The Importance of Having a Coach/Mentor as a Poker Player

Ak is a hand that gets a lot of Sng players in trouble. Although it’s the best unmade hand that you can be dealt preflop, limited stack sizes, certain opponents and ICM make it difficult to decide how to approach ‘big slick’ preflop. Below are some of my thoughts on how to play Ak in Sngs, based on my experience playing 18-180-man Sngs.

Understanding Risk vs. Reward

A concept that is critical for you to learn is risk vs. reward. How much risk are you taking, and does the reward you stand to gain from taking that risk worth it?

This concept will apply primarily to the early stages of a Sng, where players start with 1,500 in chips and 10/20 blinds. I see a lot of players at these stages go all in preflop with Ak (instead of flat, 3-bet or fold). This isn’t bad per se, just not optimal — the reward doesn’t outweigh the risk.

What risk? Well, for starters, Ak is hardly better than a coin-flip. You run the risk of busting out of the Sng early, which will affect stats such as your payout distribution and ROI. Your bankroll will take a hit too, as you’ll be experiencing more variance.

The reason why the reward you stand to gain doesn’t outweigh the risk is simple; you might double up, but that doesn’t double your chances of winning the Sng, nor does it mean your equity in the Sng has doubled either.

For example, say you’re playing in a $10 9-man Sng and doubled up through someone. You started off with $10 in equity and now you have $18.25. It sounds like a lot, but the problem is that there are still 8 players to play through, and plenty of time in the Sng for everyone to catch up. Doubling up didn’t do much to increase your chances of winning, yet you flipped a coin (unnecessarily) in attempt to try. Keep in mind too, that the more players that started in the Sng, the less equity you gain by doubling up.

Now, the one (small) exception to this rule would be in 90 or 180-man Sngs. I actually don’t mind getting my stack all in preflop because with 1500 chip starting stacks, there isn’t a lot of room to call/fold or 3-bet/fold. Not to mention that in order to win, you’ll need to flip a couple times. So might as well flip with Ak. This is merely an exception, not the rule, though.

Playing Ak Versus Regulars

Playing Ak versus regulars isn’t fun. Good regulars understand risk vs. reward, so you’re not going to see them stack off light or get into (too) many awkward situations. In short, you won’t make much with Ak versus a regular, but you can lose your ass if you’re not careful.

For example, say you’re in the cutoff with Ak off-suit. The player under the gun plus one is a regular, and opens to 3x at 25/50 at a 9-handed table. What do we do?

Well, versus a random player it would make sense to 3-bet, which would be for value. However, it wouldn’t be versus a regular. The reason why is because a regular’s range in this situation is narrow — something like Aj and TT+ I think. You’re only crushing Aj and Aq and breaking even against Ak. Everything else you’re flipping against or crushed by. Poker Stove has you at a 55% favorite. So in other words, there isn’t anything to get value from.

If you happen to 3-bet a regular in this situation, one of two things will likely happen:

  1. The regular folds all small pairs that he might open with, TT-QQ and Aj-Ak.
  2. The regular 4-bet shoves AA & KK.
Not pretty, right? You fold out the only hands you have crushed or can out flop, all the while only inducing better hands to 4-bet shove which forces you to fold (or you can call and lose your ass).

A (slightly) better option would be to flat call. However, on an A or K high flop you’ll have a hard time getting value and you’ll have to give up most flops that you miss. Another option, believe it or not, would be to fold preflop. Whether it’s +EV or not is another discussion, but from my point of view it’s probably breakeven.

Playing the Bubble with Ak

An awkward situation to be in while being dealt Ak is on the bubble. On the bubble of a Sng, there are 1 or 2 players left before the remaining players make it into the money.

I don’t think there is any question as to what you should if you are short stacked with Ak on the bubble. Aside from any unique situation, I’ll be taking the risk every time. My goal is to win, and while min-cashing is better than bubbling, I don’t like to bubble while trying to hold on for dear life just to min-cash.

The most awkward situations are when you have an average sized stack, and there are other shorter stacks at the table. In these situations you have to start considering ICM. For example, say the table was set up like this on the bubble of a $10-18-man Sng:

  • 6,000 (You – Bb) Ako
  • 10,000 (Sb)
  • 3985
  • 4525
  • 2490

Say it folds to the small blind, who decides to (correctly) abuse the bubble and shove into you. As it stands, you have $20 in equity, twice as much as the shortest stack and $3-$5 more than the other stacks.

While it sucks, you (almost always) have to fold here, barring any read, history or unless you’re extremely short yourself (less than 6 big blinds maybe). It’s just a lot of equity to give up with a hand that has no more than 55-60% equity versus the small blind’s range.

Always Remember That Ak is an Unmade Hand

The most important thing to remember is that Ak is an unmade hand. Taking thin spots where you call all-ins preflop or on the bubble diminish any edge that you might have, not to mention risks the equity you may have in the Sng on a coin flip. While every situation in poker is unique and I’m sure that there will be times where taking a thin spot with Ak makes sense, most times you’ll find that you can take a more risk averse route in Sngs with Ak, and make just as much, if not more money as a result.