What Is a Kicker in Poker?

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A kicker is an aspect that frequently arises in games of poker. Also known as a side card, it is generally used as a tie-breaker in games where two players or more have similar hands in terms of strength. In such cases, kickers are used to determine the final winner of the round. In simple terms, a kicker is the highest-value card held by a player that doesn’t consist of a made hand.

The kicker only plays a role in determining a winner when the players’ hands are made up of fewer than five primary cards. A hand consisting of Q-Q-9-4-2 would win over a hand of Q-Q-8-5-2 because the 9-card represents a higher value than the 8. A hand featuring Q-Q-K-5-3, on the other hand, would win over Q-Q-9-4-2 because the K-card is worth more than the 9. 

What Happens When Players Have Matching Kickers? 

In cases where players have the same hand, including the same kicker, the card with the next-highest valuation after the kicker wins the pot. However, this rarely happens as the odds of two players holding five similar cards are significantly slim. In even rarer cases where two people have the same hand, including kickers, the winnings are split evenly between the players. 

The Role of Kickers in Draw Poker 

In cases where a full hand is dealt before the first bet is made, an unmatched card can be kept in the hope of being paired in the next draw or to act as a kicker during the showdown. In such cases, the kicker card kept by a player will likely be an Ace.

The kicker card can also be used as a means of deceiving the opponent into thinking you have a better hand than is the case. You can keep a kicker, for example, to fool your opponent into thinking you have three of a kind when you only have a pair. 

The Role of Kickers in Texas Hold ‘em 

A kicker holds more importance in games of Texas Hold ‘em compared to other versions of poker. In most cases, a winning hand is generally made up of a card in the player’s hand paired with another card on the game board. The player’s second card will then play the role of a kicker. If one player’s hand features an A-5, another’s features A-6, and the board holds A-Q-8-3-5, the player holding A-6 will win the round as a result of the kicker (the 6). 

When is a Kicker Invalid in Poker? 

A kicker is not always a mainstay in games of poker. Instances where a kicker is not required include when a player is holding the following hands: 

  • A full house 
  • A flush
  • A Royal flush 
  • A straight flush 
  • A straight 

A kicker is only used in hands consisting of four cards or less. If a hand consists of five cards, then a kicker is not applicable. The numerical ranking of the kicker involved is the sole element that determines a winning hand in such cases. 

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