If I had to choose one thing that beginners do too much while playing holdem it would be playing dominated poker hands. This leads to playing too many hands overall.
Dominated poker hands are hands that have one card that is the same as your opponent(s), usually a face card or ace, along with a weak kicker. The kicker is weaker than what other players are likely to have (that’s why it’s “dominated”).
For example, a hand like A8o would be a dominated poker hand. An ABC or thinking (good) poker player is going to play much better aces than A8; usually AT or better. Another example is K9. K9 can make a top pair hand, but will usually be outkicked by KT, KJ, KQ, A9 and AK.
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The Problem with Dominated Poker Hands
Can you see the problem with dominated hands? If not, maybe you’re playing too many of them yourself.
The problem is that when you get involved with dominated hands you frequently are outkicked by better ones. What’s more is that when you lose with these hands, it’s usually a big pot. However, when you do win with a dominated hand, you don’t win much at all. In fact, players who have top pair dominated kicker type hands play their hands passively, in fear of someone having a better top pair.
Just to drive the point home further, take a look at the math behind dominated hands:
- AA (82%) vs. KK (18%) – This is about the same for all pair over pair hands.
- AKo (74%) vs. A8o (26%)
- KQs (71%) vs. KJs (29%)
This is all pre flop. Now look what happens when you actually connect with the flop:
- AA (92%) vs. KK (8%) on Q-8-4 rainbow flop.
- AKo (99.6%) vs. A8o (.3%) on K-7-3 rainbow flop.
- KQs (83%) vs. KJs (17%) on A-9-4 rainbow flop.
Not so great, right? In the case of the AK hand, the only cards that will help the A8 win is running 8s (turn and river). Even if there is an 8 on the flop, AK still has 12% equity in the hand. Not great, but much, much better than less than 1% that the A8 has in the other example.
Dominated Hands are Frequently Changing
Something worth keeping in mind is that dominated poker hands change frequently. They’ll change from one opponent to the next. That’s because each player has a different range of hands they’re willing to get involved with.
For example, say you had an opponent who calls with any ace, king, queen and connector; anything that has “potential” to make a big hand. Versus a player like this you can get away with opening a larger range of hands, even hands that are (usually) “dominated.” A9o isn’t that bad of a hand versus an opponent who is willing to flat your raises with A2, K5 and Q7.
Does that mean you should play them? Not necessarily, just for the fact that you still don’t want to play for big pots with weaker top pair type hands. That said, if you know the opponent you’re playing against is playing face up (raises all good hands, passive with everything else), then you probably could knowing that you could dump a weak top pair if this player raised.
On the other hand, raising A9 into a bunch of regs (regular, good players) doesn’t make a ton of sense. Think of what they’re going to call or play back at you with – hands like AJ+, maybe KQ and TT or JJ+. You’re not in good shape against any of these hands, even KQ (58%). So it doesn’t make sense to open this kind of hand unless you’re doing it to only steal. It’s definitely not to make money.
When to Play Dominated Poker Hands
All of this being said, I do think there are times where it’s ok to play dominated poker hands.
But you have to be smart about it.
The one time I play hands that are usually dominated is when I’m playing for a flush instead of just playing for top pair. For example, I’ll play A4s or K9s. There are a couple of provisions though:
- It must be a family (multi-way) pot. This is so I have a good chance of getting paid off when I make my hand.
- It’s got to be cheap. I don’t want to risk 10% of my stack or anything like that. I want to invest as little as possible – 1 to 5% or so would be much better.
Also, if I don’t flop anything I fold. I don’t get out of hand or tricky or anything like that. If I flop top pair, then I also need a backdoor flush draw (one card of my suit on the flop, and hoping for runner runner flush cards) or a very cheap look at the turn. Otherwise I’ll dump my top pair hand a good portion of the time. It’s just not worth it otherwise, to get to the river and realize that I spent a ton of chips only to find out that I had the worst (best) hand.