This article is a transcription of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by poker pro and coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
You may also be interested in our written guide How to Play Ace-King.
Mike Brady (00:00):
Hey players, let’s level up your poker strategy. I’m Upswing Poker VP Mike Brady and poker pro Gary Blackwood is here to help you win more money with one of the best starting hands in the game.
Gary Blackwood (00:13):
Hey, what’s up guys? Today we’re going to be talking about Ace King, big slick, how to play it when you hit and how to play it when you miss.
Mike Brady (00:20):
Yeah, Ace King is one of those hands that really makes people feel things. Some players seem legitimately scared when they’re dealt it as if they have no chance of winning. They often play it very passively as a result. Other players fall on the opposite end of the spectrum and actually overvalue Ace King playing it too aggressively, too often, committing too many chips, which is very much possible with Ace King.
Regardless of your personal feelings towards big slick, there’s no doubt that learning how to play it properly will be very valuable for you in the long run. If you’ve read one of the dozens of starting hand articles on upswing poker.com that tell you how to play different hands in No Limit Holdem, you’re going to be very familiar with the format of this one. We’re going to start by running through all the common pre-flop scenarios that you might find yourself in with Ace King.
The goal is to help you make the profitable pre-flop decisions that will set yourself up for post-flop success. From there, we’ll share three tips for playing Ace King when you hit the flop, and three more tips for playing it when you miss. Hit that like button or rate the podcast five stars if you’re ready to increase your win rate. Let’s get into it.
Ace-King Preflop Strategy
So Gary, I think we should start by making our way through the pre-flop game tree, assuming standard 100 big blind stacks, no antes, what’s your strategy with Ace King when the pot is unopened?
Gary Blackwood (01:36):
This is the easiest answer ever for me on this podcast. We want to be raising it up if we’re playing cash games, tournaments, sit and goes, heads up versus grandma for her weekly pension. We’re always raising and never limping. It’s one of the best hands we can have, so we want to build the pot as quickly as possible.
Mike Brady (01:53):
Yeah, little bit of a layup for you starting out and this one’s going to be a little bit less of a layup, but in the same vein, what about when you’re facing a raise? Are you always three betting with Ace King?
Gary Blackwood (02:05):
So there are definitely some spots in tournaments where we want to play a decent amount of flats versus a raises when holding Ace King, but we’re of course talking about cash games today and the answer is for the most part, yes, if we’re talking about online poker in games below 500NL, the rake is too high for us to flat with a hand like Ace King, so I’ll just three bet it all the time versus all positions higher stakes online, you do get to flat Ace King versus a raise in two specific spots when you’re on the button versus under the gun raise and in the big blind versus under the gun raise. Not always, but it definitely is in there.
Sometimes I would also play some flats with Ace King off suit in live full ring games. I’m always three betting Ace King suited, it’s just too strong, but not that often flatting the Ace King offsuit only under the gun plus one or under the gun plus two versus a super tight player opening under the gun.
But for the most part it’s a very strong hand and we for sure want a three bet it we of course did great episode all about three betting recently and a general rule of thumb for three betting is to go 3.2 to 3.5x when you’re in position and at least four x when you’re out of position all the way up to 4.5 x. It just kind of depends on your opponents raise size. If they raise small like a min raise, you should lean towards the bigger multiples with your three bets. If they raise a bit bigger like a three x raise, you can of course decrease that multiple.
Mike Brady (03:22):
Yeah, so to sum that up a little bit, you’re mostly going to be three betting the Ace King versus a raise, but there are a handful of spots where you sprinkle in calls kind of to make your range a little bit more robust post-flop, you can hit those Ace and King high boards a little harder and then you’re not always having a range that has a ton of Ace King combos in your three betting post-flop range. And when it comes to sizing, you’re generally going to be going smaller when you’re in position, bigger when you’re out position and that exact multiple you choose is going to depend on their open size. When they go for the bigger sizes, your multiple doesn’t have to be quite as big.
Definitely checkout our three betting episode if you want to learn all about why that is and more about three betting. Alright, so moving on in the pre-flop game tree, how do things change when there’s a raise and a call in front of you? So still deciding whether or not to three bet, but there’s a caller in between. Are you even more likely to put in that three bit, a squeeze in this case, with Ace King?
