How to play pocket kings in No-Limit Hold'em

Pocket Kings: you got to adore them

Pocket Kings is the second strongest hand in texas holdem poker. There are six ways to make a pair of kings out of 1326 possible hole cards, so the odds to get them are a 6/1326=0.45% chance.

Another way to say it is that you will get KK once every 221 hands. Of course similarly for pocket aces. So the normal reaction when you get kings is to treat them as aces, as they are so rare and so strong.

How strong are kings?

Pocket kings is a strong hand pre flop. They dominate all other pocket pairs with an 80-82% chance to prevail. Except aces of course, where it is the opposite as they are underdogs against pocket rockets with only 18% chance to win.

Against none pocket pairs, kings are around an 80% favorite on average. For example they have 77.6% chance to win versus 76s, and 83% against 97o. This is true of all hands below king, and this is even more pronounced against KQs (86% chance) as this hand is especially dominated by KK.

The last hand to look at is AK, and it is no surprise that the ace makes this hand slightly less vulnerable, but still an underdog as the two kings reduce your opponent's value of holding one of the two remaining kings. Versus AKo, the chance to win by KK is 70%, versus AKs it is 66%.

In summary pocket kings have a huge advantage against all hole cards pre flop, except pocket aces. Aces are the enemy of kings, because if you play kings like aces and you face aces, your fate is doomed. And most players will play KK nearly like AA, as {KK+} is consider the nuts.

So the main question you ought to ask yourself when you glimpse at pocket kings is what is the chance that another player has aces. It depends on the number of players at the table. At a ten-handed table, chances are 4.32%. At a 6-max, chances are 2.40%. Heads-up, chances are only 0.48%. So for all intent and purpose, this risk is only significant in full ring, and this bad scenario will occur once in 23 times.

How to play kings

From what was said in the previous section, it is clear that kings should be played like aces preflop, raising, reraising and shoving. The only exception is when you have a strong feeling that you are facing aces, or in a tournament when you do not want to risk your survival.

In a cash game, there are times when it is 99.99% certain that you face pocket rockets. For example if you get 4-bet by a tight player, it is pretty sure that he has aces. If he is a rock, it is sure. If he is somehow looser, there is still a good chance that he has aces, but depending on his looseness, he may not have aces. If he is in the button and 4-bet the big blind who is loose as well, his range would be wider that {AA}.

So in such rare scenarios, you might fold your pocket kings, but otherwise the top players recommend to play them very aggressively preflop, pretty much like aces. Kings are hands to reraise with according to Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth or Erica Schoenberg. You want to put all your chips in the middle, and there are at least two reasons: (1) make the weak aces fold because there is 23% chance that an ace flops, (2) win a bigger pot.

Reading another poker master Dan Arrington, he also recommends to play kings as aggressively as possible pre flop. Yes sometimes you will face aces, but there is not much you can do about it. This is a little bit like a bad beat, you must take them stoically and you will be fine over the long run (unlike bingo). As the usual range considered to be the monsters is {QQ+,AKs}, you will face QQ and AKs often enough to compensate for your losses against bullets.

As a last word, you have to mix up your play, this is called changing gear. Otherwise you will be transparent to observant opponents. So you must sometimes limp with your strong hands. As a matter of fact, one of the favorite moves of Johnny Chan is to limp with aces. But almost never limp with kings, otherwise you are at the mercy of all ace-rag players.