely, you will still have two overcards, which means you can still improve on later streets.

(An overcard is a card stronger than the cards on the flop. For example on a flop like J♣95♣, Aces, Kings and Queens are an overcard).

If the SPR is very shallow, sometimes you can put the rest of your stack inside even without having connected with the board. 

This gives you maximum fold equity, and since most hands miss most flops, sometimes your Ace-high hand will even be ahead of your opponent's range.

(By the way, fold equity simply means the percentage of time your opponent will fold to your bet. 

Usually, the bigger the bet, the bigger the fold equity, and vice versa).

2. Going All-in With AK Against Tight Players

Ace-King is obviously a premium hand, so it should be played aggressively, especially preflop where you are likely ahead of your opponent’s range. 

However, as strong as Ace-King is, it’s worth noting that it’s still a drawing hand. 

This brings us to the second mistake a lot of players make, and it’s the opposite of the first mistake, i.e. playing Ace-King TOO aggressively. 

Now, you might start scratching your head, and wonder why you’re reading contradictory advice in the same article, but bear with me. 

As with anything else in poker, context is key. 

While Ace-King can be strong enough even to stack off against small or medium stacks (in this context, we’re talking about effective stack sizes that are smaller than 100 big blinds), you can’t stack off profitably with it against deeper stack sizes and more adept opponents. 

That’s because Ace-King is actually behind other premium hands, equity-wise. 

So when you see a tight player 4-bet shoving (going all-in against another player’s 3-bet) preflop, for example, you can be pretty sure they’re not doing it with Ace-Jack offsuit. 

Now, you could make the argument that some players can 4-bet bluff with hands your Ace-King is ahead of, such as small suited Aces, and fair enough. 

But these cases are far and few in between. And even if that’s the case, you’re essentially turning your hand into a bluff catcher.
More often than not, though, when you see a tight player 4-betting, or even 5 betting, they’re not doing it with some random hand. 

They’re doing it with pocket Aces, Kings, and maybe pocket Queens if we’re being generous. If you want to get really good at poker fast, you must understand this.

Let’s take a look how your Ace-King fares against some common ranges. 

Example Ace King Hand #1

Effective stack size: 150 BB

You are dealt AK♣ in the SB.

A tight and aggressive player open-raises UTG (under the gun).

You 3-bet to 12x.

Villain 4-bets to 25x.

You: ???

You should fold.

Folding Ace-King preflop might sound like a blasphemy, but let’s unpack the situation and figure out if continuing in this example is +EV. 

Let’s start by trying to assess the villain’s range in this spot. We know that they are tight and aggressive.

They open-raised from under the gun (the first seat in the 6-max game), and the effective stack size is deep (i.e. more than 100 big blinds). 

Based on the player type and the actions taken, we can be pretty sure they have quite a strong, narrow range here. 

The question is: how tight? 

A reasonable assumption could be premium pocket pairs (pocket Jacks and stronger) and Ace-King, and that’s if we’re being generous. 

Against this range, your Ace-King has 40% equity. Not great. 

What’s worse, if you just flat call, you’re going to play the rest of the hand out of position, without the range advantage, and without initiative. 

A preflop aggressor has the range advantage, meaning they are perceived to have a stronger hand. 

This also gives them the initiative, i.e. the chance to continue their aggression with a flop continuation bet (or c-bet for short). 

So calling is obviously not a great idea. This leaves folding or 5-betting. 

If you decide to 5-bet, you’re essentially shoving all-in, as you’re already committing a large portion of your stack. 

The problem with 5-betting here is that you can’t get called by worse hands.

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Let’s say your opponent has pocket Jacks (again, if we’re being generous). Pocket Jacks have 57% equity against Ace-King offsuit, so you’re the underdog. 

Ace-King suited fares only slightly better, as pocket Jacks are a 54% favourite to win.

Of course, you can change the initial assumptions about your opponent’s range to make continuing the hand seem more feasible. 

Let’s say your opponent 4-bets with pocket Tens or better, and Ace-Queen or better. In that case, you’re essentially coin flipping (you have roughly 50% equity). 

But again, that kind of a range is highly optimistic. 

Poker is a game of incomplete information. With the lack of information, you have to make educated guesses. 

It’s better to err on the side of caution, but this comes down to individual preferences. Is 50% equity good or bad? 

It depends if you’re a glass half full or half empty type of person. If you like gambling and you’re feeling lucky, go for it. 

The problem is, that mindset is hardly conducive to being a long term winner in poker.

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3. Overvaluing Top Pair Top Kicker

The last common mistake a lot of amateur poker players make with Ace-King is overplaying it post flop.

This means either clinging on to it despite missing the flop, or not being able to let go when they do connect. 

As strong as Ace-King is preflop, it’s still a drawing hand, and like all other drawing hands, it’s going to miss the flop more often than not (2 out of 3 times, to be precise).

If you want to understand how to play ace king properly, then you must make peace with this critical bit of cold hard reality. 

66% of the time you will flop a big fat nothing with your Ace King!

Now, there are definitely spots you should still continue playing Ace-King despite missing the flop. 

