Big Aces (AKs, AKo, AQs, AQo) represent only 2.41% of all starting hand combinations.
They are very profitable even though they most often make medium-strength hands (TPTK, TPGK, 2P). Correctly reading opponents is necessary to prevent overplaying them (against raises from “pure” set miners) or underplaying them (against calling stations who will not fold their dominated top pair even for 3 barrels).
When they do make straights or better hands, those are usually the nuts and the main problem is extraction of value – big Aces are always represented in typical ranges so opponents will be careful.
In tournaments, due to dead money in the middle (blinds + antes), it is standard to stack off these hands preflop (AK is automatic, AQ might depend on the exact situation). In cash games it is situational depending on opponents and their positional tendencies.
Every unpaired hand has the same basic odds for flopping:
… at least a pair (using the pocket cards) = 32.43%
… exactly one pair = 28.96%
… exactly two pairs = 2.02%
… exactly trips = 1.35%
… exactly full house = 0.09%
… exactly quads = 0.01%
Suited hands have the following basic odds for flopping:
… a flush = 0.84%
… a flush draw 10.94%
… backdoor flush draw = 41.6% (useful when we cbet / float and pick up a flush draw on the turn)
Unsuited unpaired hands have basic odds for flopping:
… a flush draw 2.24% (but since the board is now monotone, someone might have a flush)
… backdoor flush draw = 25.59% (moderately useful when we cbet and pick up a flush draw on the turn; made flushes are again a danger)
Hand strength = Weaker than 2.56% of hands, stronger than 97.44%. Equity vs. random hand* = 67.04%.
Speculative value = Flopped nut flushes seem valuable but pay off rarely (mostly against weaker flopped flushes). Opponents can’t have better than Q high flush draw and there is always a danger of full houses if the board pairs.
Nut flush draw can be played aggressively since we will either have top pair or two best overcards in addition to the draw.
There is a 1% chance to flop the nut straight and 7.70% to flop a nut gutshot, which includes flush draw combos (combo draws are very powerful) but excludes flopped flushes. Flopped gutshot draws can also be played aggressively on the flop if there is a backdoor flush draw to slightly boost equity.
Most often AKs flops TPTK, which will allow for 2-3 streets of value (depending on the opponent and any backdoor draws we might pick up on the turn).
Position = Strong regardless of position (always better to have it). AKs is usually a great hand to have in the button/blinds due to 3betting/squeezing in BTN vs blinds scenarios preflop, although with heavy action ahead it may be best to fold in some situations.
It can be uncomfortable to play postflop against multiple opponents when out of position with a medium made hand and no backdoor draws. It can be dangerous to barrel off into multiple people and giving free cards is not ideal either.
When heads up, barreling TPTK against Ax-heavy calling stations on dry Axx boards is profitable, but better players will not call down to the end with a worse hand. Getting raised with TPTK is an uncomfortable situation which happens fairly often on “wet” boards (sets will raise, but so will many draws), so many players prefer to pot control instead of barreling off when out of position.
Correct strategy is highly dependent on the board texture and the opponent.
Previous action in the hand = AKs should be careful against 3bets/4bets from very tight players since they will not stack off with any hand worse than AK.
In rare cases, open folding it against heavy previous action is best (example: we are in SB, a tight UTG player opens, someone calls and a very tight BTN squeezes).
Otherwise, it should always be played aggressively preflop, although exact action we take against open raises (3bet or call) when in position is opponent (both open raiser and the blinds) dependant. Dominant strategy is usually to 3bet it. Preflop stackoff equity vs. range of AA-QQ, AK** = 41.9%.
* This is important mostly in tournaments but is relevant in any game format. Huge majority of people normally don’t play a 100% range in cash games (at least for real money).
** Considered a standard stackoff range vs. unknowns/average player pool. Real ranges depend on a player and relative positions, widest being in BTN vs. SB vs. BB battles. If a player never 3bets below KK, then obviously 4bet/stackoff with AK is unwise.
Hand strength = Weaker than 3.32% of hands, stronger than 95.78%. Equity vs. random hand = 65.32%.
Speculative value = AKo has much less playability than AKs on boards than contain flush draws or are monotone, primary danger being that someone already has the flush. Picking up a backdoor flush is therefore a tricky situation so pot control is better than firing away. On other boards there is basically no difference.
Position = Same as AKs.
Previous action in the hand = Same as AKs although stackoff equity vs. range of AA-QQ, AK = 38.8% (slightly weaker than AKs).
Hand strength = Weaker than 3.02% of hands, stronger than 96.68%. Equity vs. random hand = 66.21% This is slightly better than AKo (!), but AKo has much better equity against very strong ranges.
Speculative value = Similar to AKs, but needs to be more careful on Axx boards against players who don’t 3bet AK (due to domination issues).
Position = Strong in any case but prefers to be in position, mostly due to flush potential and domination issues.
Decent for stacking off in BB vs SB vs BTN battles, especially when there is fold equity (3bet and 5bet shove from the blinds). Otherwise it is best to not overplay it against 4bets (decision whether to 3bet an open raise when in position is opponent dependant).
TPGK domination issue on Axx boards justifies slightly less barreling than with AK, especially if OOP.
Previous action in the hand = Very good for calling open raises IP, can be used to 3bet but has poor equity against typical 4bet ranges from EP/MP. Needs to be careful against tight 3bet ranges when OOP.
Plays well as a 3bet against calling ranges, especially in blinds vs BTN/CO situations, and can be 5bet shoved against players with wide 4bet ranges from BTN.
Preflop stackoff equity vs. range of AA-QQ, AK = 28.61%.
Hand strength = Weaker than 5.58% of hands, stronger than 93.51%. Equity vs. random hand = 64.43%
Speculative value = Has the same problems as AKo/AQs in situations already mentioned, so needs to pot control quite a bit when it flops TPGK.
Position = Likes being in position (domination issue and is not suited).
Decision whether to stack it off in BB vs SB vs BTN battles depends on size and composition of all ranges included (size of our 3bet range included!). Highly dependent on fold equity.
It is generally uncomfortable to play it against 4bets from EP/MP (decision whether to 3bet an open raise when in position is opponent dependant).
TPGK issue on Axx boards justifies slightly less barreling than with AK, especially if OOP or against multiple opponents.
Previous action in the hand = Good for calling open raises IP, can be used to 3bet but has poor equity against typical 4bet ranges from EP/MP.
Often best to fold it against tight 3bet ranges since it is always in danger even if it hits the board (basically it only really likes QQx and KJT boards).
Plays well as a 3bet against calling ranges, especially in blinds vs BTN/CO situations, and can be 5bet shoved against players with wide 4bet ranges from BTN (meaning fold equity is fairly high).
Preflop stackoff equity vs. range of AA-QQ, AK = 24.42%.