Playing Ace-King Versus a Three-Bet
DECISION POINT: In a $2/$5 no-limit hold'em cash game, the under-the-gun player raises and gets four callers, then the player on the button reraises. You are in the small blind with .
PRO ANSWER: Ace-king is generally an extremely strong hand. By default we can play aggressively preflop with ace-king because we are rarely behind an opponent's range. Also, if we create fold equity by playing aggressively, we can add extra value to the hand.
However, let's look closer at this situation. There was a raise in early position, which we assume indicates a narrow range of hands. Four other players showed interest in the hand by calling and then the button put in a small reraise.
Calling here would be a bad play. If we call, our opponents would be getting compelling pot odds and we would likely see a huge, multi-way pot from out of position.
Top pair, top kicker gets devalued significantly out of position in multi-way pots. In this hand, the stacks are deep — we are sitting on around 150 big blinds and our opponents have us covered. This increases the potential cost of a reverse implied odds scenario.
Reraising is a viable option in general, but will not be profitable assuming reasonable opponent hand ranges. After the button reraises, absent some sort of player-specific read that the button is capable of doing this with a wider range, we should assume the player is three-betting with a very narrow range (often only QQ+, AK).
Given the small size of the reraise, ace-king is often less likely to be in this button's range (players who make small raises often expect to be called, so they usually have a hand they want others to call them with). We are not ahead of that range, and there is very little chance we can make our opponent fold that range by reraising preflop. Also, UTG still potentially has a big hand.
Taken together, all of these factors make this a fold for us. It might seem weak to fold preflop, but we have a hand that likely is not ahead of our opponent's range and thus likely also has little ability to create fold equity. Even though ace-king is a premium hand, we should fold.
Folding is the best play.
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