What Is a Kicker in Poker & How Does It Work?

kicker in poker

6 minutes

Posted by: Ivan


Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned poker player, understanding the rules and nuances of the game is essential to your success.

One of the key concepts that every poker player must grasp is the concept of a “kicker.”

A kicker is an additional card used to determine the winner of a hand in a situation when two or more players have the same poker hand.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the concept of a kicker in poker, its importance in the game, and how to use it to your advantage.

What Is a Kicker in Poker?

In poker, kickers are additional cards or cards used to break ties between hands of the same rank.

Kickers are important in determining the winner of a hand as they can be the deciding factor in situations where multiple players have hands of the same rank.

For example,

  • Player A holds A7
  • Player B holds AK
  • And the board is A4569.

In this situation both players essentially have a pair of aces. However, because player B’s kicker (K) outranks player A’s kicker (7), Player B wins this hand.

As you can see, understanding kickers in poker is crucial for making informed decisions during a game and can help prevent costly mistakes.

what is kicker in poker

When Do Kickers Come into Play in Texas Hold’em?

In Texas Hold’em, kickers only come into play when two or more players have a hand of the same rank, such as three-of-a-kind, two pair, or one pair.

The important thing to note here is that combinations that use all five cards such as straight and better do not use kickers.

The highest-ranking kicker determines the winner of the hand. If both players have kickers of the same rank, the pot is split between them.

When determining the winner, in poker kickers are used in descending order starting from the highest cards.

For example, if two players have a pair of Aces, the player with the highest-ranking kicker, such as s King, Queen, or Jack, wins the hand.

If the highest kicker is the same, the second highest kicker is used, and so on, until a winner is determined.

For this reason, it is essential to pay attention to the community cards and the possible kickers that could come into play before making a decision during a hand.

It is also important to note, that, while in most cases, the kicker that comes into play will be one of the player’s hole cards, this will not be the case always.

For example,

  • Player A holds K4
  • Player B holds K3
  • And the board is KA78Q

In this situation, Player A’s kicker (4) outranks Player B’s kicker (3). However, because neither of the kickers outranks at least two cards on the board, they will not come into play and the pot will be split between the players.

The final 5-card combinations will look like this:

  • Player A: KKAQ8
  • Player B: KKAQ8

kicker poker rules

Tips for Using Kickers in Poker

Kickers can be a powerful tool in your poker arsenal if used correctly. Here are some tips that will help you use kicker to your advantage:

  1. Pay attention to the board – Community cards can significantly impart the strength of your hand. If the board contains high-ranking cards, it is essential to consider how they affect your and your opponent’s kicker
  2. Use your position – Your poker position can affect how you use your kicker. If you are in a later position, you will not need as strong of a kicker as you will in the early positions, since you will have more information on your opponents
  3. Don’t overvalue kickers – While kickers can be essential in determining the winner of a hand, it is important not to overvalue them. In some cases, lower-ranked kickers might not come into play, and this can cost you a lot of money if you overvalue them
  4. Use kickers to bluff – Apart from being crucial in tie-breaker situations, kickers can also be a great tool for bluffing when you miss your hand. If your kicker is blocking a significant part of your opponent’s range you can use it to turn your hand into a bluff
  5. Use kickers to extract value – If you have a strong hand with a strong kicker, don’t forget to use it to extract more value from your opponent in situations when they think that you have the same hand combination as them

Understanding how to use kickers effectively is a valuable skill for any poker player. Whether you are using them to bluff or extract value from your opponents, kickers can play a significant role in the outcome of a hand.

poker kicker

Betting Strategy with Kickers

By now, you should have a pretty clear idea that not all poker hands are created equal. Kickers, which can often be overlooked, play a crucial role in determining the true strength of a hand and can significantly impact your win rate.

A kicker comes into play most frequently with a one-pair hand, as it is less common for two players to hold the same two-pair or three-of-a-kind hand.

Therefore, it is essential to understand how to navigate top-pair hands with kickers of different strengths. The value of your kicker will affect important betting decisions, such as the number and specific street to bet on, as well as the amount to bet.

General rules for betting with kickers:

  1. If you have a top pair with a great kicker, (if your kicker is in the top three ranking kickers) depending on the board, you can bet two or three streets.
  2. If you have a top pair with a medium strength or bad kicker, it is not a bad idea to call or bet one or two streets.

Bet Sizing Strategy

Another important thing to understand is which sizings to use depending on the strength of your hand and your kicker.

In general, you will want to:

  • Use bigger sizings for polarized ranges (strong hands and bluffs)
  • Use smaller sizings for merged ranges (wider number of value hands and a small number of bluffs)

What this means is that if you have a top pair with a strong kicker, depending on the board you will want to use bigger sizings because you can extract value from strong top pairs that your opponent has, as well as some weaker hands in his range.

If you have a top pair with a bad kicker, depending on the board, you will want to use smaller sizings so that you don’t isolate yourself only against the top of your opponent’s range. In other words, you want to give your opponent the opportunity to call you with hands that you beat.

Final Thoughts on Kickers in Poker

In conclusion, kickers are a critical component of poker hands and you should not overlook them. They can be the deciding factor in hands, thus impacting your win rate.

For this reason is it important that you understand how kickers work, how they come into play, and how to use them to your advantage.

With this said, to use kickers effectively, players should consider their value when making decisions on things such as the number of streets to bet on and the amount of poker chips to wager.

Ivan Potocki

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