One of the recurring themes that are periodically discussed on the Internet newsgroup, rec.gambling.poker deals with the concept of dominated hands. You’ll find entire books on poker strategy based primarily on the concept of making hands that dominate those held by your opponent, and avoiding situations where yours in the hand being dominated.
If this concept is new to you, here’s how it works. If I’m holding A-10, and you have A-K, my hand is dominated. Miraculous straights and flushes that might accrue to A-10 notwithstanding, I have three outs and three outs only to win this pot. And while there are a few more hands that will enable me to split the pot — a rainbow coalition of K-Q-J-10 might hit the board and our straights will propel us to a split pot — that’s beside the point since my objective is to win, not play a lesser hand in hopes of getting my money back courtesy of a really miraculous fall of cards.
Dominated hands, by definition, have three outs. Except for those aforementioned miraculous straights and flushes and a few oddball split pots, only three cards will enable a dominated hand to win the pot. The hand that’s doing the dominating owns the rest of the deck!
I’m probably not telling you anything new here; and unless you are a beginner at poker this information isn’t anything you don’t already know. Regardless of the fact that opponents sometimes seem to make three-outers against you with regularity, no poker player wants his opponent’s foot on his throat with only three cards enabling escape. Sometimes it’s not even as good as all that. If the dominating hand is fortunate enough to make two pair, then for all intents and purposes you’re drawing dead. Imagine that. You pair your kicker on the turn or river and bet, or even raise, thinking yours is the best hand. But your hand is still dominated; and what’s worse is that your two pair will probably result in a bigger loss — especially if you are frisky and do some raising — than you would have experienced if you suspected you were dominated and made crying calls all the way to the river.
Dominated hands are trouble. That’s right, folks. They’re trouble — right here in River City, and they’re trouble in Flop City and Turn City too. And when you’ve got trouble it’s time to ask yourself, “What can I do about it?” and “How can I avoid getting in situations like this in the first place?”
Many poker authors who write about Texas hold’em have gone to great lengths to discuss what they euphemistically call “…trouble hands.” After all, lots of hands fall into this category. In early position, hands like A-J, A-10, K-J, K-10 and Q-J are classic trouble hands. “Call with hands like these in early position,” you’re invariably admonished, “and you are in big trouble if an opponent raises.” After all, conventional wisdom holds that most of your opponents will raise most of the time with hands that are better than those. Whoever is raising is much more likely to have a hand like A-A, K-K, A-K, or A-Q, than a trouble hand.
While that’s true as far as it goes, the ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล fact remains that many of your opponents have never read the book, and they don’t play by it, either. Some players have raising requirements that are far less stringent than others, and other than whim or some inexplicable gut feel that’s correct only about as often as the laws of chance say it ought to be, real maniacs often have no raising requirements at all.
I’ve seen players who will raise with any suited ace in any position, as well as raise with hands like K-J, K-10, Q-J, J-10, and any pair of sixes or higher. I’ve seen maniacs raise with 10-7 offsuit just because they “…had a hunch.” When you are playing against an opponent who raises with a very broad spectrum of hands, you won’t necessarily be dominated if you hold an otherwise troublesome hand like A-J. In fact, the raiser might be the one who is dominated, and while he may think otherwise, it just might be your foot that’s firmly planted on his throat. There’s no tactical edge more important than knowing your opponents, and a hand like A-J, which I’d release in the face of a raise from a sound player, might be a hand I’d reraise with against others.
Nevertheless, when you’re holding a trouble hand, you’ll seldom be sure whether you’re in the lead or not. Because you have to consider that your hand might be dominated, you’re apt to play passively by checking and calling rather than betting and raising. Even when you win these confrontations, caution minimizes the amount of your win, while your opponent — who seized the initiative with aggressive play — will maximize his or her wins.
File that thought away and don’t lose touch with it. It’s another example of why selective and aggressive play is a major factor underlying winning poker. It’s also an example of the “know your opponents,” line of reasoning: You know the mantra; strategy often depends on the situation — and a hand that’s playable against John might not by playable against Mary. When you’re in early position, you won’t know which of your opponents might come out firing. It could be Mary, the gal who never raises unless she holds a premium hand. But it might also be John, the maniac who is always on tilt and just as likely to come after you with 7-6 or K-2 as he is with any other, more legitimate holding.
One way to deal with the unenviable consequence of finding your hand dominated by an opponent who also has the advantage of acting last is to avoid getting into this kettle of fish in the first place. You can