Pockets Kings are the second-best starting hand in poker. If you can get in all the money before the flop, kudos to you, as you’ll likely be ahead of your opponent’s range.
Many times, though, Pockets Kings are forced to see a flop. Whether it’s in a single raised pot (SRP) or 3bet+ pot, and for lesser experienced players, this can complicate things a bit at times – dealing with the post-flop play with high Pocket pairs.
- Some keep going bombs away on an Ace-high board, trapped by the thought they deserve to win whenever they’re dealt Pocket Kings.
- Others will continue to go head-long on dry boards vs tight opponents who just call. They could be more than likely to have a set given the preflop action, players’ positions, and board texture.
- Others might even get timid with Kings and fail to be able to capitalise on getting full value with them when the right situation calls for it. They play too timidly and passively.
Either way, being able to play large Pocket pairs (such as Kings) is an integral part of a wholesome poker strategy. These big preflop hands often have the potential to give you the most significant long-term gains of all the starting hands in Hold’em!
So, this article aims to arm you with all you need to know about Pocket Kings and how to play them.
- What Are Pocket Kings Called?
- Why are Pocket Kings Called “Cowboys”?
- How Often Do Pocket Kings Win?
- Pocket Aces vs Kings
- Pocket Kings vs Ace-King Odds
- Pocket Kings vs Ace Queen
- Pocket Kings vs Ace Jack
- How to Play Pocket Kings Preflop
- Can you fold Pocket Kings Preflop?
- Pocket Kings: All-in
- When To Fold Pocket Kings?
- Pocket Aces Over Kings
- How To Beat Pocket Kings
- Strategy: How To Play Kings on an Ace-High Flop
What Are Pocket Kings Called?
Poker players sometimes use nicknames to refer to specific hands. The most popular nickname for Pocket Kings is “Cowboys”, followed by the lesser-used “King Kong”. They’ve also been called “Ace Magnets” before, because of how often they seem to draw an ace to the flop/board whenever a player is dealt them.
Why are Pocket Kings Called “Cowboys”?
A “King” in a deck of cards is referred to as a “cowboy” (just as “deuce” is sometimes used interchangeably with a 2, and “trey” refers to a 3). For this reason, if you’ve got two Cowboys in your hand, then this means that you’ve been dealt a Pocket pair of Kings.
How Often Do Pocket Kings Win?
Especially regarding preflop equities, Kings will always carry with it a significant preflop advantage, in fact, usually with at least 70% equity (except when they find themselves up against Pocket Aces).
It should be noted that as soon as the flop hits, depending on how co-ordinated the board is, in addition to what Villain’s hand range and how well it connects with it). Post-flop equities when you hold Pocket K’s can shift dramatically! It’s important to know when to bet, check, and fold with them to minimise losses when your beat and maximize winnings when you’re ahead.
NOTE: The following sections of this article will show equities where KK faces a specific starting hand.
Pocket Aces vs Kings
Aces vs Kings is a classic poker hand matchup that is also one of the most common coolers in the game. It’s almost impossible for all the money not to go into the middle preflop. For the situations where post-flop play happens to be involved, it’s almost always in a 3bet or 4bet pot where the postflop SPR will already be quite low. And, the rest of the players’ stacks going into the middle is almost unavoidable, too.
Preflop equities for AA vs KK usually show the Aces winning about 82% of the time, with Kings sucking out 18% of the time. (Within this margin, they typically end up chopping only 0.5% of the time.)
Pocket Kings vs Ace-King Odds
Kings vs Ace-King is a typical preflop matchup that can be seen when all the money goes into the middle before the flop. While KK blocks half of the combos of AK, there are still 8 combos of AK available.
Preflop equities show the KK winning the majority of the time at 69%, leaving the AK about 31% of the time. (Within this margin, they’ll tie about 0.8% of the time.)
Pocket Kings vs Ace Queen
This matchup will more frequently have the potential of being all-in in a tournament rather than cash games (because of shorter stacks). The preflop equities stay pretty close to the same to that above vs AK. The KK now wins slightly more often at 71% vs the AQ.
Pocket Kings vs Ace Jack
The poker equity for this matchup is almost precisely the same as it is against AQ, with the Cowboys winning about 71% of the time. It would be improbable to see this all-in preflop matchup in a cash game and would likely be reserved strictly for tournaments.
How to Play Pocket Kings Preflop
In general, Pockets Kings is a hand that shouldn’t be slowplayed preflop. As such, you should usually be raising with this hand (if you’re the first player to enter a pot), or 3betting /squeezing with it if someone has already come in for a raise.
