In No Limit Texas Holdem, one of the hardest things to do is to fold pocket kings before the flop. My friend Mike did it recently, and I’ve folded KK myself twice… once in a cash game (ironically, Mike was the Villain in that hand, as described here) and once in a tournament.
Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie wrote a series of classic books on No Limit Holdem. In Harrington on Cash Games, he asks “Should kings ever be folded?” Then he answers his own question. “As I discussed in Harrington on Hold ’em (addressing tournament play), the practical answer is ‘No.’ It’s true that you look like a genius when your opponent puts in a third raise and you show your kings and fold them, and he then shows his aces. But if you’re willing to fold kings, I guarantee you that sometimes you’ll be folding them to queens, or ace-king, or a total bluff, and over time, your willingness to fold kings will cost you money.”
Last night I was at a $1/2 home game, and another player who I’ll refer to as “Patrick” raised to $11. In the cutoff seat, I peek at my cards and see red KK’s. What would KKing David do? Obviously I re-raise, to $31. Everyone folds back to Patrick, who re-raises to $85. He has about $100 more behind and I have him easily covered.
Does he have pocket AA’s? Getting dealt KK and another player has AA only happens about 1-out-of-every-5,000 hands. Here is the math: I’ll get KK 1-out-of-221 hands. There are 9 other players at the table. Each other player will have AA at the same time as my KK about 1-out-of-204 hands (i.e., the frequency increases just slightly after taking into account the elimination of my two kings from the deck). There are 9 chances (9 other players) that this happens, increasing the frequency to 204/9 or approx. 1-out-of-22.5. Multiply 1-out-of-221 times 22.5 and I’ll have KK vs. AA 1-out-of-every-4,972 hands that I play No Limit Holdem at a full table. We can round this up to 5,000 to make the general point. (This also means I should get AA vs. a villain’s KK the same 1-out-of-5,000 hands.)
What is the general point, you might ask? In this case, I’m thinking about the fact that I had KK vs. AA one night earlier, vs. “Cinderella” as described here. So at the moment of this hand where Patrick has slid out a 4-bet to $85, I’m feeling some injustice. I’m not due for this again. It’s only been a couple hundred hands, or fewer, since the prior night’s KK vs. AA confrontation, so “it’s not fair” for that to be happening again so soon.
Back to Patrick. Patrick and I have played with each other quite a few times before. I know he’s not crazy. He’s not what I would call an expert player, nor a total drooler, and he’s never shown any inclination to push this hard with a deep stack and AK or QQ or anything weaker. In fact, I’m trying to think of another hand where Patrick got his whole stack in pre-flop when he was this deep. I do know that when he gets short-stacked, he tends not to buy more chips to top off his stack, and accordingly is more willing to get it all-in with a short stack and a hand like JJ or QQ. But this is not such a time.
More importantly, I believe he respects my game too. At this point in the night, I had a solid, emotionally stable, winning image based on aggressive plays that have won several small pots without showdowns. This was the first time I had 3-bet this large all night. There is no reason for him to think my 3-betting range is very wide.
I stare at Patrick for a minute and he looks very peaceful. His eyes aren’t blinking rapidly, and there are no signs of stress. He’s not 4-betting light here, not out-of-position, not against me, not committing nearly half of his stack after my strong 3-bet.
I think about the consequences of folding and not knowing (for absolutely sure) what he has. I will have to live with that. I think about the impact on my emotional state of losing $31 with KK and not even seeing the flop. I think about the consequences of shoving all-in, the resulting impact on my emotional state of being right, i.e., seeing that he actually does have AA and losing a very large pot. Will I recover? Will I tilt and spew away hundreds more?
Calling is out of the question. I’m not getting anywhere near the proper odds for set-mining (hoping for a 3rd K on the flop/folding if I miss), and how would I possibly be able to fold if the flop is all rags and Patrick open-shoves?
I think about Dan Harrington.
I think about my never-ending quest for better self-discipline, a willingness to let go (physically letting go of the cards, emotionally letting go of the sense of entitlement that I have a big hand and deserve to win) that so often eludes me.
I think about trusting my reads.
I slide my Kings into the muck. “Nice bet, Patrick.”