A Detailed Guide on Playing Pocket Kings the Right Way

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A Detailed Guide on Playing Pocket Kings the Right Way

“Wow, it is my lucky day” – this is the thought you are most likely to get when you receive a good pair of cards as your starting hand in poker, isn’t it? Why? Well, because pocket kings are easily the second-best starting hand, you can get in Texas Hold’em poker or other poker game variants. They are only behind pocket aces and the probability of an opponent getting pocket aces at the same time when you get pocket kings is quite rare. But there is a greater probability of an opponent forming a better pair at a later stage. If you don’t play them well, you might waste the opportunity without even realizing and even loss some chips in the process. So, if you get a pair of kings, it is very important for you to utilize the advantage as much as possible.

You need to play the right way under different situations and extract maximum value – this will help you to maximize your winnings in the long run. You need to consider both the angles – the positive angle which tells you that the advantage of this pair of kings should not be lost and you need to make the most of it by going ahead with aggressive betting, whereas the negative angle which tells you that you cannot always win with a starting hand that has two kings as once the game proceeds to the later stages (post flop) like the river and the turn, there are higher chances of someone else forming a set against your single pair. You need to maintain a balanced approach between these two angles – and carve out a strategy to play positively as well as cautiously with your pair of kings. 

Remember, we are talking about playing with a pair of kings a certain way pre-flop, and a specific way after the flop. All of this will depend on how your opponents are reacting to your play. And this method of playing pocket pairs like kings should be a part of your overall poker strategy. These are big pre-flop hands that have the capability to provide you with great long-term gains amongst all the starting hands possible in Texas Hold’em.

Let us study the best ways in which you can play the set of cards under different scenarios, to give you the best chance of winning as well as ensuring you fold up to avoid losing money!

Pocket Kings Overview

There are certain nicknames by which people call certain cards in a card deck. For example, a ‘2’ card is also known as ‘deuce’, while a ‘3’ card is also called as ‘trey’. Similarly, a ‘King’ card is sometimes called as a ‘cowboy’. This practice of using nicknames is passed onto the world of poker, where you are likely to hear a lot of people refer to a pair of ‘King’ cards as ‘Cowboys’.

Wait! This is not the only nickname by which they are known as. You would observe few poker players referring to them as the namesake ‘King Kong’ as well as ‘Ace Magnets’. While ‘King Kong’ is understandable, the nickname ‘Ace Magnets’ is because of how frequently these cards tend to draw an ace to the flop after a player gets dealt. When pocket kings are dealt as starting hands, you carry a significant advantage, especially at the pre-flop stage. In terms of equities, pair of kings come with equity of minimum 70% during pre-flop, which is quite high. The only exception is when they are up against pocket aces, which is a very rare scenario (having a pair of kings and a pair of aces at the pre-flop stage)!One thing is sure, if you have the pair of kings as your starting hand at pre-flop stage, you are either going to aim to get all money before the flop, or take the game deep (if certain opponents are determined to see the flop) to the post flop stages.

However, the initial advantage changes significantly (along with the equity) at the post flop stages, depending on how coordinated the overall board is and on the hand range of your opponents. You need to be absolutely wary about when you have to ‘check’, ‘bet’, or ‘fold’ – in order to maximize your winnings when you are leading or minimize your losses when you are behind. So, how to play pocket king? Let us find the answer in this article.

Basic Strategy for Playing Pocket Kings

As mentioned earlier, the way to play pair of kings will differ at the pre-flop stage and at the post flop stage. While we shall deep dive into the exact ways to play cowboys at each of these stages later, there is a general rule that suits for them. This basic strategy rule for playing pocket kings is as under:

  • To raise as well as re-raise pair of kings during pre-flop.
  • Continue to play the cowboys aggressively at the post flop stage as well.
  • Get a lot of your chips into the pot.

This is a simple breakdown of how you need to approach playing pair of kings in poker. Your strategy should be to play them profitably.

You do not want to lose the advantage of having a pair of kings at the pre-flop stage, especially at lower stakes. So, how to play pocket king?

Just go ahead and raise if you are in early position – don’t think twice before doing so or don’t think of other options like limping. If some other player has already raised before you, you need to go ahead with re-raise. Why is it so? Remember you are quite likely to come across bad poker players who will call on a wide range of hands. Also, there will be some tight players who are less likely to fold even under the 3bet scenario.

