How to Play Ace-King in No-Limit Texas Hold'em
Ace-King, the Big Slick, is a big starting hand in No-Limit Texas Hold'em but it is still a drawing hand. It is a difficult hand to play and for many players, AK is often a big money loser in the long run. In fact, for this reason, some players don't play Ace-King at all.
The big slick is a starting hand where you go in raising preflop. The best hand that the AK can make after the flop is usually top pair top kicker. Hence, you don't want a bunch of opponents going into the flop as it increases the chance that someone might get lucky, flopping two pair or better. Raising here will make it expensive for mediocre hands to see the flop.
When no one has yet raised the pot, make an opening raise of about 4 BB to 5 BB. If the pot has been raised, reraise the pot by the size of the pot.
You should make an opening raise of about 3 BB to 4 BB if no one before you have raised the pot. Again, make a pot-sized reraise if the pot has been raised.
With only the blinds and possibly the button behind you, your opening raise can be reduced to about 3 BB. Again, make a pot-sized reraise if the pot has already been raised.
Handling a Preflop Re-reraise
If you get re-reraised preflop, it is often advisable fold since anyone re-reraising here should most likely be holding AA or KK. Of course, they may be holding QQ but its still wiser to fold. The reason is because firstly, most of the time you will be wrong and the re-reraiser is indeed holding AA or KK. When that happens, you are at least 70% dominated. Worse still, you lose even more if you hit the ace or the king on the flop. Secondly, even if you are right and your opponent is only holding QQ, you only have 1/3 chance of hitting your ace or king on the flop. Finally, even if you hit the ace or king, you will not get paid off since your opponent will usually fold his QQ when overcards hit the flop because you have raised preflop and likely to hold the ace or king.
However, if you strongly believe you are playing against an idiot or someone on full tilt, by all means go ahead and call that preflop re-reraise. I say this because poker is a very situational game and on numerous occasions, I have profited by not playing by the book when I have a firm understanding of their playing styles.
Playing the Flop
The strength of AK is very dependent on the flop. This hand is usually only playable when you flop an ace or a king, and the probability of that occurring is about 1 in 3.
Flopping an Ace or a King
This flop gives you top pair top kicker, which is very often the best hand. You should bet strong to make your opponents fold or pay dearly to chase their draws.
If they do call, that means either they are drawing or they have hit something. You must know who you are up against. If your opponent is a tight player, there is a possibility he has hit a big hand and is slow playing you. You may want to check on the turn and see what he does. If your opponent is loose, either he is drawing or he has also hit the top or second pair. In this case, continue to bet on the turn and river to extract the most money out of him. This is how most of the profit comes from playing AK.
If you don't hit the flop, you can sometimes still make a continuation bet. Since you have either raised or reraised preflop, your opponents will usually credit you with a big hand. They will fold if they didn't hit the flop. Be prepared to check/fold on the turn and river if your continuation bet is called since you have only 6 outs just to catch a top pair.
Flopping a Nut Flush Draw
If your Ace-King is suited, you will sometimes flop a nut flush draw. A semi-bluff is probably the best move here. If your opponent fold, you win right there. If not, you still have a chance to beat him with an Ace-high flush. However, if you get reraised, then you shouldn't be tempted to gamble and should concede defeat unless you have very good implied odds.
Playing The Turn and The River
If you had hit the flop, as long as you don't get reraised, you should continue to bet on the turn and the river as long as the board don't suggest that either a straight or a flush has been hit. If you are reraised here, chances are you are beat and this is where alot of players fail to fold and lose alot of money playing this hand.
Loose Games vs Tight Games
Generally, AK plays better in loose games than in tight games. I believe it's because when games are tighter, players tend not to chase draws and only play hands that can beat top pair top kicker - the best hand that AK can make in most cases.
Cash Game vs Tournament
The power of Ace-King is amplified when playing in tournaments. In tournaments, when the blinds are rising fast, players tend to steal blinds by pushing with any starting hand that contains an ace. Since AK is the big daddy of all Ax hands, whenever you go heads up with another player that holds Ax, you have about 70% chance of taking him down. This is good odds when you are trying to take out a smaller stack or doubling up through a big stack.
However, this strategy of playing AK fails miserably in cash games. In cash games, players usually will only push all-in preflop with either AA or KK. Against such holdings, AK is a dominated hand with only about 7% chance of winning against AA and just around 30% chance of winning against KK. Yet, I often still see players fail to transit from tournament play to cash game play and move all-in with Ace-King preflop.