Home Poker Starting Hands in No-Limit Hold’em: How to Play KK

Starting Hands in No-Limit Hold’em: How to Play KK

by Paul Hewson
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How to Play KK

No-Limit Hold’em would be a very easy game if you got dealt pocket Kings every time. If you’re a beginner, you can pretty much raise KK every single time it’s your turn pre-flop, just like you would with pocket Aces. The only time you’re in trouble is when your opponent has Aces, and that’s one of those ultra-rare “coolers” that just can’t be avoided.

For that matter, raising with Kings is almost always the right move no matter what level of player you are. But as we did with AA, let’s see which pre-flop scenarios might be better tackled by calling with those cowboys, instead of raising willy-nilly at the online poker rooms.

When Should I Raise With KK?

Pretty much every time the action comes around to you. No matter whether you’re in early or late position, or whether someone else has opened the action before you, peeling those two hole cards and seeing pocket Kings is a dream come true.

It’s not Aces, mind you. You’ve got roughly 82% “hot-and-cold” equity against a single random opponent when you’ve got KK, instead of 85% with AA, but that’s still 82% of the pot you’re going to win, on average, when the two of you go all-in pre-flop.

If you’re relatively new to Texas Hold’em, just go ahead and raise those cowboys every time. The only hand you can possibly be behind is AA, and the odds of any one player having that specific hand are 220 to 1.

Poker KK

Granted, if you and your opponent get into a raising war, the chances they have AA go up considerably with each raise. There was a time when players used to say the fourth raise was “always Aces,” but that was well over 20 years ago, before people really started figuring out how to play Texas Hold’em.

In this day and age, it’s far more likely that you’ll be getting it all-in with your Kings against a worse hand. You’ve got about 82% equity against pocket Queens or pocket Jacks, 66% against Ace-King suited, and 70% against Ace-King off-suit. Who knows, they might even have Ace-Queen suited (68%) in this spot, or worse. Get those chips in now while you can.

When Should I Call With KK?

So let’s say you’re comfortable enough with Hold’em to handle more complicated poker scenarios and not make too many mistakes. There are a few situations where the game-theory optimal (GTO) play with Kings is to call instead of raise – but only a few.

  • The first is if you and your opponent are at least 100 big blinds deep, at a table of at least six players, and you get in a raising war when both you and your opponent are in early position. If your opponent 5-bets and leaves each of you with enough chips, you might want to consider a call here instead of a 6-bet. It’s still not “always Aces,” but it’s scary enough to merit some caution.
  • The other reason to call with KK is to trap your opponent. When we looked at doing this with Aces, we sprung our trap from out of position; this fiendish plan also works when you’re in position, and this time, since cowboys aren’t quite as powerful as bullets, we want to have the power of position when we make this riskier play.

Let’s say you’re under the gun at a 6-max table. You open-raise your Kings, and someone in the blinds 3-bets. This is a golden opportunity to call. As long as an Ace doesn’t hit the board, you’re probably ahead, and there’s a good chance your opponent will lead into you at least once.

When Should I Use a Mixed Strategy With KK?

As part of a “balanced” GTO strategy, you’ll want to mix up raising and calling with KK as you get closer to the blinds. If you open from the hijack, for example, be more likely to flat your opponent’s 3-bet, especially if they’re in the big blind instead of the small blind. If you open from the cut-off, raise more often, and if you’re in the button or small blind, just 4-bet every time.

If relative stacks are deep enough for 5-betting, consider always doing it from late position versus the blinds, but flat call from all other seats at the table. And if you’re at a typical 100bb cash game with enough chips, 6-bet jam if you’re out of position, but flat call if you’re in the button versus the small blind.

These GTO-based recommendations get harder to memorize and execute as the situations get more specific, so the chance of making a mistake increases; this is why we’re suggesting a simplified “always raise with KK” poker strategy if you’re a newbie. But also, if you’re already that good at poker, don’t just auto-GTO everything. Profile your opponents, and adjust your tactics to take advantage.

Again, pocket Kings is almost always too strong in No-Limit Hold’em to “waste” by just calling. But sometimes, it’s the right thing to do – and it’ll be right even more often with our next starting hand, pocket Queens.

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Paul Hewson
Paul Hewson (not that one) is a poker player/writer from the Pacific Northwest, appearing on the World Poker Tour, MILLIONS Tour and the WSOP Circuit series. Hewson is the senior writer for the Bodog Poker family; Texas Hold’em is his specialty, with side hustles in 8-Game and Badugi. He’s an Abe Limon Guy.

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