AK is one of the premium-hands, but most of the players have difficulties with it. It is a monster-hand in No-limit Holdem and it becomes even the stronger one when suited – spades, hearts, clubs or diamonds.
It is considered that АК is ranked the fourth hand by strength in Holdem (after the pocket aces, kings and queens). However, it is difficult to play with AK and that is not a small task to get a maximum profit from it. Some players even call this hand “Anna Kurnikova” as a joke, because it looks well but plays badly.
According to the statistic, AK hand will win less often than any pocket pairs that are higher than sixes against the random hands. But of course, AK is the best combination against the unpaired cards. You should consider that AK is an incomplete hand. In the long run, even the pocket deuces will win more often against AK at showdown. You have to know how to play AK in the most profitable way in all probable situations.
One of the main AK advantages is the pressure that you can make on the opponent on the preflop. It is unlikely that the opponents will happen to have the pocket aces or kings because you have the blockers for these combinations. In other cases, your hand will be higher or you will play coinflip (2 overcards against the pocket pair).
But the key point is that you should remember your odds to hit the pair on the flop are 1:3. It means that the flop more often will be unfavorable for you and it is very important to gain control in the hand beforehand and to take the initiative.
In No-limit Holdem cash-game with a full table, you should make the raise with AK almost always when you will act as an open-raiser or after one/ several limpers. This includes early, middle and late positions. At this moment you probably have the strongest hand and you can achieve with a raise one of the two results (both of them are favorable for you):
In general, you should choose 3-bet more often than flat-call with the strong hand such as ace-king. Many players suppose that they are often unlucky with this certain hand because they often lose the large pots with it. They decide to just make a call and see the flop in order to have less risk.
But you shouldn’t change your strategy because of the past bad-beats and coolers. Actually, the hand AK is one of the premium ones. You should be glad to have it. If you just make a call then you lose the value if the flop is favorable for you. Also, thanks to the aggression on the preflop you can win the pot over the opponent on the post flop even if the flop is unfavorable for you at all.
Remember, the call put you in a situation where you will be beaten by the weaker hands. Your call allows many opponents to enter the game and they get an opportunity to see the flop inexpensively and then they can take your chips. Make a call only sometimes in order to balance your play.<!--
Your decision on whether you should 3-bet or just make a call with AK must base on the current situation. Try to analyze your position, your table image, the game overall dynamics, and all available information about your specific opponents.
As a general rule, you can apply the following: make the re-raise three times more than the size of primary raise about 60-70% of the time (no matter how much players are in the pot). So if the raise or re-raise has been made in the hand, then you should make a call with AK, because there can be the pocket queens, kings or aces in the hand.
If you make a standard raise but the opponent made 3-bet, then you have 3 options: fold, call or re-raise. You shouldn’t often fold except for the cases when a large stack opponent goes all-in the first against you. If a very tight player makes a big re-raise then you can fold in the cash-game. The best you can hope here is coinflip, and in the worst case, you are far behind. That’s why there are no reasons to risk the entire stack on the preflop in such situation in the cash-game.
The cash-game is carried out without additional pressure because the blinds don’t grow as they do in the tournaments. Well, why don't you wait for a more profitable moment? If you want to take your chances then go to play roulette. There is an exception – if you have reliable reads on the specific opponent and you suppose that he is dominated; or if you have a short stack (less than 40BB).
Sometimes you can go all-in with AK at once against the opponent’s raise - if you haven’t a deep stack and you suspect that your opponents steal or just plays aggressively.
You can play ace-king cautiously and just call re-raise in order to see the flop. In this case, you can get maximum value from the hands such as ace-queen if an ace appears on the flop.
You shouldn’t risk a large number of chips on preflop in a loose game because the opponent most often won’t fold against your re-raise and the flop can be unfavorable for you. And then you find yourself in a huge pot, not knowing what to do next.
If you make the raise and got re-raise then it means most often that you will be in the hand without a position. It is better here just make a call and see the flop and not blow up the pot. You shouldn’t risk the deep stack in the cash-game on the preflop if you have an uncompleted hand. It is better to try to beat the opponents on the postflop.
Most of the rules and advice for the cash-games are also meaningful for the tournaments, however, there are some differences. You have no opportunities always to wait for the premium-hands in the tournament game because the blinds grow and the pressure grows with them. That’s why you should play AK on the preflop more aggressively.
At the late tournament stages when the blinds are big you will most often go all-in with AK on the preflop. This hand is favorable for a 3-bet push. Also, it is well suited if you are the chip-leader and put the pressure on the opponents with short stacks. I.e. AK value grows at the late tournaments stages and many opponents with short stacks will be dominated against you.
However, at the early tournament stages, you should be self-collected and cautious. You shouldn’t play the entire stack with AK since the blinds are not so big. Make a good raise and analyze the situation. If after this action the re-raise or all-in appears then you should fold AK. Why should you risk all your chips in the tournament with an uncompleted hand?
In SNG tournaments and inexpensive MTT ones, you can follow one advice. It is especially well-suited to the play from the blinds but in principle, it can be used from any position.
If a standard raise is played before you or there is a pair of callers, then try to go all-in quickly. Most likely, the players won’t have the aces or kings (apart from the cases you are out of luck), because in this case, you would see re-raise before your turn to act. It would seem like you don't have the patience and that you are in a hurry. But in reality, you will set a trap for the opponents.
Most often you will just win a small pot. That is good too. But sometimes you will be called by the weaker hands – for example AJ (ace-jack), ATs (ace-10 suited), KQs (king-queen suited). Many opponents in SNG or inexpensive tournaments don't have the patience to make the disciplined folds. They will consider that you bluff, you are the maniac and play badly that’s why they can call you with weaker hands.
Opponents can consider that you are bluffing or that you have a small pocket pair. Sometimes this move won’t work and you will be called by the weaker hand but the opponent will still win. But in general, such a strategy will show the profit in the long run.
We hope this article has helped you to understand the main aspects concerning how to play AK in the cash-game and tournaments. You should remember that this hand is one of the strongest one in the Holdem and you should put pressure on the opponents. Let your past losses with AK do not affect the further game. You should knock the most opponents out on the preflop and then win the pot with aggression - regardless of whether the flop is favorable for you or not. Sometimes you can balance your game and use some unorthodox strategies and plays.