Should you ever fold pocket Kings preflop?

carlos-Mortensen-wsop-2013-kk-pokerI don’t usually write about spots that come up infrequently but recently I witnessed this hand I thought was uniquely instructive. Everyone started with about 150 big blinds. Player A in 1st position raised to 3 big blinds, Player B, a good tight aggressive kid in 2nd position, reraised to 8 big blinds and Player C, a mediocre loose aggressive kid in 3rd position, 4-bet to 22 big blinds. Player A folded then Player B 5-bet to 42 big blinds. Player C elected to 6-bet to 68 big blinds only to watch as Player B decided to go all-in. Fun stuff! Player C, who was currently getting 3.7:1 pot odds, meaning he needs to win 27% of the time, proudly flipped his K-K face up and folded.

While I am all for making big folds when they make sense, in this situation, even though Player B will have A-A a huge amount of the time, folding K-K is a fairly large error unless you know for a fact that Player B will only go all-in with A-A. The problem with this hand is that Player B is certainly aware that Player C is a loose aggressive player. Because of this, Player B could easily have a wider range than only A-A.

Suppose Player B’s range is A-A and K-K. Notice there is only one combination of K-K remaining, meaning he will have A-A 86% of the time and K-K 14% of the time. Player C will win the hand 22% of the time, making a call an error as he needs to win 27% of the time to break even. If Player B would go all-in with A-A, K-K and Q-Q, Player C would win 50% of the time. If Player B would push with A-A, K-K, Q-Q and A-K, Player C would win 57% of the time. If Player B is ever bluffing, Player C’s equity skyrockets.

The way I look at these situations, especially when I do not know my opponent’s exact range, is to average the ranges I think make sense. I imagine the equation for calculating Player C’s equity in this spot looks something like this:

EV = .3(.18) + .4(.22) + .2(.5) + .1(.57) = 30%

Clearly I do not do this math at the table. I have studied the game away from the table enough to know how this situation typically looks and how to react if I am ever in this spot. What this equation represents is 30% of the time Player B will have A-A, 40% of the time he will have A-A or K-K, 20% of the time he will have A-A, K-K or Q-Q, and 10% of the time he will have A-A, K-K, Q-Q or A-K.  Given the numbers, it would be a small error to fold as Player C will win 30% of the time, on average, and he needs to win 27% of the time to break even. Since 30% is larger than 27%, he should call.

As always, one simple equation is not the end of the story. Notice I did not add any total bluffs to Player B’s range. If Player B is bluffing around 10% of the time and he has A-A 10% less often, Player C’s equity jumps to 35%, making a fold a clear error. However, there is always value in surviving in a tournament, especially if you think you are much better than your opponents. Assuming Player C is good, which he obviously isn’t because he folded K-K face up, he should lean toward folding, especially if he thinks the situation is nearly break even. If Player C is a bad player, significantly worse than his opponents, he should actually be much more prone to call as he can get all of his money in with around neutral equity, which is probably much better than he will do later in the tournament.

In my opinion, Player C made a large error by 5-betting to 22 big blinds. If he called, he could take a flop and likely see a somewhat cheap showdown. While he would still lose a large pot if his opponent had A-A, he would force his opponent to take a flop with all of his worse hands as well. Assuming you are a good player, you rarely want to get all-in preflop when extremely deep stacked. You are much better off winning lots of small pots, slowly grinding up your stack. By putting in the 5-bet, Player C set himself up for failure if Player B decided to go all-in.

As Player B mucked, he flashed his As-3s. I liked it.

poker-jonathan-little-complete-strategyIf you want to learn more about my tournament strategy that has allowed me to win in the highest buy-in games over the last 10 years, check out this exclusive webinar where I reveal my complete tournament strategy. If you follow the advice I present in this 2 hour 45 minute training course, I am confident you will be one of the best players in any tournament you enter.

Be sure to check back next week for another educational blog post! Thanks for reading and good luck in your games!




  • Felipe Leme says:

    Was it a cash game or tournament?

    I rarely fold KK, but I did it once in a 1k Deep Stack Extravaganza event last year. Here’s how I described it to my friends, in a pure “Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker Volume 3” style; (in fact, I initially thought you were one of the players 🙂

    Setup: midway through day 1A (like level 7-8), blinds were around 300/600. Tournament had ~300 players initially, would play until 11% of the field were left, and there were about 120 left at that time.

    Players: Hero had ~28k and have been playing a solid, tight-aggressive game; he was up to 18k in the first level (starting stack was 15k), lost 10k when he snapped called a button shove (button had AK, hero QQ, flop had an A) but recovered; in fact, a few hands after that he flatted in the button with AA, flop came T high, original bettor c-bet, hero min-raised, villain shoved, hero snapped, villain had 9Q for complete air.
    Villain 1 moved to the table about 5 orbits ago with a medium stack, lost a big pot who left him with 10BB, when he started playing a LAG, fold-or-shove game; he doubled up recently with AK, but didn’t change gears, and now have ~18k.
    Villan 2 moved to the table 1-2 orbits ago, so hero doesn’t have a read on him (and vice versa). Physically, he looks like Jonathan Little, but he seems to be a tight amateur (I believe he played just one hand in 2 orbits, without showdown), and have ~27k (almost same stack as hero).

    The Hand: Villain 1 opens for 1.6k, villain 2 3-bets to 4.4k, hero has KK. What should hero do?

    a) Call
    b) Raise (to something like 12-15k)
    c) Shove
    d) Fold (that’s always an option, right? 🙂

    Answer: Hero decided to flat call to disguise the strength of his hand and induce a shove from Villain 1, which he would snap call.

    Villain 1 indeed snap shoves as expected, but Villain 2 re-shoves as well, almost as fast. What should hero do now? There’s about 50k in the pot now and it would cost 23.6k (39BB) more to call:

    a) Call
    b) Fold


    I folded, with the following reasoning: when villain 2 3-bet, I put him on a strong range (like AQ, AK, JJ, QQ, KK, AA, perhaps TT at most). When he shoved, I narrowed it to AK, QQ, KK, AA, and since I had blockers, QQ/AA became more likely than AK. I tanked for awhile and even asked something like “You have aces, really?” and he calmly said “Maybe”. When he said that I thought he probably didn’t have it, but then I tanked for a little longer and decided to fold anyways, since I would still have 40 BB which would be a good stack at that point of the tournament, specially on that soft table: if I called, even if I was ahead, there would still be a chance that he hit his A, or even worse, that Villain 1 had AA himself (just because he is loose doesn’t mean he didn’t have a hand).

    The result: villain 2 had AK, villain 1 had JJ and rivered a J. In the end my fold saved me some money (I would have won the side-pot but lost a bunch to the main pot), although my read was wrong.

    • 1. I would go all-in. The stacks seem relatively short. If you happen to lose 60 big blinds with KK, that is perfectly fine. I am not a fan of flatting 3bets because it looks incredibly strong. I think pushing looks much weaker.

      2. Call! This is exactly what you wanted! You are thinking about blockers incorrectly. AA and QQ are equally likely (you are flipping versus those) but he will still have AK sometimes. When he has AK, you are crushing him.

      As for your fold saving money, you should only be concerned with winning equity. Your fold lose you a ton of equity. Don’t fold KK. It is great!

  • Rahul says:

    Pls correct me if I am wrong as I always confuse myself on how to calculate the odds/equity and what not.
    If we get 3.7 to 1 odds, meaning we need to win 1 out of 4.7 hands to break even, shouldn’t the percentage to break even be 21%?

  • Eric Botticelli says:

    I folded kings preflop once. A tight player had reraised preflop to about $200 on a $1/$2 game. He had never done anything like that all game (3 hours or so). I had a stack of $300 and decided not to put my money at risk. It turns out I saved my stack. He had aces, and a king didn’t come out on the board.

    • Felipe Leme says:

      I never folded KK prior to the hand I mentioned above (which happened in 2015), but in 2014 I ran KK into AA 4 times, the 4th on day 2 of the Main Event (when I busted), where the guy was tight kind like you described. Since one of the previous busts was similar, after that hand I started considering folding, but even so I only did it once. Anyways, here’s the hand, as I described to my friends:

      Setup: Day 2 of the Main Event, I started the day with ~18k / 35BB – although it’s not an ideal stack (you start the tournament with 30k), it’s not bad neither. I did my research the night before: there were 2 players with insignificant lifetime winnings, but most others have won between $200k-$2M; I was the short stack, but there were other players in the 30k-50k range as well. We were still in the first level of the day (blinds at 50/250/500), and I had a tight/solid table image – I won a pot, lost one, and chopped another. In particular, one orbit earlier, the UTG guy raised to 1.2k UTG , UTG+1 (a tight guy that was the 2nd short stack and had about $3.5k lifetime winnings) called, I 3-bet to 4k at UTG+2 with QQ; both of them fold, and I showed it (to establish my tight/solid image so I could play more aggressively later).

      The Hand: tight guy (same above) raised to 1.2k UTG and I had KK at UTG+1. I took some time to decide whether to flat call (hoping one of the aggressive / good players would raise) or raise myself, and decided to raise to 3k to isolate – if I just called I might get 2 or 3 more callers, since players ahead of me were deep stacked. Everybody folded to the tight guy, who hollywooded for about 2 minutes then raised to 7.5k. I had about 18.5k total, he had about 25k.

      What’s at stake: If I doubled up, I would have a good stack (70BB) and an excellent table image (tight/aggressive); if I folded I would be even shorter, but 30BB in such a slow tournament is not that bad. If I lost – well, this is the Main Event, Norman :-). Should I call, fold, or shove?

      I took like 3 seconds to shove, villain snap called, and I snap said something like “Shit, you have aces, but there’s nothing I could do” :-(. Needless to say, I busted the Main Event, where I was finally recovering after a rough Day 1…

      A few hours late, after I left the state of shock, I realized I should have taken more time in the decision and perhaps folded, for the following reasons:

      1. Villain was tight, relatively short stack, and raising UTG.
      2. I was definitively strong, since I raised with QQ in a similar spot one orbit earlier. Sure, I showed my cards to establish a tight image myself and steal later, but I wouldn’t be 3-betting lightly on LP against a tight player UTG.
      3.His Hollywood act was typical of someone feigning weakness to induce a shove.
      4.The raise was relatively small (considering he would be out-of-position), which also indicated he wanted a call.
      5.If I folded, I would still have a workable stack given the tournament structure and my table image.
      6.He was not bluffing for sure, so I put his range on AA, KK, QQ (perhaps JJ as well), or AK. KK was unlikely (because I had it too) and he wouldn’t min-raising with AK (giving 1. and 2.), which narrows it to QQ and AA. He would probably just call with QQ and re-evaluate after the flop (for example, check-folding if it had a K or A); so the most likely hand (specially considering 3.) was AA.

  • I’m not sure if anyone can study it, but the possibility of AA vs KK -not- going to showdown, and possibly with 2 all-ins, is probably really small.

  • Yc says:

    Love the thrill of seing KK!!!
    But I run so bad I always loose whit it on that crucial double up deep in a tourney!

    • You need to play more tournaments so the variance evens out. That being said, there are MANY amazing poker players who have lost their key pots each year. Instead of having $10,000,000 in cashes, they have $1,000,000. Poker is brutal sometimes. When you only play 10 significant pots per year, it is important to win them!

  • Tom says:

    I’ve put a guy on AA when I had KK and still called but stacks were only about 50 BB. Was rewarded with a happy ending. Moral if the story don’t fold kings.

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