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No Limit Hold 'em Strategy: How To Play AK

May 9, 2008
Sometimes AK can really be a pain. Every strategy book tells you it's a powerful hand and that you need to put in big preflop raises with it. The problem is AK only makes a pair 33% of the time. So what happens the other 66% of the time? You usually end up stuck in a big pot without a pair or a plan for the rest of the hand.

If this sounds familiar, don't worry, you're not alone. AK is one of the biggest problem hands for poker players of all skill levels. I even still sometimes have trouble with the hand and I've been playing poker for years. The good news is there are three things you can do to make it easier to play AK:

1. Raise preflop
2. Use continuation bets
3. Play your pairs with aggression

Raise preflop

Yes, the strategy books were correct in telling you to raise preflop with AK. Even though it can be a difficult hand to play after the flop, it still has that inherent strength that makes it worth a preflop raise.

By raising preflop with AK you accomplish two things. First, you make it easier to win the pot because you narrow down the field. If you just limp in with AK and 3 other people limp in to the pot with you, you're going to have to hit a pretty good hand to win the pot. Against just one or two opponents though, you can win the pot with a simple bet even if you totally whiff the flop.

The second thing preflop raises accomplish is getting value for your hand. AK is strong enough that it will win more than its fair share of pots. Those of you running bad might think that sounds ridiculous but think about all the trashy hands your opponents play. If you're up against a single opponent, for example, and he's playing A4 offsuit you should make the pot as big as possible. AK is going to win way more than half the time against a hand like that. Even if there are four people in the pot you should raise AK preflop because, even though it's not going to win every pot, it's still going to win more than 25% of the time.

Use continuation bets

A continuation bet is any bet you place on the flop after raising preflop. Continuation bets are especially useful for the times the flop completely misses your AK. Your opponents have no idea what you have so bet the flop even if it misses you. More often than not you'll win the pot right there.

Continuation bets give you an extra way to win the pot - by getting your opponents to fold. They're not guaranteed to work but they do help you out tremendously the 66% of the time the flop misses you.

Play your pairs with aggression

When I say to play your pairs with aggression, I'm not talking about blind, closing-your-eyes-and-mashing-the-bet-pot-button aggression. I'm talking about controlled, timely aggression. I'm also talking about folding when necessary. Yes, folding does have a place in the "aggression" concept.

When you hit a pair with AK you need to come out betting. Big pairs are strong hands and you want to get value for those hands. Your opponents will call you down with way weaker hands so don't be afraid to put some money in the pot when you spike that ace or king.

You'll also want to bet to cut down on the pot odds for your opponents' draws. Big pairs are strong hands and all but they are susceptible to all kinds of draws. Two pairs, flushes, sets and straights can all come out of nowhere and steal that pot right out from under your nose. If you bet but your opponents call anyways, that's OK because every time an opponent chases a draw against the odds it's profit for you.

Aggression also means knowing when to fold. If an opponent throws a big checkraise at you on the turn after the third flush card hits the board, you may want to consider folding. The worst way you can play AK is in the passive style - checking and calling all the way down without knowing where you stand. If someone is putting too much heat on you, don't hesitate to drop it and move on to the next hand.
About the Author
If you'd like to read more high quality strategy articles please check out SmackinYaUp's no limit poker strategy site. He also has a free poker strategy guide that can help players of all skill levels improve their games.
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