Playing Ace King in Texas Holdem Poker
Ace King, otherwise known as "Big Slick" provides an interesting conundrum for many Texas Holdem Poker players. It's an exciting hand to be dealt because it gives you the expectation that you've won already, even though it is only the third highest starting hand in a 10 handed game.
Ace King is however a double edged sword that must be played correctly to maximise its value. 50% of the time it will not hit leaving you with only Ace high.
The downsides of the Ace King starting hand need to be seen and appreciated first in order to formulate a strategy to play. Big Slick is the downfall of many inexperienced Texas Holdem players because they cannot get away from the hand. It's a poker hand that lends itself to chasing cards and that is what many people do when they miss either the Ace or King on the flop. The other rather obvious downside is that if you come up against AA then you are in big trouble especially if you hit on the flop.
Ok, so here's my strategy for playing Big Slick in a 10 handed poker game:
As ever, table position is of paramount importance when playing AK. If you are in early position then all you can really do is call the big blind. To raise it up from early position is to give away the strength of your hand and will most probably be met with folding all around the table. The best seating position to have with his hand is to be a blind. In middle or late position the best play is to raise it up, but not by too much - perhaps 2x or 3x the big blind. This way it looks like you are attempting to steal the blinds and will often be met with a re-raise by holders of cards such as Ace Queen or Ace Jack.
The best of all situations is to come up against AQ or AJ or another dominated hand. If you raise it early these hands will almost certainly call and you may be re-raised. If on the other hand you do not raise pre-flop then the holders of Ace Queen will see a free flop which if they miss then you'll find them reluctant to engage when you bet post flop. The motto of the story is don't be afraid to raise.
From time to time you will be put all-in with AK and there are many situations where you would wish for that - particularly in the later stages of Texas Holdem Tournament play. Where this happens you may find yourself up against a pair in which case the all-in will be a coin toss (48% chance of winning with AK against a lower pair pre-flop). However it has to be said that 50% of these calls will be made against inexperienced players going all-in with AQ, AJ, A10 etc and they will be dominated 12 to 1 underdogs.
Getting away from Ace King:
It's important to understand when to push with AK but it's equally important to know when to run from it. Typically these would be situations where you were unable to raise pre-flop (due to say early position) and the flop comes out with no Aces or Kings. In this situation you need to be prepared to fold your hand. Folding is the correct play here to a post flop raise. It will not pay to attempt a bluff or call down the bet in the hope of catching because the odds against improving your hand (hitting and Ace or King on the Turn or River card) are less than 33%.
Graham Easton is the webmaster of www.texashold-empoker.com. He has a track record of 1 win, 4 runners up positions our of his last 15 major online Texas Holdem Poker tournaments entered. These were all poker games in excess of 400 players.