How to Play Ace King Preflop

written by: John Comments: View Comments

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When most people are dealt AK, they treat it as if they were just dealt pocket aces or kings. And can you really blame them? It's the strongest non-made hand that you can be dealt and has great potential to win as ace-king high, top pair/top kicker, nut straights and flushes if suited. It also can leave our opponents drawing slim or dead since we dominate so many combinations of hands like AQ, AJ, KQ and KJ.

The flip side to this is that although AK has very strong potential, that's all it has - potential. It's not a made hand, although many players will treat it as such. Having this kind of mindset is the reason why so many players lose much more with ace-king than they actually win.

If you're one of those players that lose too much with AK or just want some ideas on how to play it, I have come up with a few thoughts below. Since I play ace-king a little bit different from STT/MTTs to cash games, I have split the article up to reflect that.

(This article will only cover pre-flop play since there are so many variables to consider when playing AK postflop.)

Playing AK in MTTs and SnGs

I tend to play AK differently in sit n gos and tournaments simply because there are the added variables of not being able to rebuy (in most cases) and the possibility of busting and going home broke. So my strategy with ace-king will highly depend on where I'm at in the tournament, my stack size, the blinds and my opponents.

In the beginning stages, my default raise size with AK is going to be 4 times the big blind with 1 big blind added per limper in front of me. For example, with a blind level of 10/20, I'll raise $80 (sometimes $100 at a loose table) and if 2 people limped in ahead of me, I'll add $40 to that making my raise $120 to $140. 

With that said, I won't always iso-raise depending on the game I'm playing. In the lower limit sit n go's, isolation raises are generally ignored and you still end up getting a bunch of callers behind you. All you end up accomplishing is bloating the pot with an unmade hand. So, often times if there are multiple limpers I'll generally just limp behind. Some of you may disagree with this, but a $20 limp when you cannot isolate makes the hand cheaper and easier to get away from when you miss the flop. At higher stakes, however, you'll be able to isolate more successfully and is likely to be a better option to get value for your hand.

Also, at the lower stakes I'm not willing to stack off with ace-king pre-flop. With the blinds being so low, the overall play being so bad and the chips not being worth as much, I just feel that better spots can be found.

The exception to this is if someone raises at the early levels to 4 or 5 times the big blind and half the table calls, I'll actually be more inclined and willing to shove AK preflop. The reasoning behind this is that if someone raise to 4-5x with blinds of 10/20 and 6 people call, there is going to be $500-$700 of dead money sitting in the pot - almost half of a standard $1,500 stack. This is worth risking your stack for since in most cases players will fold their $100 investment not wanting to risk $1,400 more. If someone does call, it's still ok because there is so much dead money in the pot which makes it a profitable play over the long run. 

At the higher blind levels, my preflop play with ace-king will really depend on
- Effective stack sizes.
- My stack size; am I in shove-mode or can I still raise/fold or raise and play a flop.
- My opponent's hand ranges.
- Blind sizes and if there are antes. Antes create more dead money which makes going all in more profitable.
- Am I in the money and/or at the final table? If not, how close? 

Playing AK in Cash Games

Ace-king is played slightly different in cash games simply because players can rebuy when they lose their stack. Players don't have to worry about busting out and not making the money so the decisions they make can be with the "long-run" in mind.

My preflop play in cash game will be similar to my tournament/sng play. I will raise 4 times the big blind (plus 1 big blind for each limper) in all positions other than the button. My standard for the button is 2.5 times the big blind, no matter what hand I have. This is all assuming I'm the first one to act.

If someone has raised in front of me, than my thoughts and actions are as follows:

If the person who has raised in front of me is loose and calls 3-bets with a wide range of hands, I'll 3-bet ace-king for value.

If the player that raised in front is fairly tight, I might be more inclined to flat ace-king to potentially get value on the flop.

In general: the more likely someone is to fold to a 3-bet the more inclined I would be to flat a raise and the more likely someone is to call a 3-bet the more I am willing to do so.

Of course, you also need to factor in what your opponents left to act after you might do (if they're calling stations or maybe they like to squeeze), your position and what you might do if you 3-bet and are 4-bet. Stack sizes and history will also play a huge role.  

How to Play Ace King

It's important to understand that like anything else in poker, how you choose to play AK will be situation dependent. There is no concrete way to play it and even some of the examples I gave above can be incorrect for some scenarios whilst being the most profitable way to play in others.

Ultimately, just realize that ace-king is a very strong preflop hand with tons of potential - nothing more and nothing less.