KK vs. AA & QQ
I was in Las Vegas last week with my buddy Mike, and this was a hand that he played in a $1-2 NL cash game.
A player in early position raised to $12, and an older gentleman called. Mike – on the button – squeezed his cards and found KK, and 3-bet to $36. The Small Blind calls for $36 and the opening raiser folded.
Then the older guy – who hasn’t done anything fancy up to this point – goes all-in. Huh?
Pretty easy actually… he has exactly pocket Aces.
Mike figures it out and folds, and the SB then folds QQ face up. The Villain proudly shows his Aces, and Mike says “Nice hand sir, I had pocket Kings.”
But that’s not the end of the story.
Another player at the table complimented Mike on being able to let go of KK’s there. This player, while not involved in the hand, had been sitting at the table for awhile with his professional poker coach sweating him (i.e., watching over his shoulder). Rather often, both the player and coach would leave the table for a few minutes of private conversation/coaching, then return for more play.
When the older guy left the table, the coach told Mike that the older guy badly mis-played the hand and that he, the pro/coach, would have “felted” Mike in the same situation, by flat calling Mike’s 3-bet.
Later on, Mike and I debated how that might have worked. For starters, we both acknowledge that some percentage of the time, either a K or Q would hit the flop, and either Mike or the SB would win. We know that any pocket pair will flop a set about 1 in 8 times, so the chances here with both KK and QQ seeing the flop are about 23% that one or the other (or both) will flop a set. So a flat call by the AA hand entails a moderately high level of risk.
Let’s assume all 3 players have starting stacks of $300 (equal to the max buy-in at this table). The pre-flop betting totals $12 + $36 + $36 + $36 = $120, and each player has $264 remaining.
If the flop is all low cards, and the older guy checks, Mike is certainly likely to make a strong continuation bet, say $60-90 range. If both call $60, now the pot is $300 and each player has $204 remaining. If Mike bets $75 and both call, the pot is $345 and each player has $189 remaining. Maybe Mike can sniff out the Aces, but we can see how the pot size escalates to the point where it becomes very difficult to avoid being pot-committed by the river.
We also explored another line the older guy might have taken. Suppose, I asked, he re-raised the minimum pre-flop after Mike’s raise and the call from SB, to $60?
All of the color suddenly left Mike’s face. “I probably would have shoved it all-in right there,” he said, “in order to protect my big hand against going to the flop against 2 villains instead of one.” He reasoned that calling $60 surely brings SB along for another call, and the raise size doesn’t scream “I HAVE ACES!!!” like the old man’s call/shove line. This could easily be AK or QQ prepared to fold to a shove. If it goes 3-ways to the flop, Mike would have felt very vulnerable to any Ace on the flop, and one or both villains could have a lower pair and flop a set. Any Q, J or T would be terrifying, so why not make them pay the maximum price now? If both fold, he still wins $60 from the old guy, $36 from SB and $12 from the original raiser, for a total profit in the hand of $108… not bad for a $1/2 game.
The min-raise, we decided, would be the play the old guy should have made to maximize the likelihood of felting Mike. While he was probably happy to win, he may have missed out on a lot more value.