Additionally, if you can ever 4bet or 5bet jam with it, it’ll rarely be a fault of yours to do so. You can deny equity to worse hands while simultaneously gaining value from them (except for when you have the cooler matchup of being up against AA, of course).
Note that it’s essential to focus on incorporating Kings into a balanced overall preflop strategy. Some players will usually limp their entire playable range but only raise (or raise larger than usual) with hands like QQ+/AK. Playing your strongest premium hands in this regard would be like showing your hand face-up to the entire table before you even got to any post-flop action. (Same goes for if you have a tight 3bet or 4bet range)
As such, it’s advisable to have a linear preflop opening hand range (raise or fold) that includes KK. You should eliminate limping from your preflop strategy entirely (except for select live situations after someone else has already limped in),
By the same note, for a 3betting range, it’s vital to stay balanced and be more challenging to play against by expanding the hands you 3bet. Whether it’s to include some bluffs and/or a broader range of value hands.
Is it ever acceptable to limp KK preflop?
Generally, if a hand is good enough to come in for a limp, it’s good enough to come in for a raise. The only situation where a limp could be considered is if you’re short-stacked and can limp-jam acceptably (where you usually have a limping range already to begin with). This is assuming there are some aggressive players to your left still left to act who will likely attack your limp.
Another interesting situation that can be a thought-provoking spot to limp KK is in a more deep-stacked scenario, but it must satisfy BOTH of the following:
- Your table is passive and full of players who love to see flops.
- You have an aggressive player to your direct left who will attack your limp liberally
The reason it can be advantageous to limp KK here is that if you raise, everyone may call (including the LAG, just with a wide range). You’ll see a multiway flop (never fun with big Pockets). You'd have a hard time knowing how to act post-flop with your naturally decreased equity in the hand based sheerly on the number of players involved.
If you limp though, the LAG raises, and then everyone (perhaps 5+ players) call. Then there will likely be enough money in the pot to justify going all-in and picking up the dead money right away. (If a raise of yours would ever have you committing over 1/3rd of your remaining stack to the pot, going all-in is ordinarily superior and acceptable.)
Other than this particular exception, though, generally Kings should be played very aggressively preflop, through some sort of raise. Doing so will also help lessen the effective stack-to-pot ratio (SPR), which will make it easier for you to play post-flop because of SPR. It’s and also because of the likely number of players who may be involved.
Is it ever acceptable to call KK preflop after an open/3bet/4bet?
Doing something “always” or “never” in poker is a dangerous trap to fall into. In a game of incomplete information, you can make yourself so much tougher to play against if you deviate from standard lines a certain percentage of the time. (However infrequent it may actually end up being in practice).
Yes, Kings should be a “fist-pump/get-it-in mentality” most of the time. But especially against tougher opponents (and also when mega deep-stacked), one should mix in some flat calls a portion of the time. This can either be done in an attempt to reverse-squeeze afterwards (vs a single open raise and you expect another player to 3bet squeeze. Or simply play a hand post-flop with a deceptively uncapped range (more vs 3bets or 4bets).
Can you fold Pocket Kings Preflop?
Here’s the only way you can fold Kings preflop: You must have absolute certainty that one of the players involved in the pot has Pocket Aces 100% of the time (or a range of KK+). You’d either be chopping or behind – but even then, you’re blocking all combos of KK except one).
In most cases, players’ ranges are pretty much always going to be wider than this (unless perhaps it’s a 6bet+ pot). It’s why KK vs AA is one of the most unavoidable coolers that players experience in poker. It’s so tough to get away from (and rightfully so)!
Player 1 (you) raise to 2.5bb with KK. Player 2 3bets to 9bb. You 3bet to 22.5bb. Player 2 shoves for 100bb. Mathematically speaking, you’re needing to call 77.5bb to win 122.5bb.
This means that you need to be getting 38.8% equity to be making a correct call. Against a range of KK+ (1 combo of KK; 6 combos of AA), you’re getting only 22.6%, meaning that this would be a fold. And only if you added just the suited combinations of AK to this range (KK+, AKs) would this still be a fold to (32.2% equity).
However, the SECOND you add in the other AK combos or any other hand into your opponent’s range, your equity instantly makes that 39% requirement:
- Against a range of QQ+, KK has 50% equity.
- Against a range of KK+/AK, KK has 47.3% equity.
- Against a range of QQ+/AK, KK has 57.2% equity.
- Against a range of JJ+/AK, KK has 62.6% equity.
- Against a range of TT+/AK, KK has 66% equity.
And from here, as the range expands, your equity only continues to increase.
Therefore, the only way you can fold KK pre is, essentially, only if you’re confident that your opponent has Aces.
