Playing KK and AA in Tournament Play

KK and AA are the holy grail of poker hands, whether you are
in a tournament, sit n go, cash game, or anything else. Usually
they are going to play themselves, but this certainly doesn’t
mean that they are void of actual strategy. Have you ever heard
players who complain about how much they always lose with aces
and kings? I am sure you have, and I know I definitely have.

It’s usually the case that these complainers happen to be the
worst players at any table. This is no coincidence, and their
losses likely coincide with their sub-par play. Maximizing value
with KK and AA is undoubtedly important, but so is knowing when
to back down. Even when you have the nuts pre-flop, you could
very well be in second place when it comes time to flip your
cards face up.

Tournaments are a particular tough environment in which to
play aces and kings because of their win big/lose big
characteristics. If you get one of these hands early on in a
tournament, you aren’t very likely to stack one of your
opponents unless you are able to cool them. As you progress
into the later stages of the event, however, your chances of
winning a big pot all in pre-flop are greatly increased. This is
the most obviously strong pre-flop shove hand, and also the most
agonizing hand in which to fold post-flop. In this article we
are going to analyze KK and AA as they transform from one stage
of tournaments to the next.

KK and AA in Early Levels

Levels are the easiest metric in which to discuss topical
tournament strategy, but they still need to be prefaced with
some guidelines. For the sake of this article, assume that the
level stage correlates with average stack size. You could easily
be short stacked in the early stages and
deep stacked in the late stages, but usually it will be the
other way around. Every hand is going to be situational so this
should only be used as a broad overview of optimal strategy and
likely scenarios.

In the early levels of tournaments, you are usually going to
have several hundred big blinds in which to work with. Because
of this, you are very unlikely to get all of the money in
pre-flop. Let’s say that the blinds start at 5/10 and you have
5,000 chips, which would equate to 500 big blinds. Now, if you
have KK or AA and make an open raise to 30, a re-raise would
still compromise around 2% of your chips at most. If you 4-bet,
you’ll either get a call or a fold, and the pot still won’t be
massive. The point is that pre-flop play will only matter so
much in these levels due to the amount of chips that everyone
still has.

Post-flop play is going to call for a fast and aggressive
approach. There are very few flops that wouldn’t call for a
continuation bet with KK or AA. The ongoing problem with playing
post-flop is that you are likely to make your hand very obvious.
What other hands 4 or 5 bet pre-flop and then fire the flop hard? If you are able to get
flat calls from your opponents, you’ll be in the most ideal
situation. If you are facing re-raises, you better consider
shutting down. This early in an event, it would take an awful
strong hand for a player to re-raise a flop bet after calling a
re-raise pre-flop. KK and AA most definitely have less
value early in a tournament than they do later on.

KK and AA in Middle Levels

In the middle levels of tournaments, KK and AA are more apt
to be all in pre-flop or to win a big pot post-flop. Stack sizes
are condensed in a way that players are going to stack off
lighter than they would have before. You should still be playing
your hand the same way pre-flop as fancy plays are going to be
difficult to capitalize on in the majority of situations. The
blinds are going to be more significant to the point where even
taking down raised pre-flop pots could mean a solid boost to
your overall stack.

Post-flop strategy in the middle levels of tournaments will
call for a lot more all in type pots than you would have found
earlier. Players are opening up their ranges, and they have less
relative chips to work with. Where a pre-flop re-raise and a
flop bet that faced resistance would be cause for major concern
in the early levels, it’s now an open invitation for a shove.

KK and AA in Late Levels

In the late levels there won’t be a need for very much
strategy at all. Beyond some limp/shoves, you aren’t going to need to think very far
beyond going all in. As you play into the deeper levels of play
once you are already in the money, you may even have the chance
to simply go all in pre-flop. And, as an added bonus, you are
more likely to get paid off than ever before. If you are unable
to come out a winner at this stage in the game with kings or
aces, there isn’t much you can do about it. Unless you were
playing very passively and let your opponent beat you, the cards
are usually going to determine your fate much more than you will
be able to.

The biggest skill element with KK and AA in late blind levels
is found in a player’s ability to sucker in their opponents.
These skills are put on display when a player makes a small
raise to induce a shove, limps to induce a raise, and so on and
so forth. These are definitely moves that fall into a category
of strategy that would be defined as advanced, however, and they aren’t at all a requirement. As you gain more experience with deep
runs in tournaments, you are inevitably going to pick up on
these subtle nuances that enable you to win big pots that you
might have otherwise missed out on.