by Tony Dunst
When we talk about how to play a hand like pocket kings, what we’re really talking about is how to maximise the amount of value with extract from our hand. Anyone familiar with the rules of hold’em knows what to do with kings pre-flop: get the money in as soon as possible. Our main task with kings concerns how to convince our opponent to put all of his money into the pot, and that’s what we’ll talk about here.
Of course, not all decisions with pocket kings are made pre-flop, but explaining how to play kings post flop is a topic that needs more than a few hundred words, and one that would benefit from some example hands to demonstrate when to be aggressive or when to be cautious. For the sake of simplicity, this article will mostly deal with playing kings pre-flop.
Early in a tournament, when the stacks are deep in relation to the blinds, a typical goal with pocket kings is to bloat the size of the pot pre-flop. However, if you’re going to employ this strategy, you need to have more hands in your re-raising range than just big pairs and ace-king because if you only play the best hands this way, it becomes easy for thinking players to read the strength of your hand, giving them an unnecessary advantage post-flop. To accomplish this, you can add hands that are both strong and play well post-flop to your re-raising range early in the tournament. I’m talking hands such as suited aces, medium suited connectors, suited broadways, and ace-queen or ace-jack. Whether you should re-raise or call with these hands will still be situation and opponent dependent, but re-raising with non-premium hands will disguise your strength when you pick something as big as pocket kings.
In the mid stages of the tournament, once the antes have kicked in, you’ll still usually be re-raising with kings pre-flop, although there will also be some conditions where flat-calling a raise is the better play. An example of this is when the original raiser is unlikely to call a three-bet out of position, but is likely to fire multiple barrels post flop with their draws and pairs. Additionally, if there’s a player behind you that’s prone to making squeeze plays (making a re-raise after there’s been a raise and a call) then just calling with kings gives you an opportunity to trap them.
Late in the tournament, when the blinds and antes are high relative to the chip stacks, you can re-raise or call with your kings pre-flop, but it’s often the case that re-raising is the superior play. That’s because you’ll also be attacking your opponents with marginal hands pre-flop in order to win the blinds and antes with a light three-bet, which is more profitable at this stage of the tournament than earlier levels. As you’ll be re-raising lighter more often, it’s helpful to also do this with the strongest hands in your range, since your opponents will sometimes not give you credit for a strong hand and try to force you to fold with a four-bet.
And what should you do with pocket-kings if your opponent four-bets? Shove it in their face of course!