Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How Not to Play Ace-King

At first I thought this post should be called, “Variance, Part 2” since it was about another up and down session at Player’s Casino, just like the one I described here. It occurred exactly one week after that session. 

But then I realized that the real focus of this post is going to be how badly I played a single hand, costing myself a decently profitable session.  My intentions were good, I’ll say that.  Of course, there’s that expression that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I know have to get out of the same old rut when I play and somehow expand my game from being a full-time nit.  Whenever I try that, however, it seems I just turn into a donkey.  In this session, I played a hand in a manner I never usually play it, way out of my comfort zone, and got bitten on the ass.  So, either I need to stop playing out of my comfort zone, or I need to actually learn how to play poker.

It was the same 2/3 game I always play there, and as always, I bought in for the $300 max. After a few orbits of nothing, I finally got a hand to play—pocket Jacks.  I bet $12, had one caller, and saw an Ace high flop which was all diamonds, unlike either of my Jacks.  I c-bet $16 and took it down.

Next hand worth playing was pocket Queens on the button.  Everyone limped in.  Yes, everyone.  So I bet $30 and took it down. 

Then I got the dreaded pocket Kings.  I opened to $12, had two callers, saw a Jack-high flop and made a c-bet of $25.  Both players folded.

The very next hand, I got pocket Kings again!  Again, I raised to $12.  This time only the player behind me called, a white-haired gentleman who was the nittiest player at the table. The flop was Ace-high.  I bet $16 and the gentleman took a bit of time to decide.  He finally called.  I read his hesitation as him having a weak Ace.  Ordinarily I might be tempted to check the turn, but I had a strong feeling that another bet could get him to fold his weak Ace.  So on a brick turn, I put out $30 and he indeed folded.

A bit later I got pocket Queens again.  The table’s designated maniac—I’ll have a lot more to say about him in a minute—opened for $20.  I should have three-bet him for sure.  But I just nitily called.  We were heads up.  The flop was Jack-high and he checked.  I bet $30 and he called.  The turn was a blank and he checked again.  This time I put out $100 and he folded.  I overheard him mutter something about “lousy Ace-King” to his buddy, who was sitting between the two of us.

So let me tell you about this guy…the table’s designated maniac.  I’ll refer to him as DM from now on.  He was a older/middle-aged white guy.  A few minutes after I got situated into seat 9 (the tables are 9-handed), he came over to the older/middle-aged white guy who was in seat 8.  The greeted each other like long lost pals—the guy in seat 8 stood up and they hugged.  Looked a little weird for a couple of older/middle-aged white guys to be doing that, if you ask me.  It was obvious that they were just bumping into each other coincidentally and this had not been a planned meet-up.  The new guy sat on the food/beverage tray that was already between seats 8 & 9 when I got there and chatted up his bud.  He was waiting to get called into a game—any game, as far as I could tell.  He didn’t seem to care which one.  Eventually he was called into our game, in seat 7, right next to his pal.

The very first hand he was dealt, he opened for $25.  Then he said to his buddy, “I do that a lot.  At least you’re on my left.”  So was I, just one seat over, and I was pretty glad about that.

He occasionally limped, and occasionally folded preflop, but more often than not he raised pre.  And never less than $20.  He probably made it $25 (and sometimes $30) about 25% more often than he made it $20.  He’d go bigger if there were limpers.  Didn’t three-bet a huge amount of the time but when he did he’d make it really, really big.

After the flop (when called) he could fold for sure, but he rarely checked.  He bet pretty much every flop he had raised pre.  He did make some loose calls apparently (didn’t show his cards so hard to know what he had) but again, he was capable of folding.

This pattern led me to make an absolutely perfect read on a hand I wasn’t involved in.  He raised to $25 after a limper or two and had three callers.  The flop was Queen-9-9, two diamonds.  The first three players all checked, and he bet….$25.  That’s it.  He had never, ever bet that small on the flop after he had raised.  Not even close.  He was much more likely to bet more than the pot than he was to bet 1/4 of the pot.  I was shocked.  I actually said to myself, “It’s almost like he flopped quads there.”

