Playing Pocket Kings in Hold 'em
Well, I've got a confession to make guys. I limped into a pot with pocket Kings in early position last night. I know, I know, it goes against everything I preach. But before you jump down my throat (which would be fine with me if you really wanted to), let me walk you through the conditions at the table.
I was on my waterproof wireless-internet enabled notebook and I was geared up and ready to go for a great night of poker. I had a bag of seaweed chips in one fin, and my mouse in the other. I sat in on a no-limit ring game at one of the looser online poker rooms. Unfortunately, I wasn't hitting any cards at all and the table was playing really recklessly. Pretty much every hand was raised preflop, so I couldn't even play suited connectors or baby pocket pairs. About 2 or 3 rounds later, I looked up at my screen to find a real monster. I had been dealt a pair of red Kings. "Alright," I exclaimed to myself, "it's hammer time!"
Since every hand was being raised, I decided to try and trap my opponents. I was in third position, and I assumed that I would be able to make a reraise and put most of my money in preflop. I like to severely limit the number of my opponents with pocket Kings, so this works well for me. I just flat called, trying to set up my opponents. So, of course, what happened for the first time in 20 hands? No one raised the pot. Four other opponents behind me decided to see a cheap flop and call the minimum bet. I knew that the value of premium hands dropped severely as the number of opponents increased, so I was nervous. I still knew that I had a good shot at winning a monster pot, however.
The flop showed down 6-J-3 of mixed suits. I'm feeling quite confident about my hand at this point and I wanted to make up for not raising preflop, so I led out and bet a little more than the size of the pot. This is a good bet to make in no-limit games, as you discourage draws by making them play against the odds, and you still get good value for your bet if anyone calls you. The next two players folded, and the third opponent thought and thought and thought before he finally doubled my raise. The last player folded, and I thought, "Great, I let the idiot in with J-6." He could also be overvaluing a hand like Q-J or K-J, however. I finally put him on for top pair and raised him all-in. We both had about the same amount of chips, and he quickly called me. It was a poker site where you got to see everyone's hole cards if it was an all-in situation without further action, and he turned over J-2!!! I'm extremely relieved and pop a few more seaweed chips in my mouth. The turn fell with an 8, and I'm just waiting to rake in the pot until the river showed a fateful 2. I never knew that bags of seaweed chips could fly that far.
Poker Strategy for Pocket Kings
The lesson of this story isn't to teach you that online poker players are idiots. That's something you already know. I recount my tale to help you learn from my mistakes. While it is a viable play to try and trap your opponents with a big hand in a game with lots of raises, I should have known better. If there were so many raises, why didn't I raise my Kings and let them reraise me so I could get all-in? That's what I should have done. Pocket Kings, and pocket Aces for that matter, are a cinch hand preflop but are also extremely vulnerable to your opponents' holdings. As I mentioned earlier, your chances of winning in a showdown holding a big pocket pair go way down as more opponents get in. What I should have done, and what I want you to do, is limit the field when you're holding pocket Kings. Make it easier for yourself on the flop. Sure, trash hands might still call your raise and outflop you, but you'll be cutting the chances of that way down.
When you make a big raise from early position preflop, you should know that you'll usually be running into two types of hands that will call you: other pocket pairs, and big face cards. A lot of people will call a good-sized raise with A-Q or A-J, and they'd certainly be correct to do so with A-K. All of these hands make you very vulnerable to an Ace hitting on the flop. You're going to have to make a judgment call and probably end up betting a smaller exploratory bet on the flop if an Ace comes, which it invariably will when you're holding Kings. Keep betting even when the Ace doesn't come because you don't want these hands drawing and hitting one on the turn. When you raise Kings from late position, you can try to make a sizeable semi-bluff if your opponent(s) check to you on the flop with an Ace showing. If they called with A-J or A-Q, you might convince them that you're holding the A-K. Don't try this when they have position on you. The point is that you're going to have to play very cautiously when an Ace comes on the flop, as one of your opponents is likely to have made top pair.
If one or more of your opponents is holding another pocket pair, you can either make a killing or go broke depending on how the flop comes. A fellow hammerhead friend of mine recently raised to $15 with K-K in a $1-2 NL game from early position. Another player from late position called the bet with 9-9. The flop came with a 9 and he busted my buddy. Players, especially online players, will call these bets with marginal pairs hoping to flop a set. Sometimes they will, and you'll have a tough decision to make. If you go broke against pocket deuces that hit a set on the flop, you can't beat yourself up. It's going to happen, and you have to cough it up to bad luck. The other side of the coin is when your opponent thinks he has you beat with Q-Q and either makes a big raise preflop or on the flop. If you can dodge another Queen, you'll pick up a huge pot. You'll also occasionally run into pocket Aces when you have Kings. There's not much you can do when that happens, and you're going to lose some money. You can't play afraid of pocket Aces.
Learn from my mistake and resolve to always play your pocket Kings with strength. Even if you're sure that your opponents will raise behind you, if you have the online luck that the Hammerhead does, this will be the one time that they don't raise. Raise them hard preflop, and continuing playing it fast on the flop. Occasionally, you're going to be beaten on the flop, and you'll have to analyze the flop texture and your opponent's betting patterns to make an informed decision. Don't forget, you want the crazies to play the way they do, just not when they river you with J-2. It was offsuit, too!
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