Even expert poker players will play dominated hands

Sep 17, 2013 3:00 AM

Whether you play limit or no-limit hold’em, you probably have seen players – even some of the experts – play dominated hands. Sometimes I wonder if they realize it.

According to George Epstein’s Hold’em or Fold’em? book, a dominated hand is described as “two players holding the same card in common, but one has a lower kicker. The hand with the lower kicker card is dominated.” Hi-Lo hands are good examples. That’s one high card (10 and above) and one low card (7 down to deuce) in the hole.

By way of illustration: Andy has K-10 offsuit in the hole. Bob has K-5 offsuit in the hole. The flop brings another King. Both now have a pair of Kings, but Bob’s kicker, a 5, is lower than Andy’s kicker, a 10. Bob’s hand is “dominated” by Andy’s.

They both stay in the pot to the river. All the other players have folded their hands. On the showdown, Andy wins the pot because his kicker is higher than Bob’s. Andy had Bob outkicked! The only way Bob could beat out Andy would be if he paired his small kicker while Bob did not. Sure, that can happen but it’s a huge long-shot.

Playing a dominated hand: Worst of all, when a “dominated player” who (foolishly) calls to see the flop with such a hand, connects with a big pair (a pair of Kings in our example, above), he has no idea an opponent may be sitting there with the same pair – but a bigger kicker. Now it’s going to be quite costly for him as he calls all the way to the river, hoping his pair of Kings holds up and is the best hand at the showdown.

On the flop, there is just as much chance the “dominated player” will pair his small card rather than the high card. Now he has a great kicker (the King), but what are the chances an opponent doesn’t have a bigger pair in the hole – or will catch one on the turn or river? There are so many bigger pairs possible than his 5-5. And then the King kicker matters not an iota.

As you can see, it is a big mistake to invest in a dominated hand. So why do so many poker players do it? Well, for one thing, honor cards – such as the King – are so pretty. And, after all, that player didn’t come to the casino to sit out hand after hand. He craves some action. He doesn’t think of his holecards as a “dominated hand.”

It’s a hand with potential. “Let’s see what the flop brings me,” he rationalizes, intending to fold if the flop doesn’t help his hand. Lo and behold, he pairs one of his holecards. That may be enough to keep him in the pot, hoping to improve his hand even further – which rarely happens. Costly!

If his two holecards happen to be suited, all the more reason to stay to see the flop, he rationalizes. (Being suited adds just a little more value to your holecards – not enough to justify calling with a dominated hand, except in certain special circumstances.)

The odds against catching two more cards of “his” suit are almost 8-1 against. If he’s lucky and makes four-to-a-flush, then he would have a good shot at making the flush on the turn or on the river. But, far more likely, he will pair up one of his holecards. The odds are only 2-1 against that.

Of course, it’s much more likely his hand doesn’t improve at all on the flop. In that case, he can muck his cards and relax while he observes the rest of the hand being played. Do that often enough and before you know it, your chips will disappear into never-never land.

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