AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 30.05.2021 · last updated 30.05.2021

There are numerous names for AK, but perhaps Big Slick is the most appropriate in terms of practicality because it hints at the ‘slipperiness’ of what can be a very problematic starting hand indeed. It’s a difficult hand to get to grips with, regardless of how much experience we have. Whereas being dealt a pair means we already have a ready-made hand with which to formulate a battleplan, getting AK is quite different. We’re aware that, on the one hand, in terms of actual face value we have Ace-high which, for the moment, is lagging behind even a lowly pair of twos. However, we also know that this is a hand full of potential – we’re not playing a game where the winner is determined by who is dealt the best 2-card hand; there are other cards still to come and, the numbers being as they are, AK, being a coordinated hand that features the two highest-ranking cards, is essentially primed to leapfrog made hands and by the river emerge as the winner.

Armed with this knowledge of the pros and cons of this ‘unmade’ but nonetheless strong starting hand, our mission is to work out how best to continue from the pre-flop phase onwards. To make our life easier and avoid having to reinvent the proverbial wheel each time we’re dealt Big Slick, it’s worth knowing in advance a few facts about what to expect when the community cards appear in terms of how AK might or might not connect with the Flop.

AK Flop Expectations

Perhaps the main fundamental mathematical factoid we should mentally store is the ‘bad’ news, namely that two-thirds of the time our AK will miss the Flop completely, albeit still being an Ace-high hand, and not forgetting that the Turn and River bring the possibility of improving. As ‘bad’ news goes, it could be a lot worse!

Around 30% of the time we’ll flop a pair. This might not seem too exciting a prospect, but we should note that when this does happen on a Flop such as A62 or K73, we not only have top pair, but the potentially crucial top kicker, too. The importance of such a factor is highlighted in match-ups like AK v Ax. Roughly 4% of the time we’ll hit a pretty impressive two pair or better. There are also those times when the Flop misses us but still brings draws, which are more numerous with AK suited thanks to flush potential (and these are draws to the nut flush, remember).

Top Pair, Top Kicker

The roughly three times out of every 10 that our AK finds a pair on the Flop, it will of course give us top pair with the top kicker, whether we hit an Ace or a King. This is significant because, of course, it means that someone needs a strong(er) hand to beat us and that, compared with any lower pair, we don’t have to be concerned about overcards appearing on later streets.

Play AK aggressively

While we won’t always get fantastic equity by raising and reraising with AK, it’s a good, proactive strategy to have. Even without considering what follows, it also gives us the opportunity to take down the pot uncontested.

Meanwhile, a key advantage of raising pre-flop and then throwing in a Continuation Bet is that when we do hit on a typical Flop such as A83 it looks exactly like the kind of Flop that players C-Bet when attempting a steal (most commonly from the Button). Consequently, we can get away with value bets that, had we not been the pre-flop aggressor, would look more ‘real’ after just limping in and then waking up at the appearance of an Ace.

Even when we do miss, there is still some equity thanks to the potential of our outs. With six outs we can expect to hit a (top) pair on the Turn around 12% of the time, while we’re roughly twice as likely to hit by the River. Overall, AK is considered a premium hand for a reason, and our default setting should be to play it aggressively. Hopefully, this brief discussion should make it easier to cut a path through the poker jungle when we’re dealt Big Slick…

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