Plant a big KISS on poker’s Big Slick (ace-king)

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Engineers often use KISS – not the delightfully amorous action between lovers – here, KISS means “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Many engineering problems are best solved by reducing the issues to simplest terms. Complication makes the task more difficult; so Keep it Simple, Stupid.

KISS When Preflop Betting with A-K

Let’s apply KISS to preflop betting in a limit game when you hold A-K (Big Slick) in the hole. Arguably, before the flop is when the most important decisions are made: Should I invest my hard-earned dollars in that hand; should I raise?

That decision is vital to your success at the table. It’s when you make your first commitment to that hand. (Hopefully, it will be a happy “marriage.”)

Try to make that decision as uncomplicated as possible. The easier something is to understand, the better your decision will be. (Years ago, when I was involved in real estate investments, I learned that complicated deals were destined for failure.) To succeed, try to KISS.

Recently I read an article about playing A-K – a premium drawing hand, one we love to see in our hole cards. Beautiful to behold! The author gave examples of “how best to play” that hand. I read the first example over and over; it was so complicated. It so happens, several years ago, I too wrote a column dealing with A-K. I had analyzed it extensively.

Using KISS…

As beautiful as it appears, A–K is still a drawing hand; it almost always must improve to win the pot at showdown. (Bluffing is not an issue here.) Even a pair of deuces will beat A-K unimproved! As I teach my poker students, drawing hands are best played multi-way (three or more opponents seeing the flop), with no raises preflop. (Invest as little as possible in case the flop doesn’t help; you will pair up 1 out of 3 times, missing 2 out of 3.) The multi-way requirement usually ensures a decent pot when your A-K improves to be the winner.

Many experts recommend raising preflop with A-K in the hole. I believe they are wrong, at least in a limit game. Raising won’t force out opponents who have already invested one bet; usually it is better to raise after you make your hand. So far we’ve kept it pretty simple… KISS.

Reasons for Not Raising Preflop

(1) Raising may force out opponents with A-rag – those you want in the pot when you connect on the flop.

(2) An opponent with A-Q or A-J will do the betting for you when an ace falls on the flop; later you can raise to build the pot.

(3) Raising preflop gives away information. Your opponents then know you have a strong hand and can make better decisions – not to your advantage – when an ace flops.

One Exception

If you are in middle-late position and there is one limper before you, now you should raise. If everyone folds, you take a small pot. If the limper and the big blind call, you have gained position. Since the limper did not raise, chances are you hold the best hand; against only 1 or 2 opponents, your A-K unimproved might take the pot. If the flop is not threatening (no picture cards or connectors), you can steal the pot when your opponents check to you.

Even with our exception, I think that’s pretty simple. KISS…

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted at [email protected]

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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