MCU poker tip: King-jack off-suit in hold ’em

It depends on the type of game.

Much of the modern literature ridicules the play of king-jack off-suit and similar hands that might be dominated. The truth is that in most games, these hands are very unprofitable from early positions and when calling an early position raise. Fine. Agreed.

And yet…

Still, king-jack ranks high on the list of hands you might be dealt at random and even average players in loose games frequently make money with it overall. I know that statement is shocking to most advocates of tight entrance requirements, but it’s the truth.

Why is king-jack a winner, when many books say that it will usually be dominated by ace-king, king-queen, ace-jack? It’s because real-life players are out there indiscriminately playing hands like king-7, jack-5, and who knows what else.

Dominates

The net effect is that king-jack often dominates more than it is dominated, and under command of a skillful player it definitely earns a profit. I’m not taking rakes into consideration by making this claim. But it’s definitely true that, in a seat-rental game, king-jack offsuit at a loose table has a long-range profit expectation in many situations, even though players are traditionally ridiculed for playing it. Use caution, though, because you’re likely to win less money when dominating than you lose when dominated.

I do agree that inexperienced players are safer not playing the hand, because they’re likely to end up not knowing what to do after the flop. Beyond that, I believe the value of king-jack in loose games is widely underestimated.

Clarified

Let’s be clear about what I’m saying, though. I’m not recommending that you call with king-jack of mixed suits if an opponent raised the blind from an early position — meaning any of the first three seats following the big blind in a typical nine-handed game. In fact, you probably shouldn’t play even if the that opponent just called.

Against a middle position or later opponent who was first to raise, you often can call profitably. Of course, the larger that raise in a no-limit game, the less inclined you should be to call. If nobody else has voluntarily entered the pot by the time the action reaches you, consider opening the action with a raise from middle positions — and almost always do so from the button position, the cutoff (one before the button), and even one seat further away than that.

Mitigated

You’ll find your fear of being dominated by larger kickers in these situations, while a real concern, is largely mitigated by the times loose opponents have weaker kickers than a king when you pair jacks and weaker kickers than a jack when you pair kings. So, despite the fact that novices should be cautioned against playing king-jack of mixed suits too adventurously, the reality is that the hand has a small advantage more often than most expert guidelines suggest. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

2 thoughts on “MCU poker tip: King-jack off-suit in hold ’em”

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  1. Hi Mike ~ I agree inexperienced players are safer not trying to play the hand. Kind regards, Todd

  2. I agree Mike. You are so different than most pros that write books. I have read most of them and they mostly tell readers the basics of playing poker. Your book of tells is the only one that has helped me. The books should be read by all beginners, yes. But i have been playing for 50 years and am disappointed in most books on poker. Even the ones that says for beginners and pros alike. lol I just finished reading Farha on Omaha. He explains the basics ok and recommends playing the way he said to in the book but he also says that he don’t play that way. ??????????Huh??? He don’t play that way? Crap, I wanted to know how he played. I’ve learned more from your tips here and elsewhere than all the poker books ever written.

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