He had two callers and then a third diamond hit the turn.  It was checked to him and he bet $65.  A very small bet for a pot that was now $175.  But no one called him.  He showed his hand….pocket 9’s!  I was right.  He bet small cuz he flopped a monster.  He said, “I thought someone might have had the flush….”

Anyway, I was in the big blind with Ace-Jack off and shockingly enough, DM folded on the button.  Five of us saw the flop.  It was 9-5-2, two spades.  I did have the Ace of spades.  So with back door straight and flush draws and overcards, I thought I had enough to call the small blind’s $10 bet.  The guy on my left, the older gentleman who I had beaten with my pocket Kings earlier, also called.  Then a guy made it $25.  The small blind called.  I shrugged my shoulders and put out another $15 even though it was probably a bad call.  I didn’t think for a minute the old guy would raise and the pot was now getting up there, I figured I’d take a shot.

The turn was a four and thus gave me a gutshot.  The flush possibility was gone though.  The small blind bet again…only $10.  That was just odd, I couldn’t figure that out.  But I figured I’d come too far to fold for ten bucks.  Then to my shock, the old guy did indeed raise…but only to $20.  I wondered if the guy who had made it $25 on the turn was going to come over the top, but no, he only called the $20.  The small blind just called and so for another ten bucks I could see the river.  And the river was pretty good….a 3.  But it was a spade, my wheel could be losing to a flush—or to a bigger straight.  Small blind bet again…only $25.  I called, hoping no one behind would make a bigger bet and put me in a tough situation.  But the white-haired gentleman just called and the last guy folded.

What did they all have?  Well, the small blind had 9-3 for two pair.  The old guy showed Ace-3 offsuit.  Holy cow. He had turned the straight but only raised $10 to $20 when it hit?  He obviously should have bet a lot more.  I mean, I hate to be like the Norwegian guy from my last post, but sir, “You didn’t bet enough.”  I was happy that he kept me in to chop the pot with him, I still made more than a few bucks from the other two players.  And unlike my Norwegian friend, I didn’t say a word to the other gentleman about his bet sizing.  Definitely one of the weirdest hands I can recall.  Crazy bet-sizing all the way through.

At this point I had about $425 or so in front of me.  And if you’ve been paying attention, you will see that the only hands I had raised with so far were big pairs…Jacks, Queens, Kings.  I had not been dealt AK, AQ, KQ, suited Aces or suited connectors once all day.  The couple of times I had pairs smaller than Jacks, I just called raises with them.  The Ace-Jack off hand, where I might have raised from a different position, I just checked from the big blind.

Which leads me to the (nightmare) hand of the day.  In middle position, I looked down at Ace-King offsuit.  And of course, before it got to me, DM opened for $25.  What to do, what to do?  Perhaps to my detriment, I rarely three-bet Ace-King, it’s something I’ve talked about before.  But if ever there was a time to do it, this sure seemed like it.  DM had less chips than me, but to be honest, I kind of over-estimated how much he had at the moment.  With his maniacal ways, he had already busted twice and rebought a full $300 after each time.  Sometimes I’d see him with a huge stack….sometimes he’d be down to less than $100.  His stack was changing dramatically each hand, it seemed.  He had a lot of $1 chips and he wasn’t stacking his chips in a normal way, he had huge towers, not stacks of 10 or 20.  I really thought he had more than he did.

So I fought off my overwhelming inclination to play this like I always play Ace-King.  Instead of just calling, I raised.  I put out $80.  That got everyone behind me to fold quickly, but DM just counted out his $55 and made the call.  I thought there was a least a reasonable chance he’d fold.  I mean, he was clearly opening with any two cards and had played with me long enough to see me as being very tight.  This was my first three-bet of the day.  OTOH, he might have figured I was smart enough to take advantage of my image and also to realize he was raising very light.  One thing I didn’t consider:  he might not have cared about the money very much.

Like or dislike my play so far?

The flop was Queen-Queen-10.  And he checked.  Now what do I do? 

Sure he could have had a Queen.  But with his wide range, the flop had most likely missed him. So I thought of doing what I’d almost always do in that situation—continuation bet.  I even had the gutshot if I needed it.  If he called, I had outs (unless he flopped a boat or quads). 

With nothing though, and $160 in the pot, should I have just checked behind and let it go—unless I caught a Jack?

I remembered the time he said he had Ace-King and folded when I double barreled my Queens.  I figured if I bet, there was an excellent chance he’d fold.

What to bet?  Well, I admit, I didn’t pay enough attention to how much he had.  My bet was based on the size of the pot, which was $160.  I suppose I could have bet $100.  But I thought a little more would be better.  I took a stack of $100, added five more chips, and put out $125.

He didn’t take long to say, “all-in.”  I threw up a little a little in my mouth.  He didn’t have enough more than my bet for it to be a bluff.  Not that Ace-high was much of a bluff-catcher.  Once I saw him push all the rest of his chips out, I could eyeball it and I realized that it wasn’t nearly enough more than my bet for me to fold.  Not with the pot that big.  I didn’t bother with the count, it was like $50-$60 more than my bet, so I couldn’t fold.

But I knew I had f’d this one up good.  We didn’t show.  I caught an Ace on the river but it did no good against his Queen-Jack offsuit.  He had one of my four outs—his Jack was the card I needed.  (Edited to add:  As pointed out by Grange in the first comment, a Jack would have given him a full house and thus not have done me much good.  Well I didn't know he had the Jack when I got the money in but it just makes my play even worse than I thought).

And when the dealer paid him off, I was down to about $180 or so, and feeling rather ill.  I would love some feedback on how I should have played this.  Obviously if I had taken my normal line I would have been out only $25 instead of over $200.  Should I just have done that?  Or was there something in the middle that I should have done?  Three-bet but checked the flop?  Put out a very small bet on the flop just to test the waters?  What?

And btw, I know I screwed up, but man, calling my three-bet with Queen-Jack off?  Seriously?  Well, damned if it didn’t work and get DM a nice double up.

A few hands later, still reeling, I called DM’s $6 straddle with Ace-10 of spades.  Another player made it $20, DM just called so I did as well.  The flop had two spades.  Preflop raiser led out for $25.  DM bumped it to $75.  I have to admit that the mood I was in, I wanted to just shove my stack in there and hope for the best.  And you know, I might have done that but I didn’t want the preflop raiser to fold.  I figured DM would have called but I wanted the preflop raiser in so if I did catch my flush, I’d get more money.  So I just called.  I guess you could say I was on tilt.

But the preflop raiser thought for a bit and folded. The turn was the most beautiful Queen of Spades I’d ever seen.  Also beautiful?  The sound of DM’s voice saying “all-in.”  I snap-called.  The river was a harmless red card.  I didn’t wait for him to show though I should have, I just knew I was getting a good chunk of my money back so I showed my nut flush.  He said nice hand, claimed to have two pair, but didn’t show.

Up to around $440, I wish I could end this post there.  But no, there’s a couple of more bad hands to report.  I raised to $20 with pocket Queens and another player made it $60.  He had three-bet exactly one other time and showed Aces then.  I recalled one hand where he bluffed on the river but I had to assume he had a big pair.  I think I might have folded pre but DM called the $60 and announced, “I apologize in advance for the bad beat I’m going to give you.”  Ok, I figured I should call pretty much with the thought of set-mining only. 

The flop was Jack-high.  We both checked to the three-bettor.  He tanked for awhile and then shoved—about $180 it looked like.  DM folded and so did I.  Honestly, the smallest hand I could see him three-betting with was pocket Jacks, and I didn’t like my Queens against a set of them.  Ace-King seemed like a remote possibility.  So I ditched the ladies.  The guy kindly showed his hand…two Aces.   He looked at me and asked, “What did you fold?  Queens?”  I didn’t say anything, but I kind of laughed involuntarily.  He said, “Wow, if you threw away Queens you’re a really good player.”  I wanted to respond, “Did you see how I played Ace-King back there, sir?”

I called DM’s $25 open with Ace-King of hearts (no way I was three-betting that hand again, not on this day).  Four of us saw the flop, which was Queen-Jack-9, one heart.  After a check, the guy in front of DM donked out $25.  DM called, I called, the next guy called and the guy who had initially checked made it $75.  Now it was too pricy to chase my gutshot and my back door flush so I folded after DM did.  The other guy called.  Turned out the check-raiser had a set of Jacks and the other guy had a straight draw which hit when the river was an 8.  He had 10-something but didn’t catch his straight until the river.

