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Esfandiari and the Folding Pocket Kings Preflop Puzzle

Antonio Esfandiari
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  • They had just talked about folding pocket kings preflop on #PokerAfterDark. Then Esfandiari got K-K.

  • Folding kings preflop is a rarity. But discussions of the topic highlight many strategic concerns.

Pocket kings. It's the second-best hand in hold'em, which means folding the hand before the flop isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility — in theory, anyway.

If you've been following the relaunch of Poker After Dark on PokerGO, you know how that very topic came up, and immediately a situation presented itself in which a player with pocket kings genuinely had to ponder whether or not to let his pair of kings go before the flop.

Jean-Robert Bellande had been recalling how he and Daniel Negreanu didn't have a lot of history when it came to "big bet" games, having primarily only sat at the same table when the games were fixed-limit.

Bellande did recall one memorable instance when he'd played NLHE with Negreanu at a tournament at the Borgata. He related a quick story about witnessing Negreanu play a hand versus another opponent at their table.

"It went raise back and forth, you were up against an amateur player and it was early in the tournament," Bellande began.

"Finally he just jammed on you, and you were like 'This is so sick. I can't believe this. I've literally never folded kings preflop in my life before.' And you folded the kings up and he showed you the queens!"

Esfandiari and the Folding Pocket Kings Preflop Puzzle 101
Tom Dwan

Negreanu laughed at the memory, noting that he did fold pocket kings preflop one other time (and the opponent had aces). Negreanu then asked Esfandiari, "Ever done it?"

"Five times," said Esfandiari, explaining that it had been many years ago. "Those days are just so long gone," he added with a chuckle, adding "You got it? You got it" to indicate he wasn't planning on letting go of {K-}{K-} again, and if an opponent had aces, so be it.

The conversation was literally just concluding as the dealer pitched cards for the next hand, and uncannily Esfandiari was dealt {K-Hearts}{K-Clubs} under the gun and raised.

After a couple of folds Negreanu looked down at {Q-Diamonds}{Q-Clubs} and three-bet to $3,500 from the button. Dwan then woke up with {A-Spades}{A-Clubs} in the big blind and made it $14,000 to go.

Esfandiari didn't waste much time before five-betting to $41,100. Negreanu paused, looking warily over at Esfandiari, then after some time in the tank put in the call.

Dwan then took his time before jamming all in for $328,000 total, and Esfandiari was incredibly facing the very possibility the group had been discussing just before.

"On the heels of talking about folding kings preflop, could this be the sixth time in history that Antonio makes that decision?" asked commentator Ali Nejad.

Esfandiari and the Folding Pocket Kings Preflop Puzzle 102
Esfandiari ponders what to do with pocket kings

Esfandiari did call, Negreanu folded his queens, and after they ran it twice Dwan was the recipient of what ended up a huge $697,100 pot.

Last night Esfandiari and Negreanu didn't return for the second day of play in the high-stakes Poker After Dark cash game, but Dwan was there again. Andrew Robl was one of the players filling an empty seat, and he had a question for Dwan early on.

"You like playing poker on TV, Tom?" asked Andrew Robl.

"I think I do," Dwan grinned.

From the point of view of strategy, the topic of folding {K-}{K-} prefop is perhaps somewhat trivial given the extreme rarity of the situation.

That said, analyses of scenarios in which a player with pocket kings genuinely faces such an option affords an opportunity to discuss meaningfully a variety of strategy-related topics — including the significance of preflop aggression, position, three- and four-betting (and five- and six- and so on), hand reading and "range reading," and table image.

The novelty of the situation — and the fact that big pots are almost always part of the story — makes the "folding-kings-pre" puzzle inherently interesting as well.

Here are a couple of other strategy articles discussing instances of players folding pocket kings preflop:

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