Gary Blackwood (04:17):
Yeah, very much so. We always want to be squeezing in this spot. The player who’s called the original open will so rarely be trapping with Aces or Kings here, so we’re just always doing so well versus the callers range. And of course Ace King is doing extremely well versus the openers range in every spot as well just because of how strong it is. We also dominate a ton of both of their calling ranges versus our squeeze. When they’ve got hands like King Queen suited, Ace Queen, Ace Jack, all those types of hands that can either open, or call and open, and then call our squeeze that we’re doing so well versus. And of course we have two overcards* versus all of their pocket pairs, so this is a spot where we absolutely have to go ahead and squeeze.
Mike Brady (04:55):
Yeah, don’t be mixing in the flats when there’s a raise and a call in front of you. You do not want to play this hand multi-way, at least not without making ’em pay for it. Now suppose you raise and face a three bet, this is where I suspect a lot of our listeners make the mistake of either four betting too frequently, maybe always, or four betting too infrequently, like they’re just calling too often, not being willing to put in that fourth bet. How would you recommend playing Ace King against a three bet?
Gary Blackwood (05:22):
So we actually do a decent amount of flatting with Ace King pre-flop versus a three bet, but that’s mainly in position. You’ll see a flat here approximately 75% of the time. There are several reasons for this, but one of the most important reasons is that when we four bet our opponent is of course out of position and they have to do a bunch of folding. So when they call our four bet or when they five bet jam, their range becomes really strong. But when we flat the three bet, they have got so many weak hands in the range, especially hands that we dominate.
It’s just a much higher EV play a lot of the time. We do a little bit of four betting with Ace King in position. That’s only because our opponent will be forced to call with some hands that we dominate — hands like Ace Queen suited, maybe King Queen suited as well, but for the most part just flatting to keep our opponent’s range really nice and wide and it’s much easier for us to play in position versus a weaker range compared to playing against a really strong calling range versus our four bet or a five bet range, which is of course very strong indeed.
Mike Brady (06:17):
So in position, are you also flatting with Ace King suited a lot or does having the suited variety of Ace King make you pretty much always pump in that four bet?
Gary Blackwood (06:25):
Yeah, glad you asked. Ace King suited is of course very strong indeed so it can go ahead and four bet, but the offsuit variety, of course, really nice for us to have in our flatting range.
Mike Brady (06:34):
And there’s one other really nice thing about flatting with Ace King sometimes — and this includes flatting vs three bets with Ace King as you do sometimes or flatting vs opens like you do sometimes with Ace King — it makes your aggressive range — the three betting range, the four betting range, whatever — have fewer Ace Kings in it, which makes it a little bit less face up in a way. I’m sure a lot of our listeners have been in that scenario where they have Ace King, they miss the flop and their opponent calls them down with some middle pair or something because they put them on Ace King. It’s a very natural thing to do because Ace King often makes up a relatively big proportion of an aggressive pre-flop range.
So if there’s no ace or king on the flop kind of can be sticky to play it and it’s kind of easy for your opponent to put you on that hand. But if you play Ace King, offsuit specifically, in the passive line sometimes, that makes your aggressive line have Ace King less often. So you’re not running into these situations where it’s like, oh God, so much of my range is Ace King and Ace King is nothing. My hands kind of face up. It kind of sucks. That happens less often. So it’s a really nice secondary benefit to having Ace King in those flatting ranges. So you talked about in position, but what about out of position?
Gary Blackwood (07:43):
Out of position we’ll still flat a three bet with Ace King offsuit, but it’s very infrequently on average around 20 to 25% of the time. I guess that frequency will go up if we’re playing against a much tighter player, one whose three bet range is going to be much stronger and they won’t call four bets with the types of hands that we have dominated. So it would be perfectly fine to flat Ace King more often versus that type of player out of position.
We’re all about making the right types of adjustments versus the right types of players here on the Level-Up podcast, but for the most part Ace King is going to be a four bet when you’re out of position and you’re facing a three bet.
Mike Brady (08:15):
Speaking of making adjustments, I kind of want to run one by you real quick.
So I think a lot of our listeners and viewers play in games with some very passive type players. I’m talking about the types of players who have a limping and a raising range and that limping range is actually pretty strong. They’ll limp hands like Ace Jack offsuit, King Ten suited, a lot of pretty good hands that they should be raising so then when they do raise, they have a really, really good hand. King Queen suited or better, Ace Queen suited, like really strong range. Pocket Nines or better maybe. Against those players when they open when they three bet, et cetera. We should be flatting even more with Ace King, right, because their range is so tight?
Gary Blackwood (08:55):
Yeah, absolutely. As we say, we’re all about making adjustments in the right spots and that’s very much one of the spots that we want to adjust is that we can cost ourselves a lot of money by overplaying Ace King versus the wrong types of players. We’ve all, as Mike said, play against players who’s limping ranges are really strong and they’re opening ranges are unbelievably strong. Those are not the types of players that we want to be always four betting Ace King or always three betting Ace King. Versus those types of players, it’s completely fine to make adjustments and not always four bet and in some cases we want to just flat their opens because they are very tight players and their raising ranges are so strong or their three betting ranges are so strong. So don’t be afraid to go ahead and deviate from what you know to be correct versus the right types of players because ultimately it’s going to be a much more profitable play.
Mike Brady (09:39):
Yeah, no doubt. Let’s wrap up the pre-flop discussion with playing versus four bets now. So when you three bet with Ace King and face the four bet, are you pretty much always shoving with 100 big blind stacks and then how do things change at deeper stacks such as 200 big blinds?
Gary Blackwood (09:55):
I think it would be a mistake to always shove. You want to mix in some calls in the right situations, a little more so in position versus good players. If you look at an out of position four bet range, their bluffs are going to be a bunch of hands that we dominate hands like Ace Queen offsuit, King Jack suited, King Queen suited, all those types of hands which we dominate, which is very nice for us to flat their four bet and the flops going to come Ace or King high and we’ve got them dominated. When you’re out a position it’s less appealable to flat the four bets. So we’re just jamming extremely often. Not always. There are some extreme situations where under the gun opens and we three bet in the big blind and then the four bet. Obviously their four bet ranges very strong there so we can definitely have some calls in that specific spot for sure.
However, button opens we three bet in the small blind and then the button four bets, absolutely want to be five bet shoving there all day, every day. Now when we get a little bit deeper, yes, absolutely we want to play much more passively with Ace King, getting in a hundred big blinds with Ace King is obviously fine, but think about how strong your opponent’s range is when they’re getting it in for 200 big blinds. Our Ace King kind of shrivels up a little bit and you for sure want to play more passively. Again, never a bad thing because if you flat the three bet or flat the four bet you’re going to have your opponent much more dominated and their range is going to be wider than if you were to just go ahead and shove it in for 200 big blinds and be up against Aces or Kings virtually always.
Mike Brady (11:15):
Maybe queens if you’re lucky or maybe also Ace King if you’re lucky. But yeah, that’s not a good best case scenario is being a flip or a tie.
Gary Blackwood (11:24):
Playing Ace-King When You Hit Top Pair
Mike Brady (11:26):
Post-flop time, can you give our listeners three tips for playing Ace King when they hit an ace or King on the flop?
Gary Blackwood (11:34):
Okay, so tip number one, the board will of course be Ace or King High, which is generally an amazing board for you as a pre-flop aggressor and you’re going to want to bet those boards extremely often. Not always though there are going to be some as high boards that you don’t want to bet your entire range on. Let’s look at three bet pots out of position where you don’t necessarily always bet. There are going to be spots like small blind versus button on Ace-Four-Three flush draw [flop]. You’ll have to do a little bit of checking here and your Ace King isn’t always going to want to bet. It’s going to want to bet a decent amount, but you want to mix in some checks, for sure. So bet very often for a small size with your range, but learn the specific spots where you might want to do some trapping and mix in some checks.
Mike Brady (12:13):
Yeah, and I will say one thing on that tip, that’s definitely the equilibrium strategy to do some checking with Ace King there. That said, I have seen some good players take the approach of simplifying to always betting Ace King there but then checking Ace Queen more or something like that. So just kind of throwing that out there as an option. If you do want to have a little simpler strategy, you can bet the Ace King every time, but then check like Ace Queen, Ace Jack more often. Just presenting that. But Gary’s absolutely right that is the computer correct equilibrium strategy — to mix in some checks with Ace King on a board like Ace-Five-Three.
Gary Blackwood (12:45):
Okay, tip number two in single raise pots in position: Don’t always keep blasting with your top pair on the turn. Case in point, say for example we open the button and we c-bet small on a board like Ace-Eight-Six rainbow, we only bet a hand like Ace King half the time on a seven turn. So Ace-Eight-Six-Seven [board], Ace King bets half the time. Ace-Eight-Six-Six, we’re only betting our Ace King 30% of the time, but on an Ace-Eight-Six-Two turn card we’re betting our Ace King virtually always. Remember that while your hand is very strong on the flop, there are some turns that are really bad for you and your hand does not always want to bet the turn when you bet the flop — not even close. So, get into the habit of recognizing those turns that are really bad for you and understanding that your an Ace king isn’t always as strong as it might look when those bad turn cards roll off.
Mike Brady (13:32):
Yeah, it really just comes down to how much that turn hits your opponent’s range, right? You said the six or the seven turn on that Ace-Eight-Six board, the seven turn completes a lot of their straight draws, gives them a lot of two pairs with their suited connectors, maybe even a set of sevens. The turn six gives them trips with a hand like seven six suited or five six suited, which is a hand that you’re fairly unlikely to have. So, you have to slow down with your entire range on those boards, including with a quite good hand like Ace King. You got to protect the rest of that checking range with that Ace King as well. Alright Gary, what’s your third tip for when you hit the flop with Ace King?
Gary Blackwood (14:05):
Tip number three, let’s look at three bet pots out of position. Very often you’re betting super wide as we already mentioned on these ace high and king high boards. Once your flop bet is called, though, your overall range generally isn’t doing that great on the turn. That’s something we covered in a very recent episode. That means you have to do a lot of checking with your range on the turn and your Ace King — your top pair top kicker — can be such a brilliant hand to check with on the turn to allow your opponent to bluff or to value cut themselves. You can check call your Ace King mainly doing a lot of check-shoving though, but it’s really important that we’re mixing in some checks with top pair, top kicker on the turn out of position in three bet pots so that we can either check call and let our opponent blast the river or we can go ahead and check shove and get them to call off with their top pairs that obviously don’t be our top pair.
Playing Ace-King When You Miss The Flop
Mike Brady (14:52):
Alright, this part is less fun but arguably even more important. Can you give our listeners three tips for playing Ace King when they don’t hit top pair on the flop?
Gary Blackwood (15:02):
Yeah, so I’m going to use some three bet pots for the examples in each of these tips, but of course the concepts apply to single raise pots as well. Mike said earlier the Ace King can make us feel a little bit scared. This is absolutely a spot where Ace King can feel a little bit scary when we’ve whiffed the flop and we’re trying to work out how to play it. So tip number one here is kind of the opposite to tip number one a moment ago. Just because you whiff the flop doesn’t mean you automatically check. There are a lot of scenarios where you bet your Ace King always and one perfect example cutoff opens. We three bet on the button they call flop is Jack-Six-Deuce rainbow. It’s a range bet. So our Ace King is of course going to bet always we can use a single raised pot example as well.
We open the button, the big blind calls flop is Queen-Seven-Deuce rainbow. We c-bet our Ace King always because our range is always betting. I’m going to go off on a slight tangent here, but it’s really, really important. You really want to focus on how your range wants to play as opposed to how your Ace King wants to play. Or if you flop bottom set or if you’ve got nine high, you want to recognize the scenarios where you want to bet your entire range. The last episode, of course, we talked about range betting extensively, so let’s really focus on how our range wants to play and not just how our hand wants to play. Yes, we’ve missed the flop with Ace King, but if our range wants to always bet, we can just go ahead and always bet our Ace King. That leads me into tip number two.
