The Value of Ace-King

If you’ve ever strolled through a poker room, then you’ve undoubtedly heard someone say, “I hate Ace-King!” Why so much hate for one of the top hands in the game? What are these players missing? We’ll tell you. Ace-King, also known as “Big Slick,” has a mysterious effect on players that think they must improve on the flop for the hand to have value. For example, a player may raise with A-K only to be greeted with a flop of 4-9-J. “I never hit anything with Ace-King!” is then verbalized as the once premium pre-flop hand shrinks into any other hand with “two overs” to the board. Players tend to expect that a strong hand pre-flop will be strong post-flop. Because Ace-King is only two high cards with no pair, a big flop is just as likely as most other starting hands. So be aware that a player who “never hits anything with Ace-King” is also saying “I never hit anything with 7-2.”

In a post-flop situation (after community cards have been revealed), we recommend playing A-K very similarly to other hands. When a flop is missed, make a standard continuation bet to take the pot down and then pump the brakes if you are called and don’t improve on the Turn. When the flop is big, bet because you have it. When you hit top pair, play through the hand depending on stack sizes and potentially use a River Blocker Bet. The above situations are described in more detail in other blog posts. You can use the search bar to find them.

The biggest value of A-K is pre-flop. As the blinds increase and players’ stack sizes fluctuate throughout a tournament, you’ll come to a point where you must move all-in. If you have a good stack and are not the one moving all-in, then others will be moving all-in against you. It is in these instances that you will want to ensure that you “get it in good,” also known as be mathematically ahead against your opponent. While we would love to be 100% favorites every time our tournament is at risk, it is not realistic. Even with the best possible starting hand in the game, A-A, our odds are not perfect against its ideal match-up, A-7.

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Moving all-in with A-K preflop affords us the comfort that we 1) are a mathematical favorite to win against most other hands 2) may get our opponent to fold and win a smaller pot with zero risk 3) will be about a 50% at worst if our opponent happens to have a pair. There are only two hands in the game that have a significant edge over A-K in a pre-flop situation, A-A and K-K. You will only run into aces or kings 4% of the time when you are holding A-K, so don’t stress about it. In future posts we’ll explain scenarios early on in tournaments that may help you make professional pre-flop folds (like folding A-K to A-A).

Did you know that any two over cards are approximately 50/50 odds to win a hand vs. any pair in a pre-flop situation? Check out some examples:

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A-K becomes extremely valuable when we think of it in this way. Take a look at the matchups below to get an idea of why we’d like to be moving all-in with A-K pre-flop:

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The above demonstrates some of the value of going all-in preflop with Ace-King. Now you’ll be able to reply to the haters, “You hate Ace-King because you’re expecting to flop an unlikely monster, or you don’t know the pre-flop odds against other hands, or you are just mad that the cocktail waitress was slow with your coffee.”

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In today’s example, I am in early position and have been dealt a pre-flop monster, A-K. I find it important to review that I have around 28 big blinds, just in case I find myself in a post-flop situation that will require me to have an awareness of my stack after each action. I’m also ready and willing to go all-in at this point in the hand with anyone at the table because I’ll usually be a coin flip at worst. All stacks are on or below the 40 big blind mark, which is not terribly concerning because I’m thinking more about how I will be acting in order to get all-in. I will also be calling any of the shorter stacks all-ins like jack_wagon, Friscox415, or stud91124 (love the name). I make my standard minimum raise.

We’ve briefly mentioned table image in another post. Here is a time when having an aggressive table image helps me. Because my rule is to open-raise (first one to raise) with any ace, any pocket pair, any two cards over 7, and hands like 9-7 and 10-7 suited, I appear to be “bluffing” a lot. Players have commented, “You can’t have it every time, why are you raising so much?” This is an important part of my style because when I do pick up a big hand, I’m more likely to get action and be a favorite to win. The small losses that come with raising a lot, are less significant than the big wins that come with having a loose table image. Have you ever played at a table where one player was constantly raising? Bluffing on every hand? Being obnoxious? Many players think, “I’m going to take all of this guy’s money as soon as I get a hand.” With cautious players, a “hand” is something very big, like A-A or K-K, but when you have sat for hours at a table and watched a loose player rant and rave, you begin to loosen up as well. 9-9 may look like a monster and you may justify going all-in against the loose player, don’t fall into this trap! The Poker Model will teach you to remain calm when an aggressive player appears to be bluffing and stick to what you know to be correct, based on real variables. The one time you decide to play against them may be the time that they have a monster. Be patient and know that a better spot is coming.

