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The Beginners Guide Series: How to Play Ace-King

How to Play Big Slick

Article written by: Daniel O’Hair

Very few poker hands cause more of a debate over how to play them than ace-king. While some poker players insist that it is merely “a drawing hand” that should be played cautiously before the flop, others view ace-king as a premium hand worthy of getting it all-in preflop, regardless of how many big blinds deep they are. The truth is that while ace-king is a premium hand, there are nuances to playing the hand correctly depending on the context of your situation. Let’s explore some common scenarios that players often find themselves in with “big slick” and the poker strategy that could be used.

Don’t be Shy About Bumping it up

It can be tempting to try and see a cheap flop with ace-king to see if you hit a pair or better, after all ace-king is “just ace-high.” The problem with this logic is ace-king has a significant equity edge over many of the poker hands that your opponents would be willing to call a preflop raise. Premium poker hands don’t come around often, so when you do get them, you want to put yourself in a position to capitalize with them. 

As an example, you limp with ace-king from middle position playing $1/$2 No Limit Texas Hold’em at one of your local cash games – assuming everyone started with $300 – and the button limps along with king-jack. The big blind checks their option and the three of you see a flop of K-7-3. Action checks around to you and bet the pot for $7. The poker player on the button calls and the big blind folds. The turn and river both come low and you bet the pot in each betting round – $21 on the turn and $63 on the river. Your poker opponent calls you down and you scoop a decent $189 cash game pot. A good result and a decent poker strategy, or at least you believe it is until you realize how much you could have won at the cash game. If instead of limping, you make a standard preflop raise to $8, while the poker player in the big blind would have likely folded their weak hand, the Button would have still made the call and continued to play poker. Using the same betting pattern for each betting round in this poker game, on the flop, turn and river, you would have had almost all your opponent’s poker chips – $19 on the flop, $57 on the turn, and $171 on the river for a total pot of $513. Pots in no-limit hold’em grow exponentially, so it’s almost always a good idea to start building a pot early to get maximum value from this poker hand.

I Raised Preflop and Whiffed the Flop – Now What?

You’ve been card dead for hours. It comes to you in early position when you look down at big slick. You raise and get called by the table fish. Your anticipation quickly dissolves into deflation as the dealer fans a rainbow flop of 6-7-8. Great, what now? Should you make a continuation bet? Should you be slow playing the hand? Check-fold and curse the poker gods for your bad luck? What would a professional poker player do in this situation?

Does this sound familiar, because it should. Ace-king only flops a pair or better about one third of the time. Which means that most of the time you’re going to be sitting there at the poker table with ace-high wondering how to navigate a precarious situation with what should have been a winning hand. 

Situations like these are often what separates mediocre poker players from winning poker players and deserves to be treated with care. A common mistake that many poker players make is putting in a continuation bet after they miss the flop only to give up on the turn. Looking back at the previous example, it is my belief that c-betting (making a continuation bet) would be a mistake. First, a 6-7-8 flop will favor the preflop caller’s hand range, which will largely consist of small to medium pairs and suited-connector type hands. Second, even when we do have the best poker hand, ace-king will often dominate the holdings we are already ahead of (think king-jack, king-queen, and ace-x holdings that didn’t make a pair). By betting on this board, you will generally only be called or raised by better hands, the hands you should be afraid of, while hands that missed, like you did, are going to fold and wait for the next poker game. 

If you check and face a bet, the decision to call or fold depends on several factors… What are my opponent’s poker tendencies? Are they a frequent bluffer in poker games? How large was the bet? Do I have a backdoor draw? What is your poker opponent’s general poker strategy? If your opponent is the type to stab once at a flop and then give up, check-calling may be the best option to play poker.

The third possibility is that your opponent checks behind. If your poker opponent checks and an ace or a king hits the turn, you will likely be able to get a street or two of value. It may not be all of your opponents chips, but some value for being patient is a better poker strategy than earning nothing from betting the flop and watching them fold and waiting for the next hand to play poker. 

This poker strategy is not the only way to play and you should not always check the flop when your ace-king doesn’t flop a pair or better. Take the same scenario as before, but this time the flop comes Q-J-2 with a backdoor flush draw. This board doesn’t favor your opponent’s overall poker range as much as the 6-7-8 flop and you have the added equity of a gut-shot straight draw. I tend to bet this flop often – but not always – depending on what I have seen of my opponent’s poker strategy. 

A Word About Short Stacks and Tournaments

In poker tournaments, where playing “shallow” (having 50 big blinds or less) is common, there is significant value in being first to get it all-in preflop with ace-king. Imagine a spot where you raise the button with ace-king and get three-bet by an aggressive small blind. Assuming antes are in play, I would happily shove my entire stack into the middle for up to 50 big blinds. This may seem like a lot to risk when you play poker, but by going all in here (or in similar spots), many good things will happen. A lot of the time you will pick up the pot often by forcing the small blind to fold a significant portion of their poker range – which will tend to include many medium pairs. When you are called, you are only a massive underdog to pocket aces. Even against pocket kings, you will finish with the best hand almost 30% of the time. By being the first to shove, you give yourself the dual advantage of maximizing your potential equity and maximizing your poker opponents’ fold equity. 

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