Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

Time to Devalue Big Slick

Has A-K become less profitable in today's no-limit hold'em world?

by Dan Abrams |  Published: Dec 13, 2005


What's the best starting hand in no-limit hold'em? The quick and popular answer is pocket aces. The next most popular answers are pocket kings, pocket queens and A-K (aka "big slick"). But I think it's time to devalue A-K.

You make money with a hand when an opponent puts money in the pot when you are the favorite. Bluffing is not a factor in determining the value of a starting hand. You can bluff with any two cards. The way you play a hand determines the efficacy of the bluff (along with your image and the relative sizes of chip stacks). The value of a hand is a function of the number and power of the situations in which it is profitable.

Pocket aces are profitable because they are a big favorite over every other hand before the flop. The known danger is that most people can't get away from them when they catch a bad flop. This is even more true of pocket kings, because too many people will call bets on the flop even with an ace out there.

But I am using this column to argue that A-K is the hand that has become much more dangerous and less profitable in the past few years. Years ago, it was much more common for people to play all sorts of ace-rag and Broadway hands, even for a raise. That situation massively favors the A-K, which is why big slick used to be correctly valued very highly. Back then, if you raised with A-K, you could count on regularly being called by A-Q, A-J, A-10, K-Q, K-J, and even A-9.

Even better, when you were lucky enough to flop an ace or king (about a third of the time), you had the best kicker and your opponent was drawing to only three outs (to hit his kicker). You could bet big on the flop and even get raised by someone you had dominated. You could get all of your money in on the flop as a substantial favorite. That's even better than the popular wish of getting it all in preflop with aces over an opponent's deuces. Years ago with A-K, even when you missed the flop, you often could make a continuation bet and take the pot. What a glorious time. Those were the "good old days." Don't count on that now.

Sure, it still happens now, especially at the lower limits, but the competition changed as players became more educated. Sklansky, Caro, and the rest of the poker experts effectively warned the public about playing weak kickers, especially for a raise. Nowadays, if you raise with big slick preflop, get called by A-J, and then check-raise an ace-high flop, most players won't pay you off. Big slick just doesn't earn what it used to.

What is worse, players will call you with a medium pair preflop and raise you even when there's an overcard on the flop. So, if the flop comes J-6-2, many opponents will put you on A-K and happily go all in with 9-9, knowing you can't profitably call.

Another problem with A-K was caused by poker on television (I accept my share of the blame). Wacky hands played by tricky pros get a lot of airtime. More and more players are emulating that strategy, so they can flop stealth two pairs and straights. Consequently, if you're really deep-stacked, A-K becomes tremendously precarious. Your A-K can get an apparently attractive flop of K-8-6, and you can go broke when an opponent shows you an 8-6.

As is the case with everything in poker, it depends on the situation and the players. But because the competition has changed strategy, it's time to counter effectively. Don't play A-K like it's the nuts unless you're short-stacked.

If you're deep-stacked, you've got to be aware that the competition is increasingly playing for implied odds, and your big slick rarely flops the nuts inconspicuously. A-K is too often easily read, and simply doesn't profit like it used to. It's time to devalue A-K and make more money on other hands. Good luck.

More important than knowing most everything is knowing when you don't. I don't know everything. Tell me when I'm wrong.

Dan Abrams was the writer/producer of the documentary on the World Series of Poker in 2000 for the Discovery Channel, and the post producer/writer for the World Poker Tour in its first season. He may be contacted at: