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Texas Holdem Poker strategy: The importance of the Kicker

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  • Written by David Bet

Do not underestimate the value of the kicker in Texas Holdem Poker. It may mean the difference between winning or losing. You will be suprised to find out how many times a Texas Holdem hand comes down to a tie with the kicker as the tie breaker.


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Texas Holdem Poker strategy: The importance of the Kicker


A Kicker is a poker term used to describe the left over cards once players have made a hand. They are used to determine the winner of a hand where both players have the same cards but there are still cards remaining to make the best five card hand. Where two players have the same five card hand - most often a Flush, Straight, or Full House then a Split Pot situation arises and the Kicker does not apply.

Only the very inexperienced do not take the kicker into consideration when assesing the value of the hand. While you may live or die on the River you kicker can put a knife in your heart fast. The one and only time that you need not worry about your kicker is if you have flopped four of a kind. If you have four deuces and a trey kicker you are going to win the hand the greatest per centage of the time, by far.

That is why you do not waste time and money playing suited hands like [8d,2d] The eight is essentially your kicker in the flush draw. Even if you ignore the odds that over 90% of the time you will not end up with a flush by the end of the hand. Some poker player luckier than you may have come in with an [9d,3d] You loose.

In a tight game, the hand-domination perspective does lead you to the best course of action. You should check and call if someone bets. You should probably not call if there is a bet and a raise, although it actually turns out that checking and calling a raise rather than folding to a raise is not a large error. It only costs you a few pennies on average.

In very loose games, this popular wisdom just doesn't hold up. In a very loose game, betting the hand straightforwardly, and calling if anyone raises, makes almost twice as much money in the long run as checking and calling. This is not the popular wisdom. Most players would feel very uncomfortable if they bet this top pair with a weak kicker and got raised when the flop had no draws that someone may be raising on. Betting and calling is the right thing to do against a field of loose or very loose players.

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The reason for this is that in very loose games you are more likely to have other players with 3s and 8s than Kings in their hands. In a loose game, your opponents are more likely to have two kinds of hands than are likely in a tight game. A hand such as Ks-2s is much more likely to be played by an opponent in a loose game, and a hand such as 8d-6h is also much more likely to be played. You'll get action, maybe even a raise from hands like that, if you bet out your top pair with a weak kicker in a loose game. In a tight game, players aren't likely to be holding those kinds of hands on the flop. Of course, even in a loose game, you are probably beaten if you get raised, but the chances are good enough that you are not beaten to make it worth calling a raise. The pot will be large enough to hold onto that hand because there are enough worse hands that loose players might raise with to make it pay off. Don't expect to win most of the pots by doing this, but do expect to win most of the money eventually.

In more typical games, the two plays, betting versus checking and calling, are about equivalent in terms of the amount of money made. The best play is to probably check and call in a typical game. It makes about the same money as betting and does so with a little less risk.

The general lesson here is to play your top pairs more aggressively in loose games while playing top pairs with weak kickers more passively in tight games. This is a major difference in how a common situation should be played different under different game conditions. I think it illustrates how important it is to think in terms of the game conditions and the kinds of hands you opponents are likely to have rather than thinking in terms of only your own hand.

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