A dominated hand or A-rag hand in live poker

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At our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group, the question came up about playing A-rag in limit hold’em games.

We had been discussing “dominated hands” based on the Hold’em Algorithm A dominated hand is best folded before the flop so don’t invest in it.

A typical example is Q-7 offsuit. Using the algorithm, it scores 19 points; whereas, even in a late position, a score of at least 22 is required to call the blind to see the flop. Likewise K-7 offsuit adds up to 21 points, and hence is not playable.

What about A-7 offsuit, which gives a score of 23 points which would meet the criteria for playing that hand in a late position? Even A-6 offsuit satifies our 22-point criteria for late positions.

True, I explained, but anytime your two hole cards just barely meet the Hold’em Algorithm criteria. It’s a marginal drawing hand. The decision whether to invest in such a hand depends on how many opponents are staying to see the flop and whether there has been or is likely to be a raise preflop. Fold unless there are lots of opponents calling to see the flop with no raises.

Rags with danger

Small cards, 7 or under, are “rags.” Hands with a high honor card (A, K, Q) coupled with a rag, are “dominated hands.” They spell danger! Even if they improve, more often than not they are losers.

Suppose you played Q-7 suited. The odds are you will make a pair on the flop, if anything at all. Sure, you might catch two more of your suit giving four-to-a-flush, which is a very good drawing hand. But, far more likely, you will pair up, and have the second-best hand. That can be very costly.

The Ace

You love an ace in the hole, so you decide to take the chance and call with A-rag. The flop brings a second ace. Now you have top pair. That feels good, but should it? You bet it all the way to the river. One persistent opponent calls you all the way. Showdown.

You turn up your A-5, your opponent an A-9. His kicker card (the 10) beats you out. Indeed, his A-9 dominated your A-5 from the start. The only way you could have beaten his hand was to catch a second 5 while he failed to get another 9. He was a 3-to-1 favorite preflop. So why invest in a hand that likely loses?


To every rule there usually are exceptions. While being suited adds only 1 or 2 points to your holecards (depending on position), A-rag suited is often playable, especially from a late position. You are hoping to make the nut flush – ace high.

To a somewhat lesser extent, the same applies to K-rag suited. You are hoping to make the second-nut flush. Playing these hands is viable only if two preflop conditions are satisfied.

• It is a multi-way pot (three or more opponents staying to see the flop) so there is likely to be lots of chips in the pot should you make your flush and win. Otherwise your investment would not be attractive.

• There are no raises before your bet or anticipated after you call. Otherwise the investment is too high.


About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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