As most every poker player knows, Ace-King (also known as big slick) is one of the top starting hands in Texas Hold’em. Playing A-K in a poker tournament depends on the situation at hand, such as the health of your chip stack, how far along the tournament has progressed, and what your table opponents have bet prior to your turn to act. What you want to avoid is either overplaying or underplaying your big slick. And, yes, you may have to lay down this premium hand if the situation warrants it.
Something I have noticed is that players who are dealt A-K often treat it as though it were a pair of Aces or Kings. It is the strongest non-pair hand and can win straight up against A-Q, A-J, K-Q or K-J, as well as making nut flushes and straights. That being said, it is still not a pair and, as such, is often overplayed by players without much experience in the game. Lots of players lose with A-K, because it is a hand that is often misplayed. So let’s take a look at how to play A-K in various stages of a poker tournament.
If you happen to be short-stacked in a multi-table tournament and are looking at A-K in the hole, you really have only one choice. Shove all your chips into the pot prior to the flop. Because of your lack of chips, this is the best play, as you have a 60% chance of making a pair–and it will be a good pair if you do hit. Other players will most likely see your all-in as a desperate attempt at doubling up without having a premium hand. You may get callers with hands such as A-7 or medium pairs. If it comes down to a coin flip against a pair, so be it. Although your A-K will be a slight underdog, your low chip stack demands that you must go all-in.
Let’s assume you bet three times the big blind with your A-K prior to the flop in the early-to-mid point in the tourney and get two callers whose chip stacks are similar to your own. If you happen to miss on the flop, what would you do? The danger here is that you have not one but two opponents and it may very well be possible that at least one of them paired up from the flop In general, toward the latter stages of a tournament, with either a big chip stack going up against an opponent’s small stack, or being the small stack yourself, A-K should be played aggressively pre-flop.