The Wise Men (And Why I Like Them)

Everybody's got their favorite hands. Made hands, I'm talking about here, not the pet hands we each like to play a little differently. If I'm drawing, I like a flopped flush draw with gutshot, picking up a double-gutter on the turn - if you miss the flush but hit the straight you can usually get an extra bet out of the deal. Basement sets are nice, well-concealed moneymakers. But if I had to pick a silver bullet hand, the one I'd take every day of the week and twice on Sunday, give me a set of kings any day. Well, sure, you're saying, everybody likes a set of kings. Who wouldn't want to be sitting on that monster? But me, I'll take the set of kings over the set of aces every. single. time. The kings are preferable to the aces in every way but one, which is that - hold on to your seats for this one - a set of aces beats a set of kings. But I'll take the losses from my occasional underset of kings gracefully, and the losses to rivered straights or flushes... well, I'll take them a little less gracefully, but I'll take them. When I flop a set of kings, I experience a feeling comparable only to the first flush of motherhood. Or so I am told. Why all this waxing poetical about a combination of cards that will rarely be the stone cold nuts? Read on. 1. Action, Action, Action An ace-high flop when you're holding AA is a mixed blessing. Your dream situation is someone flopping an underset or two pair, hopefully with the case ace, but that's just not going to happen all that often. If you raised preflop with your aces - and be honest, how often don't you - the likelihood of a decent ace being out there to play back at you just isn't that high. Nevertheless, you've gotta bet your aces, because the only hands that'll be sticking around are the ones with a chance to draw out on you. The same is true for the set of kings, yes - but you stand a much higher chance of getting action. On a K-high flop you'll probably get raised by AK or KQ or - poker gods help them - AA. You'll probably get called on the flop by any decent ace (or if the pot is big enough and the players fishy enough, any ace at all), and if the pot's big enough, on the turn as well - if the pot's big enough anyone who thinks their cards are still live will be calling. False hope - it's there with the king in a way that it isn't with the ace. If the K is the only overcard, QQ-99 will probably stick around and see the turn as well - players just aren't as scared of the king as they are of the almighty ace. But they should be, which brings me to my next tangent... 2. The Outkicked Conundrum Low-limit players who can lay down a hand when they're outkicked seem pretty few and far between, but they do exist. But in meticulously looking over Pokertracker data (the slow way - my databasing skills are marginal), I'm getting the impression that players seem less concerned about being outkicked when they've got a pair of kings than when they've got a pair of aces. This is probably suited ace-rag syndrome - players hoping to spike their kicker and folding on the river when they know they're beat or on the turn if the pot's small and they're getting atrocious odds instead of merely horrible. The number of players who play king-rag is substantially lower and hence players are much less likely to lay down anything besides, say, K9. Suffice it to say that I've always gotten more action with KK vs. Kx than AA vs. Ax - turn and river bets more frequently called. I have also, perversely enough, been outdrawn less often, which leads me to my final point: 3. A Set Of Kings Will Be The Nuts More Often Than A Set Of Aces Seems counterintuitive, but trust me, it's true. Queens, kings and aces are the only sets that can be the nuts; a set of jacks will always be vulnerable either to a straight or an overset when all five cards are out. (They can be pretty damn close to the nuts on a raggedy board, but we're in nitpicky territory here.) Each set is only the nuts on a discrete number of non-paired, non-straightening, non-flushed boards - and because of the ace's two-way straight potential, the set of kings is slightly more likely (20% more likely, by my reckoning) to be the nut hand, despite not being the nuts on any ace-high board. (I haven't done the homework on quads yet, because, well, we should all have such problems.) This is all more a curiosity than a component of sound poker - AA still makes more money for me than KK, for all the obvious reasons. Flushes win larger pots (though come in a lot less than I think they should - isn't that true for everyone?). And a set of kings is only my second-most-profitable set. Number one is my second-most-favorite set of them all - a set of jacks. Never the nuts, but good enough for me.


Anonymous Mike said...

Being able to play pocket jacks profitably is a great skill indeed! Seems like too many people hang on to them far too long when they shouldn't.

5/17/2005 05:10:00 PM  

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