PokerListings.com is the world's largest and most trusted online poker guide, offering the best online poker bonus deals guaranteed, over $1m in exclusive freerolls every year and the most free poker content available on the Web.
Ace-King Part 2: Making a Profit
In part one of this three-part article, we went over all the numbers that define A-K's strengths and weaknesses. Part two explains how to use this information to your advantage.
If you remember the first chart from article one, you'll know that if it's played dark (meaning you are oblivious to the strength or weakness of your opponents and of yourself in the pot), the EV margin of A-K will hover just above even in a small profit zone.
The hand is strong enough to win the majority of pots it plays, but the majority of those winning pots will be small. The large ones will be negated from the large losses you take against hands such as AA on a cooler flop.
A-K is strong enough to be marginally profitable on its own, but can be much more lucrative with a little help.
The Value of Information
Ironically, poker is a very thoughtful game that is played solely on instinct by the majority of players. Whether you know it or not, you raise for one, two or all three of the following reasons:
- To isolate the hand against one or a few opponent/s.
- To increase pot size while having the most equity.
- To gain information on the other players in the pot.
When raising with A-K, you are primarily doing it for the third reason, whereas when raising with a hand such as AA, you are doing it for the second. A-K is strong enough to stand, in the long run, against a field of multiple players.
Increasing the pot size isn't a bad idea, but A-K is a drawing hand, meaning you still need to connect with the board to hold on to the equity post flop.
You're raising A-K for information. If you understand why you're raising before you do, instead of arbitrarily raising because you feel you should with the hand, you will have the knowledge and the ability to execute a plan.
When you know you're raising primarily for information, you can time and size your raise amounts accordingly.
Using the Information You Have
If the first step is acquiring the information, the second step will be to use that information to your advantage. This is where you can start to manipulate the long-term odds, increasing the net profitability of the hand.
Assuming you now have the information, it's now up to you to make the correct play. Reads in poker all come as a range. You put your opponent on a range of hands - the better the read, the smaller the range.
If you've made strong information-extracting plays, and have a solid understanding of reading your opponents, you can get the possible range down to a very few hands - even occasionally putting them on a specific hand.
Once you know what your opponent holds, you can adjust your play accordingly. If you put them on AA or KK, you want to shut down in the hand, and conserve. Minimize the losses, and maximize the wins.
Put your opponent on a range of A-Q, A-J, K-Q, and you want to pump the pot, as you have your opponent dominated no matter which of the hands they hold.
This information is invaluable for making properly sized value bets. If you've put your opponent on the previously stated range and the board comes K♠ 4♥ T♥ 5♠ 9♣, you can take your opponent to value town.
The range is always dynamic; the fact that your opponent is still in the hand (since you're obviously betting on the flop and turn) lets you narrow the range down to the single hand K-Q.
At this point you're able to extract maximum value. If they have you on a range excluding AA and KK, they will not think that the only one hand they lose to is A-K.
Since they only lose to that one hand, they'll commonly convince themselves you have QQ, K-J, JJ or even A-Q. You can make a very decent-sized value bet here with a high expectation of getting paid.
You have to make it your absolute mission to minimize the losses while maximizing the wins with A-K. To do this, you have to correctly decide when to bet, raise, call and fold:
- Gain information
- Increase pot size
- Force a weaker hand to fold, or pay without odds to catch up
- Force a small pair to fold the best hand
- Value betting
- Gain information (you typically gain far more information by raising than betting)
- Value raise, if you feel the opponent has enough of a hand to pay you off
- Bluff a weaker hand
- Pot-size control
- Set a trap
- Concede you're beat
As you can see, calling with A-K is rarely the correct idea. It's only ever done in two specific situations: One, you have the absolute nuts and are setting a trap
A great example of this is on the flop T♣ J♥ Q♠. You can now take a huge chunk out of TT, JJ, QQ, KK, AA, A-Q, A-J, 8-9, K-9, K-Q, Q-J, and Q-T. Many players will hang themselves with most of those hands if you let them.
Two, you believe your opponent is bluffing, but there is a decent chance you are actually beat. In this scenario, where you truly believe your opponent is bluffing, pot control can be crucial. You want to keep the pot small to help discourage continued bluffing, and to minimize your loss if your read is incorrect.
Other than in those two scenarios, you should always be betting, raising or folding A-K. If you're beat, dump it as cheaply as possible. If you're ahead, get money into the pot. It seems simple, doesn't it?
It becomes evident that one of the key themes of A-K is that it's a hand most suited to be played post-flop. There are times where you're going to be making all of your choices with it pre-flop, but without post-flop choices, you are extremely limiting your ability to manipulate the odds of the hand past the original statistics.
In most situations, removing post-flop play from your game will in turn remove the majority of profit you are able to collect with a hand such as A-K.
In part three of the A-K series, we'll get into pre-flop concepts and theory with A-K, and explore how to play A-K in tournaments.
More beginner strategy articles: