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Why Shouldn’t I Play KQo? Pre-Flop Thinking in Texas Hold’Em

In another article we mention that KQo is not a particularly great hand (well, KJo actually, but they’re about the same). This comes as a surprise to many players, in particular newer players. Two very high cards, how could that possibly not be a great hand? It’s not unplayable, but it isn’t great, and many poker books will back us up on that. But why? As a good poker player you shouldn’t be blindly trusting any books or articles you read. Here we’ll go over the thought process involved in evaluating such hands. Afterwards you can decide for yourself whether KQo is a playable hand.

In the tables
In a full-ring game KQo has a 16% chance of winning should everybody call to showdown. You’ll see such numbers quoted often, but the truth is they aren’t so helpful unless people are going all-in. The raw statistical chance of winning with all nine players at showdown is unenlightening since you’ll never actually see such a showdown. Even a flop with so many players is exceedingly rare. Nonetheless it does place KQo as better than around 90% of all other starting hands, that means at least something.

KQo sits in Group 4 of the Sklansky Groups. That is outside those nice upper three groups, but still way ahead of a lot of other hands. Phil Helmuth, in Play Poker Like the Pros recommends usually playing KQ, suited or not, but that it is still a pretty weak hand. In Internet Texas Hold’em, Hilger doesn’t even include KQo in his list of playable hands from early position, and still recommends folding in late position to a raised pot. So the details may vary, but nobody is giving a strong recommendation to the hand.

Don’t push the tables aside just yet, we need some information in there. Specifically, look at all those hands that appear before KQo. There are a lot of face cards, aces, pairs, and a few suited connectors. Keep this in mind. These are the hands you’ll be up against.

Pre-flop and flop

Understanding what is happening pre-flop is the key to choosing starting hands. Who is in the hand, and how much did they bet? Has the tight player made a raise, or is it the maniac again with a steal attempt? What about that guy in middle position who flat called, or the small blind putting in a min-raise? All of this has important consequences, obviously not just for KQo, but in a way vitally important for KQo. This is incidentally why somebody like Hilger says KQo is unplayable in early position, since you simply won’t have enough information yet to make a decision.

Once you’ve weighed in all the actions occurring pre-flop you are ready to make the next step. No, it isn’t deciding to call or raise. It is considering what happens on the홀덤 flop. Deciding how you will play on the flop will make it easier to decide how you play pre-flop.

The Tight Player

If you have a tight player who has put in a bet, or called a raise, you can almost be certain at this point that they have a better hand than you. They’ll only be playing the first couple of Sklanksy groups, so high pairs, high suited connectors, and high aces. Other than the connectors you already have the worse hand.

First consider a completely missed flop, like 2♥ 9♦ 7♠. What are you going to do here? Other than the suited connectors your tight opponent’s hand has you beat. Perhaps a bluff might work if they are holding a high ace, but if they happen to be holding a pair, they’ll likely push back. If you check they’ll may rightly bet sensing they have the best hand. In either case would you be willing to call knowing you have only king high?

Then consider a very good flop for you, like K♥ Q♦ 9♦. If you tight opponent has queens or kings then you’ll be paying dearly here, or do you feel comfortable letting go of top two pair when he raises? You have to bet here to find out what they have. When they call you have a problem. Did he happen to play JTs and flop the straight, or perhaps he has a flush or a straight draw. In any case, they’ve likely bought themself a free river card with the call. Those two extra cards have a good chance of hitting one of their outs.

It may be less than half the time that you get a call or raise. Perhaps most of the time he’ll simply fold. But what have you won in that case? You’ve not gotten any more than the preflop action, which likely wasn’t high if you hold just KQo. More disturbing however is that in order to collect the pot you had to risk a significant bet knowing that if called you’re likely beaten.

The Loose Player

Consider this time that you’ve put in a small pre-flop bet and are raised from late position by a loose player. Though you consider it a likely bluff to steal your bet, you can’t really be certain. Even maniacs will statistically get better hands than KQo about 10% of the time. You’ll be going into the flop in this case a bit blind. Also, is that a passive player, or an aggressive one?

Let’s consider again the same missed flop as before 2♥ 9♦ 7♠. Are you comfortable at this point trying to bully the loose player? You shouldn’t be. If they’ve been paying attention to how you play they probably assume the flop has completely missed your hand, and they are right. Suppose they were playing total junk, no card above a nine and unpaired. That doesn’t sound bad until you realize it gives them just over a 30% of having made a pair — stronger than KQo at this point. A loose aggressive player will likely bet here regardless of what they had pre-flop. Are you willing to call? Keep in mind that any ace also beats you at the moment. Suppose instead it is a loose-passive player. This now works like the tight player, you can bet and he’ll either fold or call with the better hand. It’s hard to make money when that happens.

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