There may be exceptions to this strategy of raising and re-raising – especially when you have a known opponent (player against whom you have played quite a lot), and you may want to mix it up a bit (perhaps go limp first) to keep him / her guessing.

How to Play Pocket Kings Preflop?

We have been emphasizing on betting or raising pre-flop when you get a pair of kings as your starting hands. This is because your approach might change as soon as you see an ace at the flop – and trust us, there is a decent chance of an ace coming up on any flop. And if you happen to see an ace on the board, you know that an opponent can easily pair it with his / her hole card (which could be an ace), thereby making a pair of aces, and beating you.

Importance of going for ‘Bet’ or ‘Raise’ Preflop with Pocket Kings

So, every time you see an ace on the table, you might start getting afraid about your pocket kings losing out to the only higher pair possible. This will stop you from betting heavily. Hence, it is quite critical that you do not shy away from going for a ‘bet’ or a ‘raise’ with your cowboys during pre-flop. Your aim should be to get rid of as many opponents as possible at this stage, so that you do not have a scenario of multi-way pot at the flop, with too many opponents. At the flop, you do not want to be playing against more than two opponents.

While doing this ‘bet’ or ‘raise’, you want to do it for an amount that is high enough to make all the weak hands fold, and just enough to identify any player who calls your bet possibly because he/she is holding at least an ace.

This will allow you to put your opponent on a hand as well as provide yourself with an opportunity to ‘fold’ in case you see signals of strength when an ace is on the board. All in all, you do not go slow with your pocket kings at the pre-flop stage. Raise with this hand (from the first position) or re-raise (3bets) or squeeze as much as possible if someone has already gone for a ‘raise’.

To Limp or Not to Limp

Your pre-flop strategy for a pair of kings should be quite balanced, where you eliminate the option to ‘limp’ under most scenarios. To give you the advantage when you have pocket kings and you need to adopt the 3bet strategy, you need to expand your hand's range for which you do 3bet otherwise.

However, there are a couple of exceptions when you can consider the option to limp even with pocket kings:

When you have fewer chips in your stack, and you wish to preserve them for betting later. This is assuming that there are certain aggressive players on your left who are likely to attack your ‘limp’ move.

The other scenario would be where even though you have lot of chips in your stack, but the table where you are playing is full of passive players who love to see ‘flops’, and the opponent on your immediate left is a highly aggressive player who is likely to attack your ‘limp’ freely.

You may ask why is limping necessary under this situation? Well, just consider that you ‘raise’ instead of going ‘limp’. Then, because you are surrounded by players who are determined on going to the flop, most of them are likely to ‘call’ your bet. This will give rise to a multi-way pot situation at the post flop stage – something that you do not want as it nullifies your advantage of having a high pair as starting hand.

Now, instead if you ‘limp’, the immediate left aggressive player will raise, and everyone else will ‘call’. With enough money in the pot, you would be justified in going for ‘all-in’ and giving yourself the chance to pick up the dead money.

Going ‘All-in’ Preflop with Pocket Kings

There is hardly any poker strategy where you can say ‘do this always’. Well, going ‘all-in’ with pocket kings pre-flop, especially when the effective stacks are around 100 bb (big blind) is one such rare strategy which you could blindly adopt almost at all times. Why? Because the possibility of your opponent having a pair of aces to beat you is very rare. If it happens, you say ‘bad luck’ and move on – but, you can be rest assured that it would be a rare occurrence.

In fact, the odds of you getting pair of kings and someone else getting pocket aces pre-flop at a full ring poker table or even at a 6-max table is quite less (less than 5%). And you will have many poker players going ‘all-in’ with much lower hands – KK is the second-best hand in Hold’em. So, you are likely to beat all other all-ins.

But, you cannot go ‘all-in’ when you get kings post flop. At that point in time, the entire table dynamics changes, and so does your equity. Your chances of winning diminish as compared to when you have kings pre-flop.

How does pocket kings stand against other hands pre-flop?

Ideal way to play pocket kings pre-flop is to go all-in and wait for things to unfold as cards are dealt at later stages. In this regards, let us see how pocket kings stands against other hands during pre-flop below:

  • Pocket Kings Vs Aces (KK vs AA)

The is the classic poker hand matchup – pocket aces vs pocket kings. It is also one of the most common coolers in the poker game. Obviously, you would see all the chips (money) go into the pot at the pre-flop stage. If the play does move to post flop stage (where you come across the later streets like turn and the river), it almost certainly happens with a 3bet or a 4brt pot, in which the post flop SPR is very low.   As far as equities at pre-flop stage for this matchup are concerned, the pocket aces have 82% equity (winning 82% of the time), and the kings pair have equity of 18%.

