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Folding A-K

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Feb 07, 2024

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Jonathan Little If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out Jonathan Little’s elite training site at PokerCoaching.com/CardPlayer.

There are many reasonable ways to approach playing A-K. Some players play it aggressively every time, consistently raising and re-raising. Others take the cautious route, calling and then checking when they fail to improve to at least top pair, top kicker.

Instead of playing it the same way every time, you should make a point to actively pay attention to your opponent’s tendencies in order to play A-K (and every other hand) in the most profitable manner.

To illustrate this concept, let’s take a look at a hand I was recently told about in the comments of one of my YouTube videos.

With blinds at 100-200 with a 200 big blind ante, the player in the lojack seat raised to 500 out of his 8,000 effective stack. Everyone folded around to our Hero in the small blind who called with ASpade Suit KClub Suit.

While calling is certainly better than folding, three-betting to 1,800 is usually ideal in order to get money in the pot with what is usually the best hand. If you elect to just call with A-K preflop, it is important to note that you are not “slow playing,” hoping to automatically check-raise on any flop for value. Instead, you are playing a decently strong hand cautiously, opting to see if you flop a premium hand before investing significant money.

The big blind folded and the flop came QHeart Suit 8Heart Suit 8Club Suit. Hero checked, the lojack bet 600 into the 1,400 pot, and Hero called.

This is an excellent spot to check with the intention of calling any reasonable bet. It may feel a bit dicey to call from out of position with only ace-high, but it is important to realize that your 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.
The turn was the 6Heart Suit. Hero checked, the lojack bet 1,200 into the 2,600 pot.

When the turn completes one of the obvious draws, it is usually time to surrender when you lose to many of the completed draws as well as many flopped made hands. Notice that Hero could easily have all flushes plus some trips and top pairs in their range, meaning this hand is essentially one of the worst hands Hero could have at the moment (perhaps J-10, J-9, and 10-9 are the absolute worst).

When you face a bet with one of the worst hands in your range, folding is the prudent play.

Hero folded and conceded the pot.

Some players think that check-raise bluffing the turn is a good play, hoping to make lojack fold all hands worse than trips, but it is too likely that they have one of those premium hands, especially if they play intelligently 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 draws complete, they usually have either a strong made hand that can withstand additional pressure or a draw. Against that range, check-raising has little merit with a hand that stands to be in terrible shape when called.

While it is never fun to fold a premium preflop hand after the flop, you must understand that A-K is a marginal bluff catcher at best when it fails to connect with the board. Sometimes you just have to get out of the way.

If you want more resources to help you improve your game, I put together a course called The 25 Biggest Leaks and How to Fix Them. This course is completely free inside Card Player Poker School!

When you join the Card Player Poker School (it’s free to join), you’ll also get:

  • Free Downloadable Preflop Charts
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Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT winner and the 2024 PokerGO Cup champion with nearly $9 million million in live tournament earnings, best-selling author of 15 educational poker books, and 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year. If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out his training site at PokerCoaching.com/cardplayer.