As a specific example, perhaps an opponent raises UTG, you 3bet UTG+1 with KK, UTG+2 cold 4bets, and action folds around to the original raiser who then goes ahead and shoves. Assuming these players are both nits and would likely flat QQ in the same position, you can perhaps assume that one of these players *must* have Aces.
However, as referenced before, “always” or “never” is a dangerous game to fall into with poker. Who’s to say that QQ or AK would never be included in either of their ranges here? Or any other random bluffs or an expanded range of value hands depending on the table dynamics, players involved, and exact situation?
As a result, if the opportunity presents itself, you should ultimately be content to get all-in Kings preflop. Then let how the cards fall dictate if you win or lose.
Pocket Kings: All-in
As you’ve gathered from the previous section, if an opportunity presents itself where you can get Pocket Kings all-in preflop, this situation is golden. This is especially true for standard games with effective stacks of 100bb. What you need to watch out for is when you’d get all-in KK during post-flop play. The board textures and hand ranges can drastically change the equity in the hand of your powerhouse pocket pair.
Regarding preflop all-ins, though, it must be mentioned that when players are super deep-stacked (250bb+), it can sometimes be correct to 3bet/call with KK instead of 3betting/5betting/calling off. Choosing to 5bet with Kings will super narrow your continuing hand range, turning your hand more face-up, as you’re likely only doing this with KK+.
Furthermore, if your opponent happens, then to put in a 6th bet afterwards when you’re so deep, you’ll find yourself being almost always up against AA. By flatting KK versus a 4bet, you also strengthen your calling range so that it effectively becomes uncapped, making it stronger to play against.
When To Fold Pocket Kings?
For many players, Pocket Kings can be a tough hand to let go of and fold when the correct scenario calls for it. As such, it’s essential to know how to correctly play Kings postflop (with checking/calling/betting/raising). This can help you maximise your winnings while minimising losses.
Bet Sizing Advice with Kings
In terms of sizing your bets, you must select ones that allow you to get called by worse hands. Many recreational players will use large, pot-sized bets when c-betting with KK to protect their hand and avoid it from getting cracked. Against good players, this is easily exploitable.
To illustrate this, suppose you raise 3.5x preflop with KK from EP, the big blind calls, and the board comes T-5-2. If you triple barrel with pot-sized bet amounts for all three streets, by showdown, you’re almost certainly going to be up against a set of tens, fives, or deuces vs a competent player.
Therefore, on dry boards, it’s important to size down your bets so that you can encourage opponents to continue with worse holdings. On wet boards, if you choose to bet, you should usually size up larger.
NOTE: Your bet sizing choices should often be based on board texture, the strength of your and your opponent’s hand ranges, and seeing how your hand fits into all of that when deciding exactly how to proceed.
In some instances, it can actually be correct to check back Kings on the flop instead of cbetting with them. Imagine you’re in EP vs a player who called in the big blind, the flop comes 6-5-4 with two hearts, and Villain checks to you. This could easily be a check-back (or if you bet, you should utilise a very small bet size). This is because Villain in the big blind is going to connect with this flop a lot more than your EP range.
If Villain checks, you bet, and then you get raised, it puts you in a really tough spot. And if Villain is going to raise, you put yourself in a slightly easier to manoeuvre situation by betting small. It helps not blow the pot entirely out of control right away.
On a board of 6-5-4, Villain can have sets, two pairs, straights, and mega combo draws from the big blind. Whereas the best you can have is usually just an overpair (re EP opening hand range). Therefore, when you bet, always think about how you’ll react when faced with counter-aggression and how your hand correlates to the board texture vs the ranges of you and your opponents.
General Considerations to Make To Decide When To Fold Kings
The question still stands: When should Pocket Kings be folded? You can lessen your losses and make decisions somewhat easier using ideal bet sizing techniques. Unfortunately, there really isn’t any specific answer to the question. It’s always going to be situation dependent.
While 3bet pots will cause a lower stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) and make it easier to commit to getting KK all-in during post-flop play, in single-raised pots, being able to fold to counter-aggression will very much depend on a multitude of factors like:
- How many people are in the hand?
- The tendencies of these opponents.
- If there’s any worse hands, bluffs or semi-bluffs, your opponents can have by the betting line they chose as the aggressor (and how many combos of these they may have vs their value hands).
- How wide your opponent’s range is, based on their position and player tendencies, in addition to the action in the hand until then (NOTE: Remember, your cbetting sizes will influence action accordingly).
- Board texture and how this relates to the range of both you and your opponent(s).
Ultimately, wet boards make high pocket pairs more vulnerable to being sucked out on, both HU and especially when multiway! Don’t always feel you need to bet to protect your KK, most notably if your equity may not be considerable already. You’ll have no idea how to continue when facing relentless aggression from opponents if the board doesn’t favour you (and maybe if the board does not favour your hand range, either).