  • KK vs AK

The pre-flop equities for this matchup stand at about 69% equity for pair of kings and 31% equity for Ace-King. Clearly, KK has the greater chance of winning on most occasions and there is no surprise to it. After all, KK blocks out almost 50% of the combos of AK, even though 8 AK combos still remain available. Again, in this matchup, you can expect all the money to flow into the middle prior to the flop.

  • KK vs AQ

For this pre-flop matchup, the KK equity increases slightly to about 71% (as compared to the KK vs AK scenario), while the AQ equity is about 29%. In cash games, where comparatively shorter stacks are involved (less number of chips), the possibility of ‘all-in’ is less as compared to tournaments, where this possibility of ‘all-in’ increases.

  • KK vs AJ

You might see this all-in matchup in poker tournaments, but it is highly unlikely to be seen in cash games. The poker equity for KK is the same in this matchup as it is in the KK vs AQ matchup, i.e., 71%.

When should you fold pocket kings pre-flop?

Folding pocket kings pre-flop is an option that you just cannot think of, except when you are 100% sure that one of the other players has a pair of aces (or perhaps a range of KK+) with him / her. You need to think of wider ranges for poker players, except for the 6-max games (short-handed poker).

Against a range of hands be it QQ+, KK+/AK, JJ+/AK, TT+/AK, the equity of your pair of kings is quite high. So, it makes sense to not fold pocket king hand unless there is confirmation of someone holding pocket aces.

How to Play Pocket Kings Post Flop?

Having discussed the strategy to use for playing pair of kings effectively at the pre-flop stage, let us now move towards the difficult part – playing them the right way at the post flop stage. The basic strategy still remains the same – to bet and re-raise with these cowboys for the majority of the time.

With a high value hand like KK, you still would do well to use an aggressive approach post flop. What this does is it builds your aggressive poker table image and make sure you get the action most of the time whenever you want it (especially useful when you have high value hands like a pair of kings).

This approach will give you an advantage over the following types of players:

  • Those who are liberal in terms of opting for ‘call’ with any average hand (any pair or draw). Such players may go liberal initially, but once they observe you arrive at the later streets like the turn or the river, they would automatically look to protect their stack if they don’t have a good hand.
  • Those who are low stakes online players or even low stakes LIVE poker players.
  • Those who are decent regular players who have the fold button.

This is easier said than done. Because of the various possibilities that can happen at the flop, let us divide the post flop approach into two scenarios: when the flop does not show an ace, and when the flop does show an ace.

Strategy for ‘No Ace’ at the Flop

You don’t want to see an ace at the flop and witness some opponent form a pair of aces to take away your chances of winning with a pair of kings. Say you fail to form any set and just have that pair of kings, you cannot afford to go slow post flop. You have to go aggressive by betting and raising in an attempt to get maximum money into the pot, especially from players who find it hard to fold a good pair of hands. While doing so, you need to ensure that the other active players do not get the right pot odds to target post any straight or flush draws.

You cannot let off even if the flop doesn’t provide any obvious draws to the opponents – you do not want to give them opportunities to form two pair or even better. In any case, the passive play won’t fetch you a big pot, and aggressive play will help you to keep the weak hands away and get the real hands into play much earlier at the post flop streets.

Strategy When ‘Ace’ Shows at the Flop

As soon as you see an ace at the flop, the first thought that would come to your mind is what if one of the other players already holds an ace? Well, if the opponent does hold an ace, you lose out for sure. So, the logical thing you need to do is to find out whether the opponent indeed holds an ace or not. For this purpose, you can go ahead with your bets in such a manner which shall provide you some hints and details on the basis of the action that the opponent takes. There is no set pattern here, and you will have to use your understanding and knowledge of your opponent to come up with your own plays.

For example, a continuation bet would be a good starting point. If the opponent calls your bet, you can then figure out the situation and decide if you need to trigger the bet once more at the turn street. A lot will depend on your understanding of the opponent’s tendencies at this stage. Of course, you will not wish to bet a lot of chips till you are sure that the opponent doesn’t have an ace. At the same time, you may have to bet enough to check initially on how the opponent is reacting.

When is ‘Folding’ a Good Option Post Flop?

