If you play in any no limit hold’em tournament you will see player after player busting out and doubling up with ace king. This article will look at quite why ace king is such a key hand in no limit hold’em, and outline some strategies which may help you plug some leaks in how you are playing it…
The most critical point to be made about ace king is simple, it has a good chance of winning a pot, when looking at pre flop equities, against every hand in hold’em except aces (even against aces, ace king suited has a ten percent chance to win). It is around 33% against kings, around 50% against all lower pairs, 75% favourite against a worse ace (ace jack for example), and about 60% favourite over two lower unpaired cards (all of these are dependent on suit/connector possibilities).
Notice that none of these equities are huge – even in the best case, that of holding a dominating ace, you are only a 75% favourite, the rest are all near coin flips – hardly margins you would want to gamble your life on. This is a key point when playing ace king when the blinds are small and the stacks are big. It is often not worth gambling hard with it early – the percentages are just too slim and the stacks too big (what’s the point on gambling on 50/50s when you can just outplay most of the field pre flop and on the flop?).
The other main problem is that early in tournaments you will have to see flops with ace king. So far we have just looked at pre flop equities. When all in pre flop ace king has a good chance against almost everything; when playing ace king on a flop with lots of chips behind it becomes a totally different proposition.
One main problem is that the flop is only three cards. As a drawing hand, ace king does much better with all five cards being dealt (after all, that ace or king may well hit on the turn or river). Another key problem is that ace king has little chance to develop into much more that one pair. This makes it a horrible hand to play when you have a lot of chips back (it is often wrong to put 100 big blinds in on the flop with top pair top kicker – this is not the case when you have ten big blinds).
Imagine you get AcKs first hand of a big tournament. Everyone has a starting stack of 100 big blinds, you 3x raise ace king off suit on the button and the small and big blind defend. The flop is Ah6c7h. The small blind checks, the big blind bets, you raise, and the small blind goes all in. The big blind thinks for a while and calls. You call as well. The small blind turns over Ad6d. The big blind turns over 8h9h. The river is a heart and the big blind takes down the flop with his monster draw. You go out first hand after putting nearly all your money in on a board where you are behind everything.
Now imagine you had folded on that flop and gotten deep in the tournament. You are on the bubble, with a stack of nine big blinds, on the button with ace king off. Both the small blind and the big blind have the same hands. You go all in for nine big blinds. Now both players are looking at a nasty choice. Instead of looking at calling a small raise and possibly winning a big pot, they are looking at calling a big raise with no possibility of winning any more chips after their call. In the end they both fold.
Late in a tournament ace king effectively gives you an excuse to gamble – with the blinds so high you are simply looking for a hand that has a fair crack against all other holdings – you need chips too much to only play the nuts. Ace king is this hand. Early on in tournaments you are not looking for this, with so many chips in play you are looking for the big flop hands; straights, flushes, two pairs and full houses – not just a pair. It might sound odd, but I would rather play 2d2h or 7c8c early in a tournament than AcKs; yet later on I would always prefer the ace king to either of these hands.
By fully understanding the relativity of ace king you should quickly start to win more with it – it is a hand that’s power is completely dependent on how many chips you have. For every big tv double up ace king gives, you will see about ten early tournament exits where people play it horribly and go broke. Do not become just another of the ace king donkeys – understand its advantages and disadvantages and profit accordingly.