For example, if the SPR is very low and you were the preflop aggressor, you could just ship the rest of your stack inside and hope for the best.

Sometimes your Ace-high hand will be ahead of your opponent, because your opponent could have easily missed the flop as well. 

Even if you miss the flop completely, you still have two overcards, so you can improve on later streets. 

Also, by shoving all-in you’re applying maximum pressure on your opponent, so you’re getting the most fold equity.

But this is a very specific example where “overplaying” Ace-King might work. 

In other situations, where the effective stack sizes are a lot deeper, you should exercise a lot more caution when playing Ace-King, especially when you’re not pot-commited. 

When you miss the flop completely, you can still fire off a standard c-bet profitably on most board textures. 

As mentioned, you still have two overcards, so you have some hand equity to fall back on if your light c-bet (or a c-bet bluff, in other words) gets called.
If you do connect with the board, life becomes a lot easier, at least in theory. With Ace-King, you will always have at least a top pair top kicker hand when you hit. 

This means you can value bet quite comfortably (i.e. bet with the intention of getting called by weaker hands).

The problem with one pair hands, however, is that they are vulnerable to getting outdrawn, especially when the stacks are deep. 

The deeper the effective stack size, the weaker one-pair hands become. This is because players usually don’t like to play for a big pot without a much stronger hand than one pair. 

So if you start getting action on later streets, (i.e. the turn and river), alarm bells should be going off in your head, and your top pair is probably not good anymore.  

This is discussed many times in The Micro Stakes Playbook. And this is precisely the problem with Ace-King. 

It’s way too strong to let go, but by the time you think it’s no good anymore, it’s already too late and you’ve already committed too much money into the pot to give up now. 

So you begrudgingly call that turn check-raise, knowing full well your “Big slick” is dead in the water.

For this reason, it’s often a good idea to exercise pot control (i.e. keeping the pot size on the smaller, manageable size), instead of inflating it too much with a vulnerable hand like top pair. 

This is especially true on wetter, more coordinated board runouts. 

The more coordinated the board, the bigger the chances of your opponent connecting with it in some way, and therefore beating your top pair.

Example Ace King Hand #2

Effective stack size: 100 BB
You are dealt A♠K♠ on the BU (button).

A tight and aggressive regular open raises to 3x from the CO (cutoff).

You 3-bet to 9x. Villain calls.

Pot: 18.5 BB
Flop: KT♠5♣

Villain checks. You bet 10 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 38.5 BB

Turn: J

Villain checks. You bet 20 BB. Villain raises to 50 BB.

You: ???

You should fold.

This is a spot where there’s nothing left to do but fold begrudgingly. 

Yet, a lot of amateur players will have a hard time at making a laydown here. They might even argue that their hand could be behind, but they can still win if a Queen comes on the river. 

Fair enough, but I’d much rather put my money in with a mathematical advantage and hope it holds up, rather than hoping I get lucky despite the odds. 

And the fact is, the odds are not in your favour in this situation. 

Based on the player type you’re up against, the board texture, and most importantly, that turn check-raise line, you can be damn sure your hand is behind. 

There’s no way the villain is taking a line like this with a hand like King-Queen. 

Any attempt to justify calling here (or shoving all-in) is more of a rationalization than sound decision making. 

When you call here, the villain will regularly show up with hands like Ace-Queen, sets (like pocket Jacks, Tens, Fives), two-pair hands like KJ, KT and so on. 

Sure, there might be some semi-bluffing hands in there, as well, but I wouldn’t bet my money on it. 

Making a big laydown here marks the difference between losing a medium-sized pot and losing an entire stack. 

In poker, it’s important not only to win as much money as possible, but to lose as little as possible when you don’t have the best hand (which is more often than not). 

Making disciplined laydowns like in the example above is what separates the poker pros from the rest. Remember, better too tight of a fold than too wide of a call.

In fact, understanding this concept is one of the most simple ways to improve at poker instantly.

How to Play Ace King (Summary)

To sum up, here are top 3 common mistakes to avoid when playing Ace-King:

1. Slowplaying AK preflop. 

Ace-King is a premium hand, and should be played as such. 

Always open-raise or 3-bet it when you have the chance, especially against weaker opponents and/or small-to-medium stacks.

2. Shoving AK all-in preflop against tight players. 

Despite the relative strength of Ace-King, you should be careful with stacking off preflop against more adept players. 

Equity-wise, Ace-King is an underdog against premium pocket pairs. 

3. Getting too attached to AK postflop. 

A lot of players will either cling on to Ace-King despite missing the flop completely, or overplay it once they do hit the board. 

You should always be able to let go of a hand at a moment’s notice, no matter how painful or “unfair” it might seem.

As you can see, there’s no one right way to play Ace-King. Like with anything else in poker, how you decide to play it depends on the context. 

Sometimes you can comfortably shove all-in preflop, other times you might even consider folding it preflop. Shocking, I know.

Either way, you’re going to win a lot more money than you lose with Ace-King over the long run, so don’t worry if you lose in some spectacular fashion here and there. The math is on your side.

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Never Play Your Ace King Like This (Top 3 Common Mistakes)