Just as football games often are won by a good kicker making a field goal in the last few seconds, many hold’em pots are won by the player with the best kicker for his high card at the showdown.
I was teaching a friend of mine how to play limit hold’em. An expert bridge player, she caught on quickly, so we went to a casino in Vegas to play some $2/$4 hold’em against real people, rather than the imaginary opponents we’d been practicing against on the kitchen table.
After a few hands, Joan entered a pot from second position. The flop came A-4-6 and she bet $2. I felt certain she had a good hand, probably a big pair or maybe A-J. Three players called. The turn was a queen.
She bet $4 and only the player on the button called. The river card was a 5. Fearing her adversary had made a straight, she checked. So did her opponent. Joan turned over A-7 offsuit and he showed A-10 suited. Her best hand was A-Q-7-6-5. His best hand was A-Q-10-7-6, giving him the pot.
"Oops!" I thought. "I might not have told her how important a big kicker is in hold’em."
In low-limit hold’em, people often play "any-ace" hands such as A-6 or A-8, especially if the ace is suited to its inferior partner. Then when an ace shows up on the board, they get into "kicker trouble" against an opponent with an A-J, for example.
What about playing two high cards that don’t include an ace? For example, suppose you play high connecting cards such as Q-10 from a late position. Guess what? You would rather see a 10 come on the flop than a queen.
Why? Because three kickers can beat your queen if a queen shows up (ace, king and jack). And A-Q, K-Q, and Q-J are the types of hands people play in low-limit hold’em from just about any position. Looking at it like that, your queen doesn’t have much of a kicker, does it?
Your 10, however, has a pretty good kicker in the queen, especially since many low-limit players like to play hands such as J-10, 10-9 and 10-8 suited.
The point is, when you don’t have a strong kicker, you’d rather see the lower of your two hole cards appear on the board. The higher your kicker, the stronger your hand.