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Big Slick

by Todd Arnold |  Published: Apr 01, 2006


I discussed ace-rag in detail in a previous column. This time I'll talk about the most overplayed hand in poker, A-K. Wow! I've been waiting for a big hand like this for an hour! Finally, I have a monster. Or do I? Yes, maybe you do, but it's all in how you play the hand and when. Many players just can't wait to get all their chips in with it. Don't fall in love with it.

What makes big slick such a good starting hand? Hell, it's just a drawing hand and mathematically, even a pair of deuces is the favorite preflop. First, get that best-hand-preflop thought process out of your head. Who cares? You are holding two cards out of a total of seven. How far ahead can you really be? The best is 80-20 with a pair over a pair (and you're not in that situation). Learn to play the situation and the board and stop worrying if you have the best hand. OK, now back to the question: Why is it so good? It is good because of perception and equity.

Many players feel it is so good because, unless your opponent has A-A or K-K , you are roughly, at worst, 50 percent to win. But, that also means that you are 50 percent to lose in that situation. So, is that really very good? I don't think so – at least not in many situations. As I always say, follow your reads. What size stack do you have in comparison to your opponent and in relation to the blind level? When should you take that race? Can you make your opponent fold? I see so many players overplay A-K and lose the tournament thinking they did nothing wrong. Here's a specific example of what not to do: It's early on in a tournament, the blinds are low, and all players are about even in chips. Early position calls, next guy makes a small raise, late position raises 30-40 percent of his stack, and you have A-K in the small blind and push all in. I think this is a horrible play at this point in a tournament for many reasons. First, there is certainly at least one pair out there with that action so at best you are a 50 percent favorite to win. Second, it's so early in the tournament, why risk elimination now on a coin flip at best? Third, you just made the biggest mistake you can make.

You waited until someone was pot-committed before you tried to push him out. He may have enough chips left to fold and play on but he is likely mentally committed to that pot and is not going to fold. So, now you are in a race against the big raiser who has J-J or Q-Q and if you lose, you are out. (This happens often late in tournaments as well.) Do not wait until someone is committed to the pot before you push for your tournament life.

So, when should you aggress? It's all about perception and equity, as I said earlier. For example, a player raises a standard three times the big blind. Based on your read of that player, you are pretty sure he has a good hand like A-K, A-Q, or a medium pair. Reraising that player with A-K makes sense as he will have a hard time calling or racing for his entire stack even if he perceives that you hold only A-K. Now the decision is on him to race in a 50 percent situation. He also has to worry that he is a 4-to-1 dog if he is holding a middle pair. You have forced him into the situation of having to make the call and win the race. That's not an enviable position. So, the point is to always use your equity with A-K to make others decide to race. Always try to be the aggressor with A-K and not the caller. And reraising a pot-committed player is essentially only calling. There are, of course, some situations in which calling with A-K does make sense. Early in a tournament when just picking up the blinds has no relative value and to disguise your hand strength may be a time you choose to call only. Late in a tournament against a smaller stack that you feel is getting desperate and will push with any ace, and so on. The bottom line is choose whom you play A-K against very carefully. Realize that it is likely going to be a race and avoid racing for your tournament life if at all possible. Your best "out" is to get them to fold.

To summarize:

• Aggress with A-K preflop but don't call all-in bets with it.

• Aggress heavily enough to give your opponent the opportunity to fold but not so much that you commit yourself and only dominant hands like aces and kings can call you.

• Don't aggress after someone is pot-committed if losing that amount is devastating to your stack.

• Don't race with it for your tournament life, especially early on.

• Most of the value of A-K is the ability to make others fold so use it when they are able to fold, not when they can't fold.

• Choose your opponent carefully according to your read and the situation.

Good luck, be mindful, and stop overplaying that hand!

Todd Arnold is the trainer and co-creator of Visit the site or e-mail Todd at