This post is dedicated to Zidane and others who believe AK is basically unfoldable (especially early in an MTT).
I truly hope he realizes that my criticism directed at him is not personal.
There is a lot of talk about using position, the ability to win pots with any two cards based on reads, blah blah blah. This post is not about that. It is about two very specific cards that get dealt to you… And it is only about how to play them preflop. I know some very good players say that the cards dealt to them is about 4th or 5th down their list of importance in whether and how to play a hand preflop. But to many of us, the two cards in front of us are very important to how we play a hand. In this case, the post is about how valuable your hand is when AK is dealt to you.
Why AK is so valuable
AK is a very very valuable hand (I rank it at either #3 or #4 where I rank it, depending on how I value QQ) for a pretty simple reason. Only two hands, AA and KK, dominate it. Against every other hand AK is either a heavy favorite (e.g. against AQ-), a favorite (e.g. against 78s), or at worst a slightly butt end of a cointoss (against any pair QQ and lower).
Because AK is so rarely dominated it can be played balls out, which gives it tons of fold equity. In simple terms, AK is valuable because if someone raises in front of you, you can reraise with little fear. Your ability to raise with AK preflop can make medium pocket pairs fold in fear of overpairs and win you the pot, or at worst you will get to see a flop with a good shot at making your hand.
Why AK is so vulnerable
So… AK rules right? Not so fast buckeroo. Although the ability to play AK balls out makes it very valuable, AK is also very vulnerable for the simple fact that it is NOT a made hand preflop. Even against lowly 27, AK is only a 2 to 1 favorite (this is why I like QQ so much better than AK – because QQ utterly dominates absolutely everything under it) and against any pocket pair it is actually trailing (except for AKs against 22). So, depending on your opponent, a called AK is very very scary on a flop without an A or a K. And even worse for our stellar AK, helpful flops only come one out of every three times. E.g., you raise preflop with AK and get three callers. The flop comes 59Q. How much are you loving your AK now?
How to play AK
Ok so with that basic background behind us, now we can get into some basics of how to play AK preflop in an MTT. If you are small stacked the answer is easy – push it preflop every time.
If you are decently stacked (i.e. not in push/fold mode). The answer is still pretty easy:
1) If you are first to act, open raise your standard amount with AK.
2) If there are limpers in front of you – raise (I like 3x BB plus 1BB for every limper).
3) If there is one raiser in front of you – online the answer is to ALWAYS reraise. The reason is because you simply cannot put someone on AA or KK online and you might get a fold out of a hand as good as JJ by reraising.
4) You raise and get reraised. This is where AK gets tricky. You now need to start really using your poker acumen here – i.e. chip stacks, blind size, position, reads, etc. You really need to put your opp’s on a range of hands here. A push or big re-raise will often be a good play if your opp’s range includes AQ and/or pps TT and lower. This is because there is now a lot of “dead” money (the chips you have already bet are no loger yours, they are just the pot’s) in the pot and you will have the odds to get your chips all-in preflop against a strong but not super duper strong range. A call can be good here if you are super deep-stacked and are pretty confident your opp has a pp QQ-, but it is worth the 1/3 shot to hit a flop. And a fold is also a good play if your opp’s range is QQ+/AK.
5) One raise and a reraise in front of you (or you raise and it gets raised twice after that). AK remains tricky here. You really need to put your opponents on a range of hands. It is possible that you are up against two pocket pairs or two lower unpaired hands giving you the correct odds to push here and triple up. But it is also very possible that you actually are up against AA or KK and/or that one of your opps has a pocket pair and the other one has a hand like AQ counterfeiting your outs. Unless your opps are total fishes, the best move here is usually to fold unless you have such a huge stack that you can take the hit or you are so small that you need to risk your tourney life on the chance to triple up.
Ok so that’s it. In sum, AK is undeniably a great hand. But treating it like AA or KK will hurt you in the long run.