How to Play Two Kings
Plenty of history and prestige were at stake at the World Poker Tour’s no-limit Hold’em Championship at the Bellagio in December 2004, not to mention a first-place prize of $1.8 million dollars. On the third day of the five-day marathon tournament, the following hand came up between Player X (an amateur) and me.
Everyone had been randomly reshuffled to new tables at the $15,000 buy-in event, with 45 players remaining (out of 400 entrants). With the blinds (required bets) at $3,000-$6,000 and a $500 a man ante, Player X (with $164,500 in chips) opened for $15,000 in the 7-seat, and, sitting in the 3-seat, I looked down at K-K (holding $285,000 in chips).
What to do? Although I loved having pocket kings, I couldn’t decide how to play them. Should I “smooth call” (underbid) the bet and hope to extract a lot of chips from my opponent later on in the hand? Or should I re-raise the bet before the flop and give the amateur a chance to re-raise me?
On the one hand, smooth calling entailed merely calling the current $15,000 bet in order to disguise the strength of my hand and make it seem much weaker than it was. Later on in the hand, I would try to draw another $40,000 to $120,000 into the pot when everyone would assume my hand was weak. However, a re-raise before the flop would alert my opponent to the strength of my hand and likely cause him to fold before the flop. The benefit of the re-raise was that it might cause my opponent to move all-in with a hand like J-J, Q-Q, A-K, or worse; thus causing me to be a huge favorite for a ton of chips.
Finally, I chose an extremely safe play. I would make a huge re-raise before the flop for two reasons. First, I wanted to protect my hand from being beat (in case players with weak yet still potentially winning hands decide to wait for the extra cards given the relatively low stakes). Second, I wanted to simply move all-in for the rest of my chips on the flop, in the event Player X called the massive re-raise, and a non-ace flop hit (such as Q-9-4 or 2-2-7) — thus protecting my hand from losing one more time. So I raised the bet up to $80,000, making a relatively huge $65,000 re-raise into the $40,000 pot.
One minute later my opponent moved all-in for $164,500. “I call” I immediately announced and turned my K-K face up. My opponent’s face looked ashen as he showed me Ad-Jd (I was a now a 2.5-to-1 statistical favorite). Then the flop came down K-Q-J, and I was about to take the chip lead with $460,000 — the $340,000 in the pot plus the $120,000 I still had in my pile — when the turn card came in as a 10 for him to make straight (K-Q-J-10). I still thought that I would win the hand with a king, queen, jack, or 10, but alas, the last card was an eight.
Oh well, that’s poker!
RAISE OR FOLD
The benefit of re-raising with K-K before the flop is:
a) You take a big chance
b) Risky plays work well
c) You protect your hand from losing
d) All of the above