Many poker experts rank A-K as the third-best starting hand, ahead of even pocket queens and jacks, and heres why: If an ace flops, you have top pair/top kicker. Same goes if a king flops. And its obviously even more powerful if its suited.
T.J. Cloutier, the former road gambler and respected tournament player, feels so strongly about the importance of A-K that in one of his authoritative books, he dedicated one-third of the practice hands to playing with and against it.
"In a tournament, you have to win both sides of that," said Cloutier, a spokesman for the Poker Mountain Web site. "You have to have your pair hold up when they have an A-K, and you have to catch the ace or the king when you have A-K and they have the pair. Thats how you win tournaments."
In a $10,000 buy-in event on the World Series of Poker circuit at the Rio in Las Vegas, Cloutier faced the hand he stresses. With 13 players remaining, Cloutier drew pocket queens. An opponent held A-K.
"This kid was catching the deck," Cloutier said. "He had $400,000 and I had $200,000. If I win this pot, Im in the lead. I raised $20,000 and he made it $60,000. I knew I had the best hand, so I moved in.
"I know Ive got the best hand, and Im putting pressure on him. He has to decide whether he wants to let me get the lead and give up half his chips. Thats the idea of moving in. Then you hope an ace or a king doesnt come. I knew he had some kind of ace-hand."
Cloutiers opponent called. The flop came K-9-4, giving Cloutiers opponent top pair/top kicker and the nut-flush draw.
"He couldnt have gotten away from that hand for all the tea in China," Cloutier said. "The turn and the river didnt matter. I was dead to a queen after the flop."
Cloutier gambled and lost the classic race of A-K vs. Q-Q. He admits that he didnt have to move all in pre-flop. He couldve called the re-raise, then moved in after the flop if a king or ace didnt fall because he knew the opponent he put on an ace-hand likely couldnt make that call at that point.
But its just that type of second-guessing that makes playing with or against A-K so decisive.
"A-K is a more valuable hand when youre shorthanded later in a tournament," Cloutier said. "I think more tournaments are won or lost on A-K than any other hand."
Dead to a queen: Describing a player who is drawing to only one or two specific outs, in this case a Q.
© 2005, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.