In this hand, I’m hoping that my table image will induce a 3-bet. I’m banking on the fact that all of my previous min-raises and continuation bets have other players thinking that I’m raising very light. This may cause someone to go all-in with hands like K-Q, A-Q, A-J, or A-10, all hands that my A-K dominates as we saw above (A-K is about 70% to win against K-Q,A-Q,A-J, or A-10). I wait and see if I’ll get any action.

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Friscox415 3-bets to 2100 and all of the other players fold. I’m cautiously optimistic at this point in the hand. Has my loose table image induced this action? Does my opponent have a hand? We will not know until the hand plays out. What we can control is our move at this point. Pause. What would you do in this situation and why? Let’s go over our options.

While it is a choice, few players will decide to fold in this scenario. Most poker players are aware that A-K has some value and realize that folding a hand this big is a mistake. It would be similar to a baseball player stepping up to the plate and not swinging at any pitch, ultimately striking out. You must swing the bat when dealt Ace King or all of your chips will go away over time. We are speaking in very general terms here, if you have a specific question or hand that you’d like to discuss relating to the value of A-K then leave a comment below!

Calling is not advisable for a number of reasons. To start, you will probably not connect on the flop (about 32% chance of connecting), leaving you with a post-flop option to bet or check. You can then completely bluff by betting out of position, which is a bad idea because your opponent has just 3-bet, has a short stack, and will move all-in on you with a very wide range of hands. You can also check to the raiser on the flop, who will most likely make a continuation bet, forcing you to fold. None of these options offer you any control over the hand. Control is paramount so we do not have to feel the vulnerability of being put all-in, needing to guess our way out of it. When you see enough hands and keep control of your stack, a foundation of patterns begin to emerge that will help you develop intuition about the correct moves to make. Losing control means you are guessing and are not improving with every decision. You are at the mercy of probability and probably won’t win.

The only professional option in this situation is to make a 4-bet all-in. A 4-bet is when Player A raises, Player B re-raises (3-bet), and Player A re-raises again (4-bet). We have no hesitation here, but would prefer to see our opponent flip a hand like A-Q over a hand like J-J. We hope you’ve learned why in this article. Guess what? We have no control over what our opponent has either. Our decisions begin and end with knowing that the 4-bet all-in puts us in a good position to double up, “ship and pray.” There is a running joke among pros that any player who utters the word “reraise” is instantly tagged as a weak to average player (a donkey), so call it a “4-bet!” Also the size of the 3 or 4 bets can give away tells of weak players. 3 or 4 bets should be about 2.2-3 times the initial raise, depending on the level of the tournament, with the goal being to put as much pressure on your opponent while risking the least amount of chips. A smaller 3-bet, like 2.2 times the initial raise, appears to “want a call,” while a bigger one, like 2.9 times the initial raise, appears to “want a fold.” There are many layers to this topic and we’ll look to walk through an example in another post.

The opponent has made a min-raise on top of my min-raise and also has under 20 big blinds. The fact that Friscox415 has under 20 big blinds confirms that I will be putting him all-in. If Friscox415 had more chips, then I’d make a 4-bet that puts me all-in against him. I’d expect him to call the all-in because he has risked a large percentage of his stack to make the 3-bet so logically he would call my all-in. I’ve seen many players do a number of random things, so I don’t have an expectation on how this hand will play out. Again, I’m more focused on what I’m doing. It’s important to not overthink the hand at this point. Either Friscox415 has A-A or K-K, which is very unlikely, or I’m in decent shape. I move all-in knowing that whatever happens, I’ll still have chips and my tournament life if I’m unsuccessful in the hand. Have fun with your all-ins, but do not get too high or too low, anything can happen.

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Interesting. My opponent folded, leaving himself with under 20 big blinds. While this was certainly possible, it was not what I expected because he had so few chips left. Did Friscox415 get tired of all of my min-raising and decide to take a stand only to be put all-in by my monster pre-flop hand? His fold shows evidence that my aggressive table image may have had him 3-bet bluff against me, only to be met with a 4-bet all-in. Maybe he was unaware of his own stack size, which lead him to 3-bet, then fold with so few chips left. He also may have had a big hand and got cold feet when the pressure of calling off his entire tournament was put on him. I’m going to win a nice pot without being at risk in the hand.

Looking down at Ace-King in your hand is always an exciting feeling. When played properly, you will win big pots and lose small ones. In preflop situations, make your 3 and 4 bets in an effort to get it all-in. During post-flop, do not hold on to the idea that you still have a big hand if you miss. Don’t worry, another chance to play A-K is coming in the very near future.

Brett

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