Pocket Aces Over Kings
AA vs KK is going to be one of the most common coolers that happen in poker, and it’s an inevitable part of the game. Over the long-term, though, the variance will even out, and you’ll be on the winning side just as much as you’ll be on the losing side. While coolers will provide for high-variance situations in the short-term, it’s the small pots you win or lose in between them that will be the accurate measure of how successful you ultimately are as a poker player
As mentioned earlier, it’s vital to reiterate that during deep-stacked play (200bb+) opting NOT to always 5bet (if at all) and including KK in a 4bet calling range can sometimes be advantageous. If you 5bet/get-it-in, you’ll likely be up against AA (which, yes, it’s still a cooler), but by flatting, you also have the added benefit of keeping Villain’s range broader with their 4bet range vs their 6bet (or 5bet calling range). You’ll just need to have some good post-flop abilities to know how to work your way through.
How To Beat Pocket Kings
In the heat of the moment in a poker hand, you’ll never know, specifically, if you’re up against KK specifically. In many instances, it will merely be another hand that’s included in the last preflop aggressor’s hand range. In these situations, it’s crucial to look at stack sizes and the pot odds you’re getting for each decision that you’d have to make.
If someone in early position opens (which will generally be a tighter hand range) and you’re looking to get involved in the hand, you’re going to want to play hands that do well vs stronger hands, such as Kings (taking stacks into consideration, of course).
Pocket pairs work well having deep-stack depths, as they have considerable implied odds. Suited connectors can work well, too.
In general, you should be looking to get about 10 to 1 implied odds on a call for set-mining, and 20 to 1 for mid-suited-connectors.
For example, imagine effective stacks of 100bb, and you raise Pocket 5’s from the button to 2.5x. The SB raises to 9bb, the BB folds, and the action is on you. In this situation, there are 11.5bb in the pot, 91bb in your opponent’s stack, and you need to call 6.5bb more to potentially win all of it.
With Pocket 5’s currently getting about 16 to 1 implied odds, this is a great spot to set mine; the 3bettor will have a stronger range than otherwise (including all the big pairs) and you have the opportunity to win a large pot if you manage to flop your set.
Strategy: How To Play Kings on an Ace-High Flop
Say you’re the aggressor preflop (whether it’s a 3bet or single-raised pot) with KK, and the flop comes A-X-X. Now what? Many players freeze and have no idea how to continue in this situation.
Typically, there are two options that you should do with KK:
- KK can be used as a check (whether it’s a check back IP or check-call OOP).
- KK can use a small cbet size (25% to 30% pot), if you wish to bet, provided using such bet sizes are a part of your overall strategy.
Checking KK can help keep your checking range strong. It can also induce opponents to bet (either for value or as a bluff) with weaker holdings than yours. It should also be noted that having KK on an A-high flop is a way-ahead-or-way-behind kind of situation.
During times like these, you don’t really need to bet, as it’s unclear somewhat if you’d be doing it for “value” or a “bluff”. Lastly, by checking KK on an Ace-high flop, if your opponent is way behind, you also allow them to catch up and connect with the board in some way so that you can gain value from them on a later street.
Option 2 of betting small with KK can also be an acceptable way of continuing. Perhaps you could bet for value if the other two cards besides the Ace are connected in some way and you think an opponent would call with a draw. The reason why a large bet size should not be used if you cbet KK here is because the continuing/calling range of Villain narrows the larger you make your bet size (theoretically speaking).
Therefore, Villain’s range will shrink to include more AX hands than otherwise, if he calls you when you use a large bet size. Betting smaller allows more 2nd and 3rd pairs to continue, while not allowing them to realise their equity for free and gaining value from them simultaneously.
All that being said, it should be noted that on a board like A-8-4, you should be more prone to bet with your pairs like 99 than you should with KK. Why? Imagine your opponent has QJ. Against 99, QJ has 27% equity. Betting small on an ace-high board with 99 will likely get your opponent to fold their QJ, which still has a considerable amount of equity against you.
This is a huge win in and of itself if you can deny them realising their equity while fully allowing yourself to achieve yours. Against KK, QJ on the A-8-4 flop is drawing super thin at a measly 4.5%! By checking, you give Villain a chance to catch up so that you can gain value potentially from their second-best hand on later streets.
Pocket Kings will likely make up a sizable part of your long-term profits in poker. As such, it’s essential to know how to play them well and profitably maximise your EV in a variety of scenarios.
With the tips that have been explored in this article, hopefully, you’ll be well on your way to doing just that.
Good luck at the felts!