There are of course some boards where you don’t bet your entire range, but your Ace King is still going to want to bet. Sometimes, say for example, the button opens we three bet the small blind, they call, the flop comes down Eight-Three-Deuce rainbow. Our Ace King is still going to want to bet very often and it’s not a bluff, it’s actually more of a value bet. The button will call our c-bet with hands like Ace Queen, King Queen, King Jack, even Queen Jack suited is in there with a backdoor flush draw. So, let’s not go ahead and think, well, I’ve missed the flop, my Ace King is not winning, I want to go ahead and check. Let’s recognize scenarios where the board is low and relatively disconnected. If we bet with Ace King, sure we’re going to get called by some better hands, but there are a lot of worse hands that are going to float our c-bet. So just remember, just because you’ve missed the flop with Ace King, it doesn’t automatically mean you don’t have the best hand anymore and you can actually value be the flop sometimes.
Mike Brady (17:06):
Yeah, and you also deny some equity, right? Because for example, you’ve used that Eight-Three-Two example. Other good examples of this would be low paired board. So maybe the board comes like Eight-Two-Two or Seven-Three-Three, something like that where it doesn’t really hit either players’ range too much. To have a made hand at that point you basically have to have a pocket pair. So by betting Ace King on say Seven-Three-Three, you’re going to get hands like Jack Ten suited to fold sometimes, which is nice. They had six outs to beat you. And then you’re also going to get called by some hands that you beat or even have dominated, like say Ace Queen. And that’s kind of a dream spot because imagine you bet on Seven-Three-Three, they call with Ace Queen. When you have Ace King and the turn’s an ace, now you’re going to be able to bet the turn, you’re going to be able to bomb the river and you’re going to make a ton of money from them. And you built the pot with that initial flop bet, which set you up to win a really nice juicy pot, and you denied some equity from those hands that would fold. Alright, so I’ll kick it back over to you for one last time in this episode, Gary, for your third tip on playing Ace King when you miss.
Gary Blackwood (18:04):
Yeah, last but not least, when we miss the flop with Ace King, we should be prepared to go ahead and call a little bit of aggression. When we do go ahead and miss, you can’t always check fold. If you three bet pre-flop and check to your opponent on a board like Ten-Five-Deuce, when they stab, they’re going to have a lot of bluffs in their range. You could also turn an ace or a king, and your opponent might just go ahead and shut down [on the turn] and you get to see the river. If we get a really extreme or super bad flop, like Seven-Six-Five pr a monotone and we don’t have the flush draw, of course check folding is fine there. But those disconnected boards like Nince-Four-Deuce or Jack-Eight-Three, let’s be brave and go ahead and check call correctly when we miss. And on the flip side, say for example we open the button and the big blind calls — a single raise pot — and we check back on a board like Eight-Five-Deuce. If our opponent stabs on something like a Ten or a Deuce, it is okay for us to call the turn in position with that Ace King when we’re ahead a decent amount of the time. It’s really important we’re not just going ahead and check folding always when we miss our Ace King because it is the best hand a decent amount of the time still and we can, of course, improve if we turn an ace or a king.
Mike Brady (19:08):
Yeah, that board you just said, I think it was Eight-Five-Deuce-Ten. That’s a perfect example in my eyes because there’s so many straight draws on that board that your opponent can potentially have and be bluffing with. And if there’s a flush draw they could obviously have the flush draws too. So Ace King is ahead of all of the draws, and then you also — against a lot of the made hands, all the one pair made hands for the most part — you have six outs. It’s overall pretty nice hand to call with. One word of caution is to be sensitive to your opponent’s bet sizing. Sometimes some players, especially live, are not going to have the “right” bet sizes. They’re kind of going to make your life easy. So let them make your life easy and just fold if they bet huge. For example, if we use that Jack-Eight-Three flop that Gary just used as an example.
We check to our opponent after three betting on Jack-Eight-Three. If they bomb it, like pot it or something huge, and they’re just a tight live player who just probably has a jack, you can let it go. You’re not getting great pot odds and you don’t have great implied odds if you hit that ace or a king. So be sensitive to the bet sizes, but if your opponent is using kind of again, ” right” sizes — like 33% pot, 50% pot, whatever — you’re often going to be able to call with that Ace King. Alright, you should now have a pretty good idea of how to play Ace King, both pre-flop and after the flop, regardless of what three cards the dealer fans.
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