Playing Pocket Kings
The second best hand you can be dealt in Texas Hold’em is two kings. But pocket cowboys can also be a scary proposition that can cost you a lot of money when they don’t hold up. The trick to playing kings, or any big pocket pair for that matter, is to not fall in love with them.
In No Limit Hold’em, it’s almost never correct to throw away pocket kings before the flop. Yes, there are rare situations where that could be the right play, but I’ve been playing Hold’em for 15 years and only did it once. When I did, my opponent had pocket queens.
When you’re dealt kings you’re going to play them; the only question is how. The standard answer is to simply bet them as you would any other strong hand — come in for a moderate raise, say, three times the size of the big blind. Just don’t do anything that might raise suspicions.
Some believe you should make a larger raise to protect the hand. However, if you raise too much you’ll knock out all of your opponents and end up with just the blinds and the antes. That’s not terrible, mind you, but hands like A-A or K-K don’t come along very often; it’s important to maximize your profit when they do. So raise, or even re-raise, but don’t make a play that your opponents may see as peculiar.
Okay, let’s say you’re heading to the flop. There’s only one card that you’d absolutely hate to see and that’s the ace – unless, of course, there’s a king sitting right next to it!
Sure enough, there’s the ace.
That doesn’t mean you should immediately abort mission. Your opponent may not have the ace, which means your kings are still ahead. How you should proceed depends on several factors: position, texture of the board, and your stack size.
Position – If you’re out of position, it’s usually best to check the kings and wait to see if your opponent bets the ace. If he does, you’ll have to delve into your memory bank and ask yourself if your opponent is much of a bluffer. Unless you feel very strongly that he’s lying, dump the kings right at the flop.
On the other hand, if you have position, your opponent will likely check to you. In that case, you have two options: bet now and hope he folds, or check behind him protecting yourself from a possible check-raise.
When to bet and when to check is a function of the texture of the board.
Texture of the Board – If the flop comes A-6-6, A-A-7, or A-7-2, feel free to check your kings. If your kings are indeed the best hand after the flop, they’ll likely be the best hand by the river too. If you check it down to the river, you protect yourself from being bluffed. At the same time, you might even induce your opponent to attempt a bluff.
However, if the texture of the board is Ah-8s-9h, then you can take one stab at the flop to protect yourself against a drawing hand. If you’re raised, though, you’re pretty much forced to fold your kings. Why? Well, if you’re behind, only two cards remain in the deck that can save you.
Stack Size – If you’re in a poker tournament and are low on chips at the flop, go all-in with your pocket kings. If someone has an ace, that’s just bad luck; there’s not much you can do about that.
If, however, you’re sitting on a big stack, proceed cautiously and dump the hand if the action gets heated.
I get tons of e-mail from people who tell me about their bad luck with pocket kings. While it’s obviously unlucky to lose with cowboys, it’s apparent to me that many of these players got married to the hand and lost more than they should have.
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