Is Ace-King one of ‘‘those hands’’ for you? You know the ones, the type of hands that make you say “it looks good, but it never wins.”
Anyone with a basic understanding of poker strategy knows Ace-King is a premium holding in No Limit Hold’em, but the way some players talk about it, you’d think it has the same odds of winning as 72o.
The truth is, Ace-King’s value doesn’t just completely disappear when you come up empty on the flop. You just need to know how to play it correctly.
For some clarification on the subject, here is a short video from Upswing Poker coach and three-time WSOP champ Doug Polk.
Note: Playing Ace-King preflop is easy, but preflop hand selection gets trickier with hands like suited connectors and small pocket pairs. Learn exactly which starting hands the pros play with our free preflop charts. Enter your name and email to get the charts!
Often times a player will raise or reraise preflop with Ace-king, the flop comes queen high, jack high, or five high and they ask themself: “what am I supposed to do?”
The answer is not short and simple, but Doug aptly summarizes it as ‘‘have the right thought process’’.
The first mistake is to look at Ace-King and a flop without an Ace or a king as all the same. They are not the same, they are in fact, very different.
For simplification purposes, let’s put all flops into one of these three types and then discuss the appropriate action:
- Good flops with no Ace or King
- Not bad flops with no Ace or King
- Really bad flops with no Ace or King
Type 1 – Good flops with no Ace or King
We are holding A♦ K♦
The flop is J♠ T♣ 4♦
This gives us a gutshot straight draw to the nuts, a backdoor flush draw and of course, two overcards to make a strong top pair.
Although we missed the flop, our hand is still reasonably strong.
Now the strategy here gets a bit tricky, as it’s contrary to what most players would think do in this spot, we check.
Why check? Because if we bet with a hand like Ace-King on this flop we will be in a difficult situation if our opponent raises.
Our hand is strong, but we should not over-value it. If we check it and our opponent does decide to bet, we can comfortably call. That allows us to place his hand on a range.
Our opponent can have a number of worse holdings, such as Ace-queen, king-queen or even nine-eight suited.
If our opponent has a made hand like Queen-Jack, that still leaves us with a ton of outs. Worst case scenario, they have a set, but we aren’t even drawing dead against that!
If you only catch a small piece with Ace-King, such as a flush draw or straight draw, Doug recommends to check and then call if need be. Your hand is strong enough to see the turn.
Other good examples of type 1 flops include:
- 5♣ 4♠ 2♥
- 8♦ 6♦ 2♠
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Type 2 – Not Bad Flops
We are holding A♦ K♦
The flop is Q♦ 7♥ 5♠
We still have our two overcards and some backdoors on this flop, but we can’t improve to anything better than one pair on the turn.
There are very few draws for our opponent to semi-bluff with on this flop, and our equity against a made hand like one pair is much worse than before. If our opponent has a set, we’re basically drawing dead.
Our hand is clearly not strong enough to check/call. However because of it’s backdoor draws and overcard outs, it is a strong enough hand to turn into a bluff.
Unlike type 1 flops, if we do get raised it’s easy to find a fold.
Type 3 – Really Bad Flops
Again, we are holding A♦ K♦
The flop is 9♣ 8♣ 7♠
This is an absolute worst case scenario for your Ace-King.
There are a ton of strong draws and made hands that your opponent can have, especially because this board smashes most preflop caller’s range.
On boards like this there just is not much you can do. Check/fold and move on to the next pot. You can’t win them all!
Note: Our free preflop guide includes 8 preflop raise charts that show you exactly which hands to play from which position. Just enter your name and email below to get the charts.
The way featured Upswing Poker coach Doug Polk would play Ace-King in an ace-kingless board is as follows:
- Check-call if it’s a type 1 good board.
- Bet-fold if its a type 2 ok board.
- Check-fold if it’s a type 3 bad board.
There is more that can be said on this topic, but hopefully now you won’t feel so lost when your Ace-King comes up empty on the flop. It’s much easier to have a plan going in.
Now that you’ve seen how Doug Polk recommends playing Ace-King, see him explain how to win at poker more generally here.
Latin American Poker and Film blogger. When I’m not playing Stud 8, I’m complaining that not many people play Stud 8.