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Pocket Kings Flop An Ace… Again

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It happens to us all more times than we’d like to count. We build a nice pot with pocket kings and then the flop comes and… BAM! There’s the ace. The way you handle it depends a lot on your opponents, the stack sizes, and more. Let’s look at a submitted by one of my readers:

We’re at the final table of a live no-limit hold’em tournament: nine players remain, six places pay. I have a stack of around 14BB, which is above average, when I’m dealt K-K in the big blind. There are two limpers ahead of me, and I raise to a total of 5BB. One of the limpers calls. He’s a calling station and seems to call any raise once he’s limped, and has got this far by mostly hitting his hands. After the call, my remaining stack is around the size of the pot, and his is around 3BB less than mine. The flop is A-x-x and I’m out of position. What next?

Given that my opponent has previously called pre-flop raises with holdings such as unsuited medium connectors, I’m unable to gauge how likely it is that he holds an ace. I’ve also seen him bet weak draws, so if I check and he bets I’m still not convinced I’m beaten. A small bet would almost certainly be called, and would also commit me.

What happened is that I pushed and he called, showing A-2 off-suit. Against another player I would have given more consideration to retreating after the flop and saving my

My reader didn’t write the last word, but I think we can fill in the blank. Tournaments add an extra level of poker analysis, and they add an extra level of poker psychology too.

Analytically, tournaments are different from cash games because you aren’t trying to win chips, you are trying to finish in a certain place. How you play various situations can vary widely depending on the prize structure. If six places pay, but first gets 50 percent, then it often pays to gamble and try to win tops. If the places pay about equally, though, then it’s generally better to be cautious and try guarantee a spot in one of the later places. You didn’t specify the prize structure, but it would have to be quite out of the ordinary to justify not playing your pocket kings.

Psychologically, tournaments multiply the natural ups and downs of poker many times over. You don’t just lose a hand for a few big blinds. You get knocked out! You don’t just win a few bucks, you win first place! This psychological layer makes people question themselves on even the most mundane situations.

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12 Responses to “Pocket Kings Flop An Ace… Again”

@ Tue May 19, 2009 04:30:40 PM

Why not raise more pre-flop? There are 3BB in the pot. Effective stack size is 11BB? You can be certain you have the best hand. Would the calling station be less likely to call if you raised to 6BB? 7? 11?

Dr Zen
@ Tue May 19, 2009 08:13:50 PM

Increasing your bet size is likely to increase your fold equity. You don’t want him to fold.

@ Wed May 20, 2009 05:26:53 AM

Questions… If you had 99 instead of KK in this spot, do you still just make it 5BB? If so, doesn’t that break the cardinal rule of “if you’re putting in 1/3 of your chips, you’re committed”? With 99, I’d be more inclined to just shove preflop and try to pick up all the dead money, and take solace that I had a decent hand if called.

So why not do the same thing with KK? Sure, you’d rather he called to build a pot with your premium hand, but if you vary your bets sizes based on whether or not you want your opponent in the hand, you’re going to get figured out pretty quick. Besides, the reader says he’s a station, so ship it in there like you would any other decent hand and hope you get looked up.

Am I off base here?

@ Wed May 20, 2009 07:21:08 AM

With an average stack size under 14BBs (so 10-12BBs?) at this final table. I would expect to see shoving with wide ranges and wider calling ranges, so I would not think that raising more preflop increases fold equity too dramatically. Besides, with 2 limpers, stealing the blinds is going to increase your “above average” stack by 25%. I could live with that. Personally, I would shove preflop here.

@ Wed May 20, 2009 08:23:24 AM

Should have just shoved preflop.

@ Wed May 20, 2009 08:42:09 AM

To me it depends on things we haven’t heard about. However, it seems like this fish wasn’t about to fold his ace .. probably even to a shove.

But, all things considered, I think shoving is the best play. You pick up 3.5 BB easily when everyone folds, or get it in with the best hand. Seems like win/win.

In the poster’s situation, there’s no real good play. However, the odds favor him not having an ace, pushing on the flop is the bet play. Like Ed says, you have to gamble to place higher. Gambling with KK is one I’ll take anytime :-)

@ Wed May 20, 2009 12:09:13 PM

Shoving pre-flop would not be a bad play at all.
However, you might only get minimal value from a hand as strong as K-K. I think he intelligently bet an amount pre-flop that would commit the opponent to the hand and that is exactly what happened. Then, he just got unlucky for an Ace to flop.

@ Wed May 20, 2009 04:45:19 PM

I’d like to make a point in a different direction…

Regarding Ed’s comment “most people place too much value on surviving in tournaments”, I think that might be because they don’t practice good bankroll management.

If you are a winning player looking to make money from poker, I think you should buy in to a tournament with no more than 2% of your bankroll and preferably with only 1%. So if it’s a $50 buy-in, you should have at least $2500 but preferably $5000 in your bankroll.

If you just play for entertainment, then buy in for an amount that you don’t mind losing.

Maybe that way you might not feel the need to “hang on for dear life” when your chips get low…

@ Wed May 20, 2009 05:43:22 PM

Lucypher … where he really got unlucky is where his opponent decided to play A2 against a raise, and decided that the PF raiser did not have one. This guy won’t last long in most tournaments!

Nik Faldo
@ Sat May 23, 2009 11:16:04 AM

My 2 cents? All-in is the play. Period.

Found your blog off of Stevo’s blog. Very nice I must say! You are on my blogroll so feel free to stop by mine.

If anyone is interested in playing in a poker league on Tuesday night on PokerStars, feel free to email me.


Nik Faldo
@ Sat May 23, 2009 11:17:05 AM

Faldo at Niks Poker Palace. google it.

@ Mon May 25, 2009 12:14:47 PM

if a couple of loose players limp in, then the pot should be around 1,5BB + 1BB per limper, ie ~4-5BB.

if 14BB is above avg, then a push would be the most correct play imho. increasing to 20bb would put you well above average, and having two or three really desperate shorties having to loosen up their pushing range is a good think, i would assume.

if one of the other (thinking, preferrably) players decides that your push is just an attempt to steal and call with a mediocre holding, youre in good shape as well!

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