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A-K Is Tricky

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Apr 25, 2018

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A-K is a hand that gives many recreational players fits. Some play it aggressively every time, consistently raising and three-betting whenever given the chance, while others use a more cautious approach, calling and checking when they fail to improve to at least top pair. Especially if your opponents play reasonably well, you will find that playing the same starting hand the same way every time does not work out too well in the long run. You have to pay attention and accurately assess your opponent’s tendencies in order to play A-K (and every other hand) in the manner that yields the most profit. The following hand played by one of my students illustrates one viable way to play A-K.

With blinds at 150-300 with a 40 ante, the Villain in middle position raised to 700 out of his 11,000 effective stack. Everyone folded around to the Hero in the small blind who called with ASpade Suit KClub Suit.

From the small blind, both calling and three-betting A-K are fine plays. When you are out of position, you usually want to play small pots when the stacks are deep because the player in position will have a significant post-flop advantage. If just call with A-K preflop, it is important to realize that you are not “slow playing,” looking to blindly get your stack in on any flop. Instead, you are playing a decently strong hand cautiously, opting to see if you flop a premium hand before investing significant money. For the most part, I tend to three-bet against loose, aggressive players and call against tight, passive players.

The flop came QHeart Suit 8Heart Suit 8Club Suit. Hero checked, Villain bet 800 into the 2,160 pot and Hero called.

This is an excellent spot to check with the intention of calling a modest bet. It may feel a bit dicey to call from out of position with only ace-high, but it is important to realize that A-K beats all draws and all bluffs. Of course, you could easily be crushed by a hand like A-Q or 8-7, but A-K is simply too strong to fold due to the large number of hands that failed to connect with this flop. One of the easiest ways to lose your shirt is to check-fold every time you fail to improve to a pair.

The turn was the 6Heart Suit. Hero checked, Villain bet 900 into the 3,760 pot and Hero folded.

When the turn completes one of the obvious draws, it now makes sense for A-K to surrender. Hero could easily have all flushes plus some trips and top pairs in his range, meaning this hand is essentially one of the worst hands he can have at the moment (perhaps J-10, J-9 and 10-9 are the absolute worst). When facing a bet with one of the worst hands in your range, folding is the intelligent play.

Some players think that check-raise bluffing the turn is a good play, hoping to make Villain fold all hands worse than trips, but it is too likely that Villain has one of those premium hands, especially if he plays well and will check behind on the turn with marginal made hands such as top pair. When most competent players bet the turn when the obvious draw arrives, they usually have either a strong made hand that can withstand additional pressure or a draw. Against that range, check-raising has little merit.

While it is never fun to fold a premium preflop hand after the flop, you must understand that A-K is usually a marginal bluff catcher when it fails to connect with the board and should be folded to multiple streets of aggression. ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars at HoldemBook.com/signup.