A game of poker seems, unlike any other sport. You’re sitting around a table and playing cards. It’s as far away from any other sport as you can imagine, right? If you feel this way, then you’re not alone. But, you are also mistaken. Poker may seem to be on another tangent, but it shares many similarities with other sports or games. For example, teams are often tied in a game, and the same happens with poker players, as well. However, while other sports may rely on a referee or umpire to clear up such confusion, poker doesn’t have a third party to make such decisions. In case of a tie in poker, you rely on the cards; you rely on what is known as the poker kicker.
Now, it seems a little odd to hear of ties in a game of poker, but it does happen. And such a tie needs to be cleared up if any winner is to be declared. Deciding the winner of a poker game is extremely important because it determines who walks home with the pot. In poker, your prize is cash, and so the stakes are very high. So, what counts as a tie in poker? And who decides it? Also, what’s a poker kicker? If you’re a little confused and don’t know what all of this means, then rest easy. I’ve got your back, and I’ll explain everything to you, as we go along.
What’s a Poker Kicker?
As we’ve already established, a poker kicker is a device used to decide a game that is tied up. It seems like a straight forward definition, but we’re inundated with unanswered questions. So, let’s go over some of these doubts quickly, and then we can understand the poker kicker, a little bit better.
Our first question is regarding the nature of a tie in poker. Now, in poker, a winner of a game is decided according to the poker hands, which the players are holding. Hands are simply combinations of cards that players must build in order to win. There is a hierarchy amongst these hands. There are certain kinds of hands that are superior to others. This hierarchy is called hand ranking. So, for example, a Full House is considered to be a superior hand when compared to a Flush.
When one player shows a hand that is superior to the others, we’ve got a clear winner. However, what happens if two players have the same hand ranking? This is how poker games get tied up.
Now, this is when the kicker comes in. The kicker is just another card that is used to determine who the winner of the game is when both players have a hand of the same rank.
Sounds simple enough, right? Let’s look at an example to make it even clearer.
Let’s imagine that the five community cards on the table are a Queen, another Queen, a Five, a Seven and a Nine.
Player A holds a King and a Queen, whereas Player B holds a Queen and a Ten.
Both players have the same hand ranking, which is, Three of a Kind. This hand ranking consists of three cards of the same kind, which in this case, are the three Queens.
Now, to decide the winner of the game, we need to look at the next highest card. Whichever player is holding the next highest card, wins the game. This card, in turn, is known as the kicker.
In our example, the next highest card is the King, held by Player A, which obviously trumps Player B’s Ten.
Our tie has been decided, our kicker used, and the world’s balance has been restored.
When Does a Poker Kicker Play?
We’ve understood the basic concept of a kicker in poker, and even looked at an example. Now, we need to look at some situations in which the kicker would come into play. This will help you consider the cards in your hand, as more than just part of your hand rank, but also as potential kickers. You’ll even be able to identify scenarios in which a kicker can be used. So let’s cover some of the hand rankings and see how the kicked can be used for each of them.
1) High Cards: When both the players have a high card in their hand, all the remaining cards can be considered kickers. Both the hole cards and the community cards are counted, in this case. While the weakest cards are ignored, the stronger cards between the players are compared. The player with the higher card wins.
2) One Pair: In this hand ranking, the players consider their second card as the kicker. Whichever player has the higher second card, will win the game.
3) Two Pair: In this case, the second hole card acts as the kicker card. Whichever player has the higher hole card, wins. However, if the players use both their hole cards to create a pair, then there is no question of relying on a kicker. The pot has to be split between the two.
4) Three of a Kind: The function of the kicker, in this case, is similar to that in One Pair. The second hole card will act as the kicker card. If a player uses both their hole cards to create this hand rank, then that hand will be called a set. In this case, there is no need for a kicker, because the opponent cannot have a pair of the same cards, as three of them are already in use.
5) Straight/Flush: These hand rankings require the best five cards to be used during hand construction, and so, there is no room for a kicker card.
6) Full House: A Full House consists of a Three of a Kind and a Pair. So, while determining the winner, the best Three of a Kind wins. If the players have the same Three of a Kind, then the best Pair will win. If the entire hand is the same, then the pot is split.
7) Four of a Kind: a kicker is not required in a Four of a Kind, unless the four cards are not part of the hole cards, but are community cards. Only then, are the highest cards from the hole cards, used as kickers.
Just like a Straight/Flush, these hands also rely on the best five cards to make up the hand. Thus, there is no need for a kicker card.
We can see how the kicker in poker has a different role to play with each kind of hand ranking.
When Does the Poker Kicker Not Come Into Play?
Keeping all the instances when a kicker poker comes into play is important, but equally necessary, is to understand when it does not. This allows you to plan your game, keeping a kicker out of the equation. You don’t want to be relying on a kicker in poker, only to find out that it does not even factor in. Let’s see when you need to beware of the kicker.
As already mentioned in the list above, a kicker is not needed when the hand rankings in question are Straight, Flush or a Full House.
However, a kicker does not appear, even when both the players are holding the same hole cards. In this case, there is no card held by either player that is better than the other. Thus, there is no card that can be used as a kicker.
Also, a kicker is not needed, when one of the hole cards -the one which would’ve been the kicker-is weak, for both the players. In this case, there are better kickers amongst the community cards. This will lead the players to form the same hand, and the weaker hole card won’t even be included in their hands. Thus, the pot will be split.
The fact that there are so many variables when it comes to the kicker in poker proves the fact that it is an extremely valuable card. Grasping its potential can change the way you look at your hands and play them, too. It is important to remember that kickers work best when you have a high card. This is why the combination of Ace and King is considered the best when it comes to using a kicker card. In this case, you can build your hand with the Ace and rely on your King to be the kicker. This works, because the King is the highest card after an Ace.
We have gone over all the aspects of the kicker in poker, understanding its meaning and significance. We also know when we can count on it, and when not. At the end of this article, you are armed with the knowledge to go play some kicker poker, and you are more than ready to do so. So, don’t waste any more time, join us at Spartan, and play some online poker!