Pocket deuces vs. Ace King: What’s the better hand, and why?


I can often hear newer players on poker tables having a heated discussion between Ace-King and pocket deuces. Some claim Ace-King(AK) is better while others prefer pocket deuces (22). The answer might be unclear to newer players, but every serious player will know the answer.

Pocket deuces are a 52% vs 48% favorite to win against Ace King and are therefore a small favorite preflop. But we should also consider playability and which hand makes you more money. Ace King plays better postflop and is a greatly more profitable hand than pocket deuces and therefore a better hand.

You see, my winrate with AK is far greater than with 22. That might be surprising at first glance as 22 has a 52% chance to win against AK. But there is more than just raw equity of the hand (chance to win preflop). Poker is commonly played postflop and not just preflop by putting all the chips in the middle.

If you don’t hit strongly with 22, then often you just need to fold as if you don’t hit trips then always you will be faced with a hard decision. All the time there will be 3 overcards already on the flop. Your chances to hit trips on later streets are very slim also (roughly 10% of the time from flop by the river). While on the other hand if you are holding AK in your hand if you hit a pair it will always be top pair (either A or K on board). Even if you miss the flop you can improve to top pair on later streets. That way it is easier to put pressure on the opponent on the flop.

It’s definitely my fault I lost playing pocket deuces. I wasn’t such a good poker player at the beginning of my career. But compare this to my winrate with AK where graph goes up at a very consistent pace. Playing pocket deuces is a lot more swingy as usually you will win rarely and that will be a big pot once you hit a set. Compared to AK that can play back on many flops, and picks up many smaller pots with a good combination of middle and big pots in between.

Pocket deuces against random hands: 

Our handEquity vs
random hand
vs (76s, 89s, JTs)vs any pocket
pair (22+)
vs
broadway
2250%46.5%18.8%45%

22 is a flip (50 vs 50) against a random hand. It is a slight underdog against suited connectors as well as a slight underdog against broadway hands (combinations of Ten and higher). In a scenario where our opponent holds a pocket pair himself, we are a big underdog (unlikely to win the hand). Our odds to win are now only 19%. And that is just for preflop equity. Not to mention 22 does even worse when we need to play postflop. 

A common scenario that occurs is that opponent bets on the flop and we only have the lowest pair with very slim chances to improve. The correct play is to fold. If we call in hopes to hit our trips on turn and river we are bleeding the chips away.

Pocket deuces do well once we hit trips. We are likely to win the pot (chips in the middle). And this single case is what makes 22 and other low pairs playable and profitable. Although not as profitable as AK, it is still a good enough hand to play. 

Our strategy with 22 is very simple. We play it to hit the set (three of a kind). Don’t invest a lot of money with it preflop. It is okay to call a single raise. You can expect to hit a set every 1 out of 8 times. Accompanied by the knowledge that we don’t get all of the opponent’s money every time, the real odds you should look at are around 1 to 15 or even 1 to 20. So if you are investing less than five to seven percent of your whole stack preflop, then you should call a raise preflop with pocket deuces. If you miss the flop simply give up. Those times that you hit have a solid gameplan on how to extract the max value out of the opponent.

Ace King against random hands:

Our handEquity vs
random hand
vs (76s, 89s, JTs)vs any pocket
pair (22+)
vs
broadway
AK65.75%60%43.5%63%

AKo and AKs are a big favorite over a random hand, unlike 22. 65% to win the hand. Moreover, AK is also a favorite against suited connectors (JTs, 89s, etc). With 60% of equity preflop. The same goes for broadway hands. 

While AKo is doing good already on its own, AKs does even better. We can hit a flush by 3 cards of the same suit on the board and 2 in our hand. It will be a nut flush and making it really hard for our opponent to fold lower flush.
It is true that AK is merely a flip or a slight underdog (48% to win) against 22 if hands would be to go all in. But when it comes to postflop playability, AK is the dominant hand. There are many flops that are good for us. We can put a lot of pressure preflop already by 3betting and dominating postflop on hitting the top pair with the best kicker. AQ, AJ, AT will not be willing to fold quickly when they hit A on the flop. The same goes for KQ, KJ, KT. This makes AK a real money printing hand. 

Our goal with 22 is to win a big pot here and there and give up often when we miss the flop. For AK our strategy is different. We are not letting it go often on the flop as we have ok chance to hit top pair by the river. And on hitting top pair we can put in some value bets and only give up if we get reraised. At that point, we are likely beaten by a better hand. But until we are shown the strength of the opponent we can extract value by betting. I will go deeper into the strategy with AK in a bigger article, as there is a lot of strategy behind it. For now, just remember that if played correctly Ak should by far outperform 22 in terms of profit made.

Ace King and pocket deuces against more opponents

With pocket deuces

Our strategy with 22 against more opponents isn’t any different than against a single opponent. We still play it straightforward, giving up on flops when we don’t hit a set. Preflop we actually get better chance for a call, if we are late to act (ob the button, small blind and big blind). Better odds to call are due to more people calling a raise and therefore having more money in the middle on the flop. You still hit a set one out of 8 times on the flop. But now you need a little less than 1 to 15 to call preflop. Now it is not necessary you win a lot of money from anyone. There are already more chips in the middle due to more people calling preflop.

With Ace King

With AK we need to be slightly more careful. More people are on the flop, more likely it is, someone has hit good on the flop. We can’t put a lot of pressure now on the flop if we didn’t hit anything. Bluffing against multiple opponents is a sure way to burn our money. AK will still be profitable in multiway pots. But we would prefer playing against a single opponent. In the case when we hit top pair our opponent will know that now it is more likely someone else has hit well too. Therefore opponents will be less willing to continue with a top pair and mid-high kicker. One exception here is AKs, which still plays great multiway. Once we hit a flush, it will be more likely that one of the opponents has a flush too.
In a nutshell, the scenario I described above and equity advantage of the hand, are two of the reasons why is it better to 3bet AK preflop than playing it multiway.

Summary

22 has a slight equity advantage (52%). But compared to just AKs, it is a pure flip (50% vs 50%). I shoved you what AK lacks in equity advantage it makes up for in playability postflop. Both AK and 22 are profitable hands to play. Our strategy with those two hands varies greatly. For me, better hand is the one that makes me more profit and AK is a clear winner here.

Primoz

I have played poker professionally for more than 10 years. I was a winner at every poker format that I played - from tournaments to cash games, both in NL Holdem and PLO. Now my biggest satisfaction is to provide enthusiastic but new poker players with answers to all of their questions.

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