How to Play AK: Missing the Flop
You know the story.
Here you are: diligently following your hand chart, waiting patiently for just the right cards that will guarantee you have an edge on that silly fish playing every hand. Finally, you look down at one of the best poker hands, AK, and suppress the urge to fist-pump.
You raise, he calls, the flop lands, and your heart sinks.
9 5 2
WTF? Now what?
Allow me to be of service.
Here are some guidelines on how to play AK.
You’re Still Ahead!
Most of the time.
Now this is very generally speaking, and I mention it because the tendency I observe in players is that they undervalue their hand in these spots. Let’s get more specific.
Wet vs Dry
As the board gets more wet, it is true that our hand becomes less valuable. By “more wet”, I mean there are more draws possible (e.g. J 9 8 is very wet whereas Q 5 2 is very dry). Therefore you should consider this when evaluating where you stand.
For wet or coordinated boards, it’s ok to check and fold to a bet. If you’re in position, betting or checking could be ok.
For dry boards, the main thing is that you don’t want to fold.
Fish or Reg
Just as important as the board text is your opponent’s range (and tendencies if you know them). In most cases, the wider his range gets, the stronger your hand will be in relative terms.
Perhaps you’re facing a fish that seems to be playing almost any two cards pre-flop. You’re way ahead! The question is then how do we extract maximum value from him? For this, consider his tendencies. If he is hyper aggressive, you could check-call a couple streets. If he is very passive, you could check-call once and then give up. If he is an extreme calling station, you might even bet the flop and then call once on a later street.
If you’re facing a “rock” or “nit” on a very tight range, then you can consider giving up early. Keep in mind that the trick to beating these very conservative players is to stay out of their way. You are already beating them pre-flop because:
- you win more blinds than they do, and
- you win more fish money than they do.
It’s ok to “nut-peddle” (e.g. set-mine), but that’s it. Trying to muscle them around is suicide.
SRP vs 3BP
3-bet pots imply tighter ranges and as previously stated, this reduces our relative hand strength. Also, you will often be out of position, since three-betting from the blinds versus a late position open is quite common. Apply the advice for wet/dry and fish/reg with a little more willingness to fold given the tighter overall ranges.
Also, 3-bet pots imply different types of hand ranges. Of course players tend to 4-bet their very strongest hands like AA & KK, so when someone just calls your 3-bet you can remove these strong hands from the range you are assigning to them.
All of the advice given so far has been in general terms. Taking this to the next level requires looking more deeply into board texture, player ranges, and player tendencies.
Nuances in the board high card yields different tactical implications. For example a J62 board is much better than a 962 board. When a “broadway” card is present, it gives you back-door straight potential. With a Jack on the flop, You could double-barrel bluff when either a Ten or a Queen comes as this gives you a gut-shot. Likewise, having the back-door flush is empowering.
Also, the more precisely you are able to estimate your opponent’s range, the more precisely you can assess your hand strength given the board. This is quite challenging at first, but with continual practice you get better and better. Work through hands in your study time on a regular basis using a range tool.
To gain the maximum edge over your opponent you can aim to fully exploit him. This involves more deeply understanding his tendencies. If you’re playing with a HUD, you can use statistics to help. Positional pre-flop stats will assist with narrowing his range. Use stats like aggression percentage and WtSD to choose between bluffing lines and inducing lines.