Kicker Poker Definition

Top Pair Top Kicker - Outkicked

by Jesse Knight


Poker Kicker
1. The unpaired hole card that accompanies a made pair in a Texas Hold'em game.
2. An unpaired card in your hand that often plays as a high card.

The term “kicker” is most commonly used in all varieties of Texas Holdem. In this type of poker game, each player is dealt a starting hand of exactly two hole cards. These cards are dealt face down and are each individual’s private cards. The rest of the cards are community cards and are dealt face up, in the center of the table, for all players to share. Frequently, a player will make a pair by matching one of his hole cards with one of the community cards. The remaining unpaired hole card is referred to as “the kicker.” This card is of supreme importance in Texas Holdem, because it often plays. When it does, it can often be the card which determines who wins and who loses.

It is especially important when two or more players all make the same pair, by matching one of their hole cards with the same card on the board. Since each player has only a two card hand, when both players make an identical pair, the kicker is the only difference between the two hands. Since one pair often wins in Hold’em, it is relatively common for hand ranking to come down to a kicker. This is one reason that you should be mindful of the quality of your kicker during the preflop hand selection process.

Since it is relatively common for multiple players to make the same pair in a Hold’em game, you will want to make sure that you come out on top the majority of times that it occurs when you are involved This is one reason it is correct to adopt tight starting hand requirements. If you only play high cards, you will always have a decent kicker, if not the top kicker, nearly every time you pair. This step of tightening up preflop can simplify the game and make it easier to play well, especially if you're a new player. If you do this, you will not have to spend so much of your time or mental resources evaluating if your kicker is a problem.

Texas Holdem is not the only poker game where two or more players can make the same pair, it just happens more frequently in Holdem games, because all players are sharing the same community cards. This means that kickers will come into play far more often in Holdem games than they will in other types of poker games, like Seven Card Stud. When two players make the same pair in a Seven Card Stud game, up to three kickers can be involved in determining which hand ranks highest, since each hand is composed of a player’s best five cards. Sometimes a player will make the same pair as their opponent, and will also match their opponent’s top kicker. In this situation it becomes necessary to go to the second and sometimes the third kicker to determine who has the higher ranked hand. It is also possible for two players to make the same two pairs in Seven Card Stud. When this happens, the player with the highest kicker has the higher ranked hand and is entitled to the pot. As is the case in Texas Hold’em, if two players make identical hands, with all kickers matching, the result is a split pot.

Kickers only matter if the ranking of the hands is close. In Seven Card Stud games they are only relevant in hands containing no pair, one pair, or two pair. In Texas Hold’em, because community cards are used, hands containing three of a kind may also have their final rankings determined by kickers. This coupled with the fact that lower ranked hands like one pair frequently go down to the kicker in Holdem, makes kickers a major factor in Holdem games. The quality of your kicker is always a concern in a Holdem game. This is not the case in Seven Card Stud. Since each player holds their own cards, and community cards are not typically used in Stud games, kickers are not much of a concern. Most of the time, players don’t have hands that are close enough for their kickers to matter, and when they do it is often more a matter of luck than skill. In a Holdem game, you can avoid kicker problems by simply avoiding hands before the flop which contain marginal kickers. In a Stud game, it is not really possible to preempt kicker problems through tighter hand selection on third street, as the issue tends to come up later in the hand. Clearly, kickers do not have the impact in a Stud game that they have in Holdem. While they can still affect the outcome of the hand, kickers simply don’t have the strategic relevance in Stud as they do in Holdem.

Usage: Good Kicker, Kicker Kicks, Top Pair Top Kicker (TPTK)

Previous Poker Term: Joker
Next Poker Term: Kill Pot


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