Playing AK, Big Slick

by ~ March 5th, 2008. Filed under: Basics of poker, General poker strategy, Philosophy and approach, poker.

This is not an instructional poker blog, but AK is a hand that beginners often have questions about playing. My intention here is not to teach someone how to play it, but more to codify how I want to be playing it right now.

Some key characteristics of AK:

1) Odds

  • Against AA it’s a
    • 12/88 underdog if the AK are the same suit,
    • 7/93 underdog if no suits are the same, 6.5/93.5 if the K is the same suit of one of the other Aces.
  • Against KK it’s a
    • 34/66 underdog if the AK are the same suit,
    • 30/70 underdog if no suits are the same, 30.2/69.8 if the A is the same suit of one of the other Kings.

So it’s really in trouble, especially against AA. However, this risk is mitigated by the fact that if we hold AK, there are only 3 more As and 3 more Ks left in the deck. There is less than a 4% chance that when at a 9 handed table and you hold AK, someone else holds AA or KK.

Against other pairs,

  • Against QQ it’s a 43/57 underdog, but
  • against 22 it’s still a 47/53 underdog.

This is the classic “coin flip” situation. Any unpaired higher cards against a lower pair will be close to even odds. What makes AK special is that it will be in a coin flip situation against all pairs from 22 to QQ. If instead you hold 43, there are 10 pairs that above your cards where you are a 13/87 underdog, 2 pairs that dominate it (33/44), and only 1 pair (22) that is lower.

Where AK really shines is

    • Against AQ and any other Ace hand, it’s a 75/25 favorite

    This is called domination, where your opponent is now hoping to pair their one other card because an Ace doesn’t help them, and if they don’t pair, you’ll likely win because you have a higher second card. (This is a simplification; I’m ignoring the less likely flush/straight possibilities).

    • Against lower unpaired cards, AK is around a 66/33 favorite.

    The best other hands to hold when going up against AK are suited connectors (98s, 87s, ect) which are still underdogs but get closer to 60/40 odds.

    NOTE: This all assumes all cards will be seen, and applies best when one player is all in preflop. To this point we’ve also assumed that there are only two players in the hand.

    2) AK, like all other good hands, loses value the more players there are in the pot. You can glean this from the random hands chart. Raise preflop, and reraise if you have a raise ahead of you. Get players out of the hand, represent a powerful hand, take control even before the flop comes down.

    If you 3 bet and someone comes over the top, you may have to reevaluate. If they’re a short stack, call, because they may be desperate if it’s a tourney, or just not a good player if they are buying in short at a cash table. If they’re loose and/or aggressive, call, because there is a chance that they are doing this with less that premium hands.

    Basically, if you think there’s a chance that, given their situation or playing style, they may be doing this with AQ/AJ/AT, call/shove because AK dominates these hands, and is at least a coin flip against pairs.

    Essentially, play AK very fast preflop. Bet it hard, try to take down the blinds and the pot preflop. If someone calls your raise or reraise, you’re probably at least a coinflip at this point.

    Playing AK this fast may not apply so much for early in a tournament, where survival may have a higher priority, or possibly even on the bubble of a tournament if 1) you are bet into, 2) you face elimination or virtual elimination if you call, and 3) there is someone else on the verge of getting blinded out.

    If you’re short stacked, either because it’s a tourney, or you’re just afraid of losing too much at a cash table (not a great strategy; there are specific short stack ways of playing cash games which is a different approach to playing), just shove AK preflop. Besides the good chance that you’re even with or ahead of almost all other hands at the table, AK likes to see all five cards. All the statistical odds mentioned at the top assume only two players and seeing all five community cards, and not getting bet off the hand on a QJ5 flop by someone who has QT.


    Post flop I don’t have much to write. I view AK and JJ as interchangeable on the flop. This means if I have AK and the flop is low, I pretend that I have JJ and bet accordingly. Similarly, if I have JJ and the flop holds an Ace or King, I pretend that I hold AK and bet. This helps me to properly continuation bet the flop. If I get called, I re-evaluate on the turn.

    The only other suggestion that I have is Doyle Brunson’s comment that he likes AK over AA or KK, because it’s easier to get away from if he misses the flop. Say the flop is JT8 with two of one suit. That’s a dangerous flop ’cause it hits calling hands like JT/T9/98/KQ/QJ especially if they’re suited. If your opponent says that they have something here it’s much easier to fold AK than it is to fold AA or KK.

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    2 Responses to Playing AK, Big Slick

    1. pedro

      I had two situations involving AA last night that I am pondering.
      Both tournament situations, early enough in the tournament that I had more than 10 BB and most opponents were relatively equally stacked.

      Situation 1:
      I peer down at AA in early position. Raise 3BB and get called by one player.
      The flop comes K-Q-7.
      I bet 2/3 the pot, he raises all-in.
      I call to see K-Q.

      Situation 2: A different tournament, 10 players at the table.
      I peer down at AK suited in early position. I call the blind. One player raises to 3BB. I call.

      The flop comes: K-rag-rag
      I check.
      He bets 2/3 the pot. I call.
      Turn: rag
      I check.
      He bets 1/2 the pot. I call.
      River: rag
      I bet 2/3 pot. He puts me all in, for an additional pot sized bet.

      I call to see AA.

      The second hand could have been played better, but I am not sure how to deal with this.

      Is it bad luck?

    2. PokerAnon

      Hi Pedro.

      Assuming fairly reasonable players but no specific reads yet on either player:

      I think situation 1) the only time I could fold is if this is a deep stack tournament, in other words his raise all-in is a huge overbet of the pot. Otherwise, I just chalk it up to his luck and variance. KK/QQ is unlikely because he didn’t reraise, 77/KQ possiblities, but in a standard tourney structure AK/total bluffs/possibly AQ are also possibilities, imo.

      If you’re playing a double stack or deep stack tourney that would be too much to give up with an overpair and I might fold to the flop shove, but then I’m conservative.

      In 2) I almost never limp AK because it has too much preflop value and can lose too much value postflop. As it turns out you’re in great shape if he has KQ, but he’s in great shape if you have AK/KQ.

      So I’m raising preflop. If he reraises, I may shove all in or fold, depending on the stack sizes relative to the blinds and how I feel about the table. If he just calls I’m losing all my stack earlier than you did in the hand.

      As played preflop, I’m probably playing the rest of the hand much the same as you simply because it’s likely that you’re way ahead and if he keeps betting he’s giving you his chips. The only alternative I see is to raise the flop bet, check down if he calls and there are not likely draws. The problem is that with the stack sizes in tournaments raising his flop bet may make you pot committed anyways.

      A lot of this is subject to any reads on the specific players though, and how I think the players at this specific type of tournament play. In other words, I’m playing these differently in a freeroll verses a $2 tournament verses a $10 tournament with friends.

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