Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My approach to AK in live games

While playing last Friday, two situations came up when I held AK from out of position - once was from the small blind and the other was facing a 3bet against my UTG raise.  I am writing this blog entry to lay out my approach to AK, which has definitely changed over the past year (has it been THAT LONG?!??!) that I've focused solely on live poker.

Never has it been more apparent to me when I sit down at the (1/2) tables that I have such a HUGE advantage over the average player.  Therefore, in my live game, I've taken a much more passive approach with AK than I have over my prior poker career.  Let me explain.

AK is an easy raising hand; 2 hands have you squarely dominated, but all others are roughly a coin flip - and, if the situation is right, a dominating situation (AK vs. Ax, AK vs. Kx).  You are beating all hands in between by at least a 60/40 edge.  Therefore, it's profitable to raise AK.  What happens when you raise and are 3bet, though?  Let's operate under the assumption that 3bets in 1/2 - even 2/5 for that matter - are fairly infrequent.  For the average donk, a 3bet generally consists of 1 of 3 hands (AA, KK, 50% QQ & 50% AK).  Very simple.  Combined, those 4 permutations account for 2.5% of all hands - and if you split the QQ, AK at 50/50 like I propose, you get somewhere around 2% of hands - even easier to define.  In other words, you're not getting 3bet very often at these tables, and when you do, it's a very focused, defined range.  Against this focused range, AK should be an easy fold; you're not going to make money very often against it.  Moreover, the implied odds are simply not there when you're in a coin flip situation or worse (KK, QQ can lay down against an A high flop, and QQ most of the time will not be paying off big enough on a K high flop to be profitable).  So given your average donk, AK is a fairly easy fold against a 3bet against that range.  Therefore, against 3bets from more predictable opponents, I've taken to the practice of folding my AK opens to 3bets.  It should be noted that this practice does not hold true for my more aggressive, wider openers (including short stackers who feel "pressed" to get it in with any two picture cards, etc.).  In other words, AK is not an auto-fold to 3bets; it is situation dependent with most of the dependency coming from the image of the 3bettor.  I don't know that my approach to AK in this situation has varied so far from my online game; I'm generally folding most of my opening range to a 2% 3bettor.  However, my next approach has changed significantly.

Facing a raise from an in-position opponent: a tough situation to be in, indeed.  Ultimately, I've taken to the general approach of not wanting to see a flop when I have AK from out of position.  When I'm OOP, I'm tending to flat more and 3bet less.  I really want to limit my exposure to a bloated pot with little or no control for the rest of the hand.  I am trying to pot control from the earliest onset of the hand, pre-flop.  If I feel as though I can 3bet and take the pot down right away, I may lean on the side of doing so (i.e. eliminating the coin flip situations of pocket pairs <= QQ vs my AK), but for the most part, 3betting AK from OOP does not accomplish a heckuvalot - particularly with stubborn opponents - but against most live opponents who will call any bet with their small pocket pairs planning to check / fold or hit their sets.  On the other hand, a typical raiser will be raising AT+ and calling their suited Ax  and KT+.  Those are precisely the hands I want calling and feeling comfortable.  3betting those hands will only make my opponents fold, reducing the value I get from future streets when their K or A does indeed hit.  In summary, 3bets fold out the hands I dominate and isolate the hands I flip with.  Is that a situation I'm after (rhetorical; of course I don't want to be in that situation, silly!)?  Oh yeah - by the way - I have the play from out of position for the remainder of the hand.  So, again, I have taken the approach of passivity for holding AK OOP.

When I'm in position, it's a whole other beast.  In fact, my 3bet range is FAR wider in position than out.  I can include AJ+, some suited connectors (far less frequently), smaller pocket pairs (88+), etc.  I'm able to read the action and act last in future streets, so I can decide whether the table gets a free card or if I'm charging for it.  However, that's neither here nor there; this entry is about playing AK from OOP.

One last bonus note before I end this entry: when I'm in the blinds and facing a host of limpers, I've taken to raising to an "inappropriate" amount which is unlikely to get callers - and if it does, it will likely be no more than 1 caller.  I've typically opened from the blinds for $20-$30, dependent on the amount of limpers, for example.  Rarely is there someone laying in wait to spring a trap with his monster; a limp / raiser.  I want to get value from my strong hand that will generally flop weakly.  Therefore, I try to take it down immediately without much hassle.  I want to close out the 56, T8, QJ, small pocket pairs, etc., because I'm going to be up Shit's Creek with so many limpers and such a huge range of hands to outflop.  If that means closing out your K5s, so be it, but there are far more hands that have good equity against me when allowed to open limp than hands that I am crushing.


  1. Hi. Great blog. Question on something you wrote in the fourth paragraph: "Ultimately, I've taken to the general approach of not wanting to see a flop when I have AK from out of position. When I'm OOP, I'm tending to flat more and 3bet less."

    I'm a little confused. I thought not wanting to see a flop in general means raising and trying. But you say you flat OOP, which by definition means you see a flop.

    Can you explain what you mean?

    And again: great blog. I really enjoy your writing. Keep it up!

  2. Great post! Makes a lot of sense. Seems like people complaint aout AK more than any other hand (with AA and JJ close behind). A lot of folks prolly just aren't playng the hand right - losing a lot when they are beat and winning the minimum when they hit their hand. Your approach definately seems profitable!

  3. Thanks for the compliments. As far as the quote that you're confused about:
    What I meant to say that I don't want to see a flop with a bloated pot from OOP. I'm tending to flat more and 3bet less. Sorry it wasn't clear. It's been my experience that opponents have the tendency to call 3bets more often (even when getting incorrect odds to do so). I really don't want to go to war in a coin flip situation (only if I see all 5 cards) - from out of position - on a hand that needs to see a flop to improve.

  4. Unless you can support your claim with results and a win rate over at least 500 hours.....I think your claim of a HUGE advantage is a gross exaggeration.

  5. I obviously keep meticulous records, but I'm not quite sure why you're focused on my "HUGE advantage" "claim." The point of the post was not to be boastful about how I'm better than the average 1/2 player, but how I've adapted my game to play AK out of position.

    FWIW, I do have a win rate of 10+BB per hour over the course of 500 hours. And, FWIW, that's an average. If I look at the last 100 hours, my rate rises above my average. If I look at the prior 100 hours, although less than the last 100 hours, it's more than the average. Point is, I have a continually rising average hourly rate. I'm going to peak out at some point and be "forced" to move to 2/5.

  6. One other comment: The data I keep is for live poker only. I have meticulous records of online poker, where, when I was able to play, I was a consistent winning player. You can refer back to prior posts to see my thoughts and play for online poker. I was a ~3PTBB/100 winner at stakes up to 100NL.

  7. What do u think of sites like bovada, carbon, and lock poker that still offer poker to US players?


  8. Really interesting post. I notice that in the last few years AK has become an instant shoving hand for many players so although they may play patient poker for hours to get through the tournament field, they then put the whole thing on the line for a coin flip v any pair.

  9. AK can be sometimes really hard to play. On one hand you don't want to throw it away, but on the other you know that you don't have any other option.


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