To start at the top, what is a kicker in poker?
In the simplest of terms, it is that extra card that stands next to your made hand. Usually, the term poker kicker is applied to the first highest card outside of the made combination.
What Is A Kicker In Poker and Why It Is Relevant
Poker kicker is particularly useful when comparing Hold’em poker hands, but you will use it in other poker games, like Omaha, Five and Seven Card Stud, etc.
Simply put, the kicker is usually used to determine a winner in a situation where two players have the same winning hand on a showdown.
For example, if the board runs Q Q 5 7 9 and one player has KQ while another is holding QT, they both have the same hand – three of a kind, queens.
To determine who will win the pot, the poker kicker comes into play, and the pot will go to the one holding KQ as King beats Ten as a higher kicker.
Of course, in Hold’em and other variations where players share community cards, kicker only comes into play if it is higher than one of the cards on the board.
In this scenario, for example, if players held Q2 and Q4, they would split the pot. They both have the exact same hand, namely trip queens with a 9 and a 7 as kickers (since highest cards are not in player's hands but in the community cards).
Using Poker Kicker: Avoid Costly Mistakes
Understanding what is a kicker in poker and how it works is very important for other strategic concepts in Hold’em.
First of all, it can help you understand why certain hands are included in opening hand ranges while others are avoided.
You’ll often see that opening charts advise avoiding small aces as well as hands containing a paint card and a little card. Kicker problems are the biggest reason for this since these hands tend to win a small or lose a huge pot, which is not a great proposition for the player.
If you open a hand like K2 from an early position and get called, you’ll have a hard time navigating even favorable flops, i.e., the one containing a King.
If you’re able to get a fair amount of action, your opponent likely has a king as well. If they do, they definitely have a better kicker than you, so you won’t win unless you catch a second pair.
This is something many less experienced players forget. They’ll get involved with a vast range of hands, and it will cost them a lot because they’ll put too much value in their top pair, for example, forgetting they have serious poker kicker problems.
Some will even repeat the same mistakes over and over again and will stay firm in their belief they’re just getting “unlucky.”
After all, you’re not supposed to lose that much with a top pair in Hold’em, right?
If you’re continually getting out-kicked, it probably means that you’re playing too many hands, to begin with. Having a high card in your hand is good, but unless your other card (i.e., your kicker) is high enough to support it, you’re going to get into many tricky spots.
Taking Advantage of Bad Kicker Poker Use
Since many players just refuse to accept the importance of kicker in poker (or are yet to learn about it), you can find many opportunities to boost your profits.
The value of hands in Hold’em is usually relative as it depends on the opponent’s likely range, so you can sometimes push for thinner edges even with relatively weak hands.
This is especially true in a scenario where you’re up against player(s) who don’t understand the significance of a kicker.
Against these players, you’ll be able to go for some thin value with hands like top pair / decent kicker. A hand like AJ on an A high board, for example, may not be enough to play for stacks against most players, but against someone who routinely overplays small aces and disregards the importance of poker kicker, it might be worth it.
If you do not know what is kicker or consider it while playing, you should play online casino real money no deposit sites instead, since you will not be very likely to win in poker.
So, if you can recognize and isolate a player who undermines the importance of a kicker card, you’ll be able to win many big pots out of them.
The kicker in Other Poker Variations
Texas Hold’em and other flop games like Omaha aren’t the only games that use kicker to determine the winner in an otherwise tied situation. In fact, almost all popular variants use this approach instead of other alternatives (such as declaring a split in the hand or using suits to decide the winner).
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All stud poker variants also utilize kicker. In Five Card Stud, for example, the best side card in a player’s hand is used. In Seven Card Stud, only the best five cards play, and kickers are considered as well.
However, if the kicker can’t determine the winner (i.e., it’s a tie), the other two cards aren’t considered in stud.
For example, if Player 1 has AA KK J 10 9 and the Player 2 hold AA KK J 7 6, the pot will be split. Only the best five cards play.
While paying attention to your kicker is important in Stud games as well, but it’s probably not as relevant as in Hold’em where your opponent can have many more different variations.
Sharpen Your Kicker Poker Play
Poker kicker can seem like such a small and irrelevant thing, but the fact of the matter is, it can be one of the most significant leaks in one’s game.
The most important takeaway from this article is to accept the fact that your kicker will play an essential role in many pots.
Hence, you should always avoid being outkicked by your opponents in big pots and situations that can cost you a lot of money. Once you get that part out of the way, you’ll be able to turn the tables and start taking advantage of those who don’t understand this fundamental concept.
Finding players who often end up with the second-best hand due to kicker problems is an excellent way to boost your profits without too much effort.
As you learn other strategies and develop a better understanding of poker game strategy, you’ll be able to figure out when a weak kicker in poker aren’t as much of an issue, and you can adjust your game plan accordingly.