Trouble Hands - K-J
by Jason Kirk  

One of the mistakes that many beginning poker players make is assuming that any two face cards combined will make a great starting hand. Sometimes this can be attributed to the basic advice many players are given when they start out in hold'em - "play any cards that add up to 20 or more in blackjack." Many times, though people fall in love with face cards just because they look so much better than the numbered cards. That's the sort of attitude that makes a hand like K-J look great - and it's also why so many people lose money. Taking a good look at K-J exposes it for the trouble hand it is.

Against a random hand, K-J comes in as a 3-2 favorite - not a bad start, considering the reputation the hand has. But like its trouble hand cousin A-Q, K-J traps players because it is significantly behind against other starting hands that players are likely to play. First, consider the three hands that dominate K-J: A-K, A-J, and K-Q are all 3-1 favorites preflop, and they are all hands that people commonly see the flop with. Next, consider the hands that K-J itself dominates: K-T, Q-J, Q-T, and all the lower kings and queens. The loosest players at the table are probably your only opponents who will take these hands all the way to showdown, meaning that even when you find yourself a 3-1 favorite with K-J you mostly win smaller pots. Finally, consider running into K-K - the cowboys are a 9-1 favorite, a worse situation than running into aces.

If all this sounds like being scared of monsters that just aren't there, consider the sorts of flops that turn K-J into a strong hand. K-K-J or K-J-J will give you a full house - but if an A or Q hits the board and the pot was raised preflop, you're probably in big trouble. A-Q-T or Q-T-9 will give you a straight - but if the board pairs on the turn or river there's a good chance you'll find yourself facing an opponent with a full house. The flops that give K-J hands of lesser strength are even more vulnerable. K-J-x can easily run into trips, and K-x-x and J-x-x are weak enough to leave K-J vulnerable to almost every possibility in poker.

One notable place where K-J finds itself in lesser (but still notable) trouble is against weak aces. This isn't much of a problem if you're playing in a rock garden, but at more active tables the loose players that you'll find yourself tempted to play K-J against like to play any ace, no matter its suitedness or how low its kicker. Even against the lowly A-2 offsuit, K-J is a 57-43 underdog. For every 2 times you improve to win a hand against the table maniac's low ace, he's going to win 3. If you're looking for long-term profits, these aren't the sorts of situation you want to involve yourself in. Even though your hand may have more possibilities to become a monster, the ace always starts out ahead and you have to improve to win.

Unlike A-Q, the majority of players won't play K-J all that strongly. They tend to limp in with the hand if they play it at all. While this does remove some of the danger from playing K-J, it also means that loose opponents get cheap chances to crack it with lesser hands. If you decide to switch it up and raise with K-J, you expose yourself to an attack from legitimate raising hands. What's worse, sometimes those raising hands will just call in the belief that you have a better hand than you actually hold. Just imagine how much you can lose if K-Q decides to flat-call your raise and a K comes on the flop.

K-J can be a very solid hand in a short-handed game, but in full ring situations it's a money siphon. If you do decide to play K-J in a full ring game, the best strategy is to do so in late position with good odds. That means a lot of limpers in front of you. If you don't hit a monster on the flop, and there's betting in front of you, toss the hand and wait for a better situation. It can be frustrating when you're running bad and you have to fold a good-looking hand like K-J, but it's even more frustrating to lot of chips because you overplayed what's really a marginal hand.

Full Tilt Poker Logo
Carbon Poker
100% up to $600
Doyles Room Logo
Aced Poker
150% up to $750
BetUS Logo
PDC Poker
100% up to $600