AK is a premium hand no matter how you look at it. When you are dealt this hand out of position, however, you will need to adjust for the disadvantage you are playing with against your opponents. Even pocket kings or pocket aces can be very tricky to play when you are out of position, and AK is no different. Being able to give up is the primary skill that you will need to learn if you want to achieve ultimate success with AK out of position. Yes, as odd as it may seem, your success in winning will rely heavily on your ability to fold. How is that for some irony? Folding isn’t the only thing you are going to be doing though. Maximizing value with AK is kind of like painting a work of art. You will need to tread lightly in some areas and force the issue in others. Yes, being out of position is not easy, but it is not the end of the world.
As much of a disadvantage as position might be, it definitely has its benefits as well. These positive attributes are particularly useful with AK. When you brick the flop and are left holding ace high, your position will allow you to push your opponents out of the way. AK out of position will be tougher to play when it misses because your opponents will be less likely to believe the story you are telling. If you raise pre-flop or re-raise pre-flop, there is no reason why someone shouldn’t be giving you credit for a big hand when you bet on the flop. If you are afraid to play aggressively and take some risks, though, you are going to have an even more difficult time playing AK. With that said, you are going to have a tough time making money with any hand if you are afraid to use some aggression.
Early position is the worst time to be dealt any hand, isn’t it? Even though there are a number of players left to act behind you, the obvious play is to raise in this spot. Limping into the pot in early position here is an absolute mistake. In fact, limping in with any hand is a big mistake, but that is another story. If you really want to weed out the field in order to lower your risk with AK, you can make your raise a bit larger than normal. For example, if you would normally open to 4x, you can pump that up to 4.5x or 5x the big blind. This will accomplish your goal of trying to keep random trash out of the way. In addition, it will build a better resume for your image when you fire out on flops that you blank.
The real tricky aspect of playing AK out of position is when you are facing a re-raise. If a player re-raises anyone’s open raise from early position, you should assume that they are working with a pretty strong hand. As a general rule of thumb, any early position raise should be given more credit than middle or late position raises. Now, since you are the player who was making the raise, you should realize that there is a good shot that your hand is beaten. While you probably have outs, there is always a chance that you are completely dominated by KK or AA, or even tied with AK. In all three of those situations, you are going to be at a absolutely massive disadvantage. The only real way that you will win these hands is on a complete bluff, and this is not a bluff that will have a high success rate. As a result, you should flat call 3 bets only on very rare occasions.
A flat call out of position of a raise is the perfect way to hand money to your opponents. When you miss the flop, you are stuck, when you hit a king or an ace, you might make a little, and you might even be crushed anyway. Your opponent’s position will give them a significant edge over you in almost every pot, barring those rare times where you crush the flop. Ace king is the type of hand that needs to string along opponents. If you are not the one applying pressure, you are not going to be able to sucker someone in with one pair, which is the bread and butter of AK profitability. Out of position and think you might be beat by a re-raise? Throw it away and move on.
Middle and Late Position
Middle and late position is when you are most likely to get AK all in pre-flop. If you think that you are facing a re-raise from a player who is capable of re-stealing or re-raising with a worse hand than you, it only makes sense to fight back with another raise. Balancing out the times where you are ahead with AK and the times where you are behind is all but impossible. You will need to play the odds in some spots and accept that your shove all in may very well be snap called by KK or AA, leaving you hanging by a thread. By that same token, however, you will get a lot of quick calls with TT-QQ.
Now, where is the profitability with AK if the best calls you are going to get come from hands that you are flipping a coin with? If you are shoving all in with AK pre-flop, you should be making the last big raise more often than you are calling off your stack. As a result of this strategy, you will find that you are forcing a fair amount of folds. Say that you open to $11 at a $1/$2 game and get re-raised to $44. If you shove all in for $200, you will get fold a large percentage of the time. The times that you are snap called will be compensated for with those times where you net a $50 profit without ever seeing the flop. When AK is all in pre-flop, it will win some pots by getting lucky, win a select few by having the best of it, and frequently take down pots before the flop is even dealt. The last of these three options is what you should be aiming for.
Pre-flop play is only the first step with AK, albeit the biggest one when it comes to your chances of success. If you get it all in pre-flop, there is nothing left to do. Often times, though, you are going to see a flop with a call or two. In these cases, you need to be prepared for when you land a hand and also for when you completely miss. You are at a positional disadvantage, but your position will also make it easier to play your hand effectively.
If you hit the flop, it will almost always mean that you need to lead out. Open raising, then checking when an ace or king hits is just letting value slip right from your hands. Say that the flop is Axx. In this case, your bet will get calls from any random ace and a lot of other pairs. By checking, you are sacrificing value. Beyond this, a check is also going to let hands you currently have beat earn an opportunity to draw for free. Sure, you will get a lot of folds when you lead out on flops that you hit, but you are still going to win the pot.
A missed flop is not as bad as it might seem. If you brick, the obvious play is to make a continuation bet. If your opponent calls or re-raises you, it will be easy to let go of ace high. If you get called, you can either fire another barrel on the turn or check it down. Whatever you do, don’t just check when you miss. You will be hard pressed to find any flop that doesn’t warrant at least one c-bet when you open raise with AK out of position.