AK is a tricky hand for a lot of players. The problem with AK is that it looks like a stronger hand than it really is. So many players will overvalue it by stacking off with it preflop or calling three streets with nothing but ace-high.
With ace high.
Do you know what beats ace-high? Everything. Any pair. Even a pair of twos.
The fact of the matter is that AK is an unmade hand. So just by understanding that you’ll be that much more ahead of everyone.
Unfortunately though, that’s the extent of my universal advice on how to play AK. There are just too many variables / situations. However, by knowing what those variables / situations are and how they’ll impact you, you’ll have a better idea as to how to play AK.
Variables That Impact How You Play Ace-King
The Type of Game You’re Playing
The type of game you’re playing will impact how you play ace-king.
For example, in a tournament or sit n go playing hands more aggressively is normal. You take thinner edges more often, and sometimes you even need to take -EV spots to set yourself up for a +EV situation later on.
What I’m getting at is that it’s relatively standard to stack off with AK preflop. You will need to flip several times along the tournament to build a stack for the final table, so why not do it when you have the best unmade hand? However, that assumes you’re not starting with 100-150+ big blinds (or any kind of deep stack).
However, that’s definitely not standard for cash games. Missing a (small) edge in a cash game doesn’t necessarily impact anything you do later on. And taking small edges (if you even have them) is swingy too. Being a 51 or 55 percent favorite isn’t “great.” It’s profitable, but it’s swingy as hell.
Table Position – Where is Everyone Sitting?
Table position will play a roll because that will affect yours and your opponents ranges. For example, if your opponent opens from early position, they’re going to have a tighter range of hands. How many of those hands do you think AK beats? Not many. In many situations (regardless if it’s a cash game or sit n go) it’ll make more sense to flat AK than it would to 3-bet it.
However, if someone opens from later position, say the hi-jack or cutoff, then their hand range will be much wider than AK. So it will make much more sense to 3-bet with AK since it’ll be for value. And if you happen to be out of position 3-betting is a good idea so you ensure you have initiative post-flop.
When you open your position will be less of a factor. 99.9% of the time when you have AK and you’re the first to act I recommend coming in for a raise.
How Deep Are (Effective) Stack Sizes?
Effective stack sizes will impact your AK strategy big time.
For example, if you have 10 or 20 big blinds, it won’t matter what game you’re playing, what your table position is or who your opponents are, in most cases it’ll make sense to stack off and try to double up. If someone raises there will be enough dead money to justify it.
With deeper stack sizes, however, it’s a risk vs. reward type situation. For example, if you have 200 big blinds and you’re in a (all in preflop) situation where you’re a coin flip to win and are getting 45% pot odds, that’s a marginally profitable spot. But just because it’s profitable doesn’t mean you should take it. As I said earlier taking spots that are essentially coin flips are swingy. Why put your (200bb) stack in on a coin flip?
Not just that, but with deeper stack sizes there is a possibility that you might even fold AK preflop. For example, if someone raises, you 3-bet and they 4-bet you, are you going to be comfortable playing AK? What is their 4-bet range? Obviously the exact stack size, opponent and position will play a role, but just for the sake of argument say they aren’t folding once they 4-bet. A range here will consist of something like QQ+, maybe AK too. Versus this range you’re a 40% dog. You hardly have any margin here, if you have any to begin with. Some 4-betting ranges will only consist of AA and KK.
Who is Your Opponent?
When you think about your opponent, you’re basically considering their tendencies, table position and hand ranges. The tighter your opponent and the earlier their position, the less likely you’ll play AK, much less play it aggressively. The better they are, the fishier they are and the later their position, the more likely you’ll play back at them.
However, going deeper, if you know your opponent plays a certain way, then you’ll want to use that information. For example, if your opponent opens and you flat preflop, and you know your opponent c-bets 100% of the time, flatting and floating the flop might be a strategy you try.
Against a tighter opponent you’re strategy should be straightforward – play for pot control and not get too far out of hand, and fold when played back at. Against looser opponents it’ll be the opposite.
Ultimately, you’ll should use all of these variables together to figure out what you should do with your ace-king. By doing so you’ll avoid overvaluing your hand. You won’t find yourself in nearly as many spots where you’re getting your money in bad or flipping.