Wednesday, May 05, 2004

My Trouble Hands #1: KJo

Over the last few months, I played a lot of poker.... Party Poker, my two most recent trips to Las Vegas, the monthly runs to Foxwoods, and the Ferrari home game all have given me a chance to play a lot of hands and see a ton of flops. I had a few hands that I've seen cracked too many times when other players misplay them and hands that I used to play aggressively and since I've been burned on them too many times, I've decided to slow down and play these hands more cautiously. Today, I'll be talking about my adventures with K-J off suit. KJo.

I used to play KJo hand from any position. I won some big pots (usually my KJ outkicked a K-medium/low) and I took my share of beats. Then after a wicked beat at Ferrari's when I flopped two pair and ended up losing on a straight, I started folding KJo hand regularly. Why? Because it was costing me too much money in the long run. It's a trap hand, just like Q-10o. I read in one poker book (the name and author escapes me) that face cards are the "bread and butter cards of Texas Hold'em". Well you get them more often than not, but how many times do they actually pay off? And when you hit a flop, it's almost always a field full of land mines.

I read somewhere in TJ Cloutier's book that he called KJo one of his trouble hands and suggested you avoid playing KJo in both early and middle position with a full table (8 to 10 players). I agree with TJ. It's a trap hand. Sure, I'll limp in and see the flop with KJo in LP, but are you willing to call a modest raise or reraise with KJo? If you can't play back an reraise with KJ preflop, why bother playing it at all?
Best possible flops for KJo
Obvious: KKK or JJJ
Kick Ass: KKJ or JJK
Awesome: Q-10-9, A-Q-10
Moderate: K-J-x
Average: K-x-x or J-x-x

(x=cards lower than J)

Dangerous flops include:
And any flop with 2 or more suited cards.
I have problems when I catch a King on the flop with no overcards. Why? Because I almost always end up chopping the pot or losing to a higher kicker. Losing to K-Q sucks. Or worse... you run into someone with a K-x suited and they pair their lower kicker on the river, which booted me out of several SNGs.

KJo on the Button and in Late Position: The cheaper you can see a flop with KJo, the better. If you hit a flop, good for you. If you don't, bail out.

KJo in the Blinds: I wouldn't call a raise with KJo. If they are a few limpers, I might consider calling the LB. In a smaller field KJ's odds are slightly better, but in multi-way pots with raises preflop, watch out.

KJo Shorthanded: Obviously, your starting hands in a short handed game (6 and under) are a lot less rigid than at a full table. You reach a larger pool of starting hands to pick from when there are less players. In a 4 way game with you on the button, a raise with KJo wouldn't be a bad idea if UTG folded. But all marginal hands increase in value in those situations.

KJo in an SNG: Avoid playing it in the first few levels. Once you get to a middle level, with a smaller field, KJo can be a decisive weapon. I wouldn't go all-in preflop with it and I definitely would NOT play back at a raiser with KJo. Folding is cheaper.

KJo in Multi-table Tourneys: If you are a tight player, you'll have no problem mucking KJo everywhere except the BB and the Button. For loose-aggressive players like myself, I find it hard not limping in during an early level with KJo. Avoid this mistake. Unless you have inside information that the other players have inferior hands, it's better safe to muck the trouble hand and wait to play when you have better position and a more playable hand.

KJo... Limit vs. No-Limit: In low limit games, like $2-4 at Fowoods or on the 50c/$1 tables on Party Poker, KJo is an awful hand because so many other players will most likely see a flop with almost anything, and when they don't flop anything they'll sit around trying to catch a card on the turn and river. In a NL ring game... a raise in late position will most likely scare off the blinds and you'll go heads up or three way against two solid hands. A smaller and thinner field is something you want when playing KJo.

Heads Up with KJo: If you're up against a small or medium pair, it's a coin flip. Do you like those chances when you're heads up and have to decide whether or not his A8s or 77 will outflop you? Both are better hands than KJo... but with two overcards it's a race to beat out the medium pair, and if you want to win heads up have to make those calls every once in a while.

Before I go, I'll leave you with an example of a winning hand with KJo. College Boy had it at Ferrari's NL Tournament a few weeks ago. Here's what I said in the writeup:
The first big hand involved College Boy and James. With Kc-Jc-7c-7h on the board, College Boy bet $15 and James reraised him all-in. After a few moments of thinking about it, College Boy called and he showed his K-Jo and James had Ac-x. I don't recall the river, but James lost the showdown and had less than $10 remaining. It was an amazing call by College Boy. In the face of a possible flush, he made the correct call and doubled up. He was the chip leader after the first level and I was up $9.
Yeah, College Boy made a great call because the other guy was semi-bluffing. That's a tough decision too have to make... seeing three suited cards on the flop and then two 7s on the board after the turn... with a set and a flush possible and a guy moving all-in on you, wow, you have to think you're fucked. Again, that's too much to have to risk on KJo.

What do I do with KJ suited? I'll point you to Izmet Fekali's advice: Build pots preflop with big suited cards, suited connectors and pairs above 77. There ya go.

OK, that's all I have for now. Understand that I'm not writing a poker book or sharing my pearls of poker wisdom. I'm just telling ya what I learned from all my bad beats. Feel free to leave comments or email me your suggestions and thoughts on the matter.

Next week.... Trouble Hand #2: AQo.

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