When you get the pocket kings, do not forget your bigger goal which is to win the pot. And KK is just one pair which may or may not give you the pot. You need to form a good set to beat any opponent who might last till the river and till the final showdown. Remember that while pair of kings come with very high equity initially, this equity drops as you move to the later streets. The whole idea behind making the correct decision on whether ‘to fold’ or ‘not to fold’ is about maximizing your winnings and minimizing your losses in that game of poker.

You have to understand the signs by how the opponent is playing – and this will give you the idea on how you should make your next move. You should not forget that there is an option of ‘fold’ which can be used at any stage to minimize your losses. Just because it is KK, you should not blindly keep on betting / raising till the last street. Keep a track of the hand ranges of the opponent and accordingly take your decisions at every street.

Keep looking for those signs that indicate that your cowboys are already beaten, and that’s when you have to go ahead and ‘fold’. Some common hints that you can wait for are:

  • When an extremely tight player (who never plays unless he/she has a big hand) starts betting/raising against you to compete for the pot on the turn or the river, you might fear this player already has a very good hand.
  • When you have a wet as well as a heavily coordinated board, the possible combinations or draws it can give rise to can scare you off. For example, when you have a combination like 7(hearts) 8(hearts) 9(spade) on the flop, you know there are so many pairs and draws hidden in there.

There are a lot of things that influence whether you need to fold at the post flop stage or not. Some of these considerations are as below:

  • Check how many players are there in the hand • Keep track of the tendencies of the players who are left in the hand
  • Carefully observe the combinations of hands and range that your opponents may have, depending on their playing tendencies as well as position on the table
  • Keep a close watch on the possibility of the opponents playing with weak hands, bluffs or semi bluffs.
  • Texture of the board and how it relates to the hand range of your opponents as well as yours.

Importance of Appropriate Sizing of Bets with Pocket Kings

While we have been talking about putting your bets or raises while playing with cowboys, it is very important to understand the nuances behind appropriately sizing your bets. You want to size those bets such that you weed out the weak hand players after getting some money into the pot from them, and such that you do not get exploited by the good players by clearly identifying any really strong hands in play against your KK.

For example, you should size up your bets significantly on wet boards once you decide to bet as these boards have the tendency to throw your plans out of the window pretty soon. It is not mandatory that you have to always bet just to continue protecting your pair of kings even at the later streets. You have to consider the equity (and associated drop in equity levels) along with the kind of aggression you might be facing from the active players in that hand. More importantly, understand how favourable your hand range is.

On the other hand, you would do well to size down your bets on dry boards, thereby allowing opponents with weak holdings (or bluffing) to put more money into the pot.

Of course, your bet size does depend quite a lot on the strength of your own hand range as well as that of the opponents, apart from the board texture and position. While betting, it is quite critical to think ahead and plan your moves if you are faced with counter aggression against your aggressive play. You need to think comprehensively on how your hand fits in the current play.

The Verdict

It is difficult to control your emotions when you get pocket kings in a game of poker. And it is obvious as you know it is the second-best starting hand possible after the pocket aces. This single thought tends to dominate many inexperienced poker players and leads them to make various mistakes while playing with pair of kings. You are not guaranteed that cowboys will win you the game always – even while you adopt the basic strategy of betting and re-raising at the pre-flop as well as post flop stages.

Your first objective should be to rake in money before the flop arrives. If that doesn’t happen, you need to focus on building a set as well, since you just cannot rely on a pair to win you the pot at the later streets or showdown. You need to be smart enough to spot any opponents who might not have pocket aces from the beginning but might get the opportunity to pair their ace at the flop or later. These are cases which if not handled properly will make you to lose a significant amount of chips. While you need to be positive, you need to keep an eye on the hand ranges of your opponents as well at the post flop stage because there are various hands possible here that can beat you!

So, go about placing bets aggressively, but also do not opt for slowplay at any stage. If you resort to slowplaying, your opponents will get the chance to catch up as well as even take the big pot from you. Keep the bad poker players at bay. Most critically, do remember that ‘fold’ is an option available to you even when you have got pair of kings as your starting hands. When a tight player starts making you to get into action at the later streets like the turn or the river, on a well-coordinated and wet board, then, you need to really think about the option to fold pocket king hand.

You need to play more and more games of poker to get better at playing this pair of kings in the right manner, depending on the situation. Download the Spartan Poker app online and start playing Texas Hold’em poker or other poker game variants now and sharpen your skills for handling cowboys as your starting hands to maximize your winnings as well as to minimize your losses!


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