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11/11/2005 No.23
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday November 11, 2005
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

We are returning as promised to the subject of AK (an ace and a king). In Texas hold 'em, before the communal flop is dealt, this is a very strong starting hand. You are already beating everything except a pair. And if somebody does have a pair (unless it's a pair of aces or kings), you still have a good chance to overtake them later in the action.

So AK is a raising hand, and it is a re-raising hand. Having said that, it has gained a little too much popularity during the "poker explosion". We see all these no-limit poker finals on television, and all these players sticking every last chip into the pot as soon as they are dealt AK. But this is a specific situation, in which players must gamble to accumulate chips. If you can get all your money in before the flop, AK is nearly 50/50 against an "underpair" - these are great odds in the late stages of a fast no-limit tournament.
But it's not so clever in a cash game or the early stages of a tournament, when the action proceeds more gradually and you want a chance to collect information.

The other danger is that everybody knows that AK is a hand to play strongly. So if you raise or re-raise before the flop, it isn't difficult for opponents to guess what you are holding. If you miss the flop, and bet out anyway as a bluff, smart players are going to raise you and put you to the test. "I put you on ace king!" is a common cry at poker tables throughout the land.

So: go ahead and raise or re-raise with AK. But make sure you know why you're doing it. You're doing it to win the pot there and then, or hit the flop if you get called. If you miss the flop, there's no shame in checking to get the next card cheap or free. It's also fine to bet again if you smell weakness - but with this particular hand, neither option disguises your cards very well. If someone plays hard back at you, give it up. That triumphant cry of "I put you on ace king!" ... It hurts a lot less when it hasn't cost you all your chips.


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