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Playing AK in No Limit Hold’em

AK, despite its classification as a premium hand, is actually one of the most badly played I’ve ever come across in No Limit Holdem. Sure, most players will be happy to raise it 3xBBs pre-flop and sit on their hands in anticipation, but what next? As soon as players with AK faces re-raises out of position – or when they miss the flop, they seem to brick themselves and choke, eventually losing the hand to the LAG with 10Jo. The truth is that AK loses most of its strength and equity on a missed flop. Big Slick is a drawing hand and needs to hit a pair a top pair at minimum in order to hold its value at showdown. On a missed flop with more than 2 opponents, I would be more than happy to let this hand go (also depending on the board texture and flow of the game). There’s no need to foolishly play into opponents by making ridiculous 3-barrel bluffs with your entire stack only to lose to a two pair or flush on the river.

AK Pre-Flop

On an un-raised board you HAVE to raise 3-4xBBs (plus 1BB for each limper) in order to get rid of limpers and stop the BB seeing the flop cheaply. Remember that AK has little value in multi-way pots and with 3 or more opponents in the flop you may as well be holding 78o. Also, don’t fret if the table happens to be very tight and folds back to you – at least you still won the hand. It’s much better than slow-playing AK like a donkey and losing to 73o on a 5-6-4 flop.

If I’m already facing a raise then most of the time (80% or more) I’ll 3bet into my opponent with a 3xopening raise. Just like raising initially, you kind of always have to re-raise pre-flop to stop LAGs and opponents with slightly weaker hand ranges such as 10J getting odds to call. Another reason I 3bet AK is to build the pot as big as possible. Remember that AK will win most hands in the long term so you should be keen to get as much money into mixer pre-flop. The final, and perhaps most important reason to 3bet pre-flop is to extract information from your opponent. If you 3bet from MP only to get 4bet from BB, it normally indicates a stronger holding such as JJ+. Against these hands you’re 70/30 underdog and best off folding immediately (against a conservative opponent’s 4bet I’m definitely folding).


It’s a great feeling when you hit top pair on a rainbow board like Kh-7d-10s. The key is to value bet each street, play aggressively and induce as many calls as possible from calling stations when you’re in front. A typical value bet for the turn or river is around ¼ – ½ pot. This is enough to encourage a weak-passive player to call without doing much damage to his stack.

If you’re in position facing a raise, I normally re-raise depending on the style of my opponent. If he’s extremely loose with a high cbet% then you have two options. You can either re-raise him – or you can slow play and extract value over multiple streets.

If you miss the flop or hit a danger card on the turn/river (4 to the flush for instance), then your aim should be to limit the size of the pot, insure yourself and see a showdown cheaply. LAG type players in these scenarios will normally try and trap you, occasionally bluff raising or check-raising for value. By check/folding instead, you can avoid getting into horrible situations e.g. facing half-pot raises on the river.