Kickers and Side Pots
by Greg Cavouras  

Two of the concepts beginners struggle with are kickers and side pots, so here is a brief explanation of these common occurrences at the poker table:

Kickers: In poker, the goal is almost always to end up with the best Five card hand, but sometimes the winning hand isn’t composed of all 5 cards; for example when you have Two Pair, there is an extra card. If you and your opponent had two pair of identical rank, the fifth (unused) card would be the kicker, and act as a tie-breaker. If however, you had identical five card hands, the hand would be a split. See below for two examples of when kickers do and do not play:

A) Kicker Does play

You Hold: A(H) 7(D)
Opponent Holds: A(C) 4(S)

Board shows: A(D) A(S) 8(D) 3(D) 2(H)

You would win this hand because both you and your opponent play the 3 strongest board cards, so your hand becomes A A A 8 7 against his A A A 8 4. This is a typical kicker situation.

Kicker Does NOT play

Suppose the turn had come the 9 (D) instead of the 3. In this case, the 9 would make up each of your hands, and the fact that you hold a 7 against your opponents 4 becomes a moot point. You hold identical A A A 9 8 hands and the pot is split.

To summarize, when comparing hands you will only ever look at the top 5, regardless of what else is held, if the top 5 are identical then it’s a split pot, if they aren’t you have a winner!

Side Pots: Another tricky concept can be side pots; while this may be simple enough in some applications, side pots can become complicated when you have multiple players going all-in with different chip counts. The golden rule when deciding who takes which chips is as follows: No player may ever win more chips from any other player than they wagered initially. Sounds simple, but it can become relatively complex, see the examples below for the application of side pots:

All Players go all in:
Player 1 has $900
Player 2 has $742
Player 3 has $1059

What happens if:
a) Player 1 wins: Player 1 will collect all of Player 2’s chips, and $900 of Player 3’s chips. He will take the entire pot, less the additional $159 that Player 3 gets to keep. Player 2 will be eliminated.

b) Player 2 wins: Player 2 will automatically collect $742 from each of the other players; if Player 3 has a stronger hand than Player 1, he will collect the $158 from the pot and Player 1 will be eliminated. If Player 1 has a stronger hand than Player 3, Player 1 will collect $158 from Player 3 and no one will be eliminated.

c ) Player 3 wins: Both other players will be eliminated as they cannot cover Player 3’s $1059 wager.

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