DM busted out to someone else and didn’t rebuy this time.  There didn’t seem to be a likelihood of winning much as the table was now short-handed.  I called it a day with a mighty $10 profit. 

Could have had a nice day if I hadn’t screwed up that Ace-King hand so badly.  Please someone, tell me how to play that.  Thanks.


  1. Ummm, if he had QJ on Q-Q-T board, then you only could catch running A-A or K-K. The J gives him a boat. Which is all the more reason to be careful on paired boards which give you a draw.

    1. Oops, thanks for pointing that out... Obviously that escaped me but yeah, I was in worse shape than I thought.

    2. Running Aces or Kings, huh? So you're saying there's a chance.....:)

      Put a little edit in the post and credited you for being the first to point it out.

  2. I see you made good on your Twitter threat, and removed the boobies.

    1. Haha.

      Believe me sir, I TRIED to find some appropriate boobies for this post. The cute girl holding up Ace-King was the best I could do, and unfortunately she wasn't showing any cleavage.

      I couldn't think of any other theme the post had that I could find boobage for, so it was either that pic or just some random, totally gratuitous shot of boobies, and you know I would never do that.

      Pretty sure that boobies will return in the next post.

    2. I'm definitely not an expert on playing AK, but I personally like your preflop play in the hand considering the villain and your description of his play. His check on the Q-Q-10 board seems awfully suspicious to me though. I likely would have checked behind and then waited to see what line he took on the turn. He doesn't seem especially tricky as described, just splashy. I'm betting he would be dying to get value for his trips and would have made a big bet on the turn that you could get away from for a minimal loss.

    3. Thanks Jeff.

      Well, I don't know if is check is that suspicious....I was the preflop 3-bettor so I would have expected him to check whether he had a hand or air. And as I said, I thought back to the time he folded AK (he claiimed) to my aggression with the QQ. I thought he'd fold his air if I bet. But unfortunately he didn't have air.

      What really scares me is the thought that he might have bet the turn if I'd checked back and then I might have been tempted to call, putting him on a bluff. :)

  3. IMO...don't 3 bet pre and check back the turn.......He is the maniac....let him have that role.....he got an ideal flop and you missed...If you don't 3b pre...check back flop and miss the turn you can dump it for a minimum loss when bet into on the turn.....At this level most ppl are playing fit fold or trap in mt experience....and he was the trapper here...and it worked to perfection...he had you drawing to runner runner and putting so much in the [pt upi were forced to call the rest. Just wait for a favorable flop and let hime donk it off to you...(like he did on the nut flush hand)

    If it were higher limits and thinking players...I may play it differently...but in a standard 2-3 game...he has air or is trapping with is flop check IMO

    1. Thanks, Bill, I'm a little unclear on your line here. You wouldn't have 3 bet pre and then checked the flop. But are you also saying that you wouldn't have 3-bet in the first place? I guess so.

      If I had just called him pre, my guess he would have led out on the flop, possible a smallish bet like he did when he flop quads. At that point, it would have been an easy fold.

      So I'm trying to play a bit less nitty and I sure picked the wrong hand to do it with. ?

  4. Always difficult to play a maniac that does not seem to care about $. it's painful when a maniac have the flop goes his/her way. AK, i'd not 3bet preFlop unless i'm aiming to isolate the maniac. Once isolated, after the flop any play will be determine upon how you read the maniac.

    1. Yeah, I think I forgot that the best thing to do with a maniac is let him bet and call (if appropriate).

      Thanks, Dan.

    2. I avoid three betting Ace King because if you miss the flop you will feel the need to bet the flop because you three bet pre flop and if he calls your in a bad situation with just Ace high.

      Playing against a manic I would just call his raise with AK pre flop and fold flop if I miss. But if I hit and I have position on him I will let him do the betting for me and call him down or if he stops betting then I would bet.

    3. Thanks, Nappy, I hear so much conflicting strategy regarding AK, but I think I can fairly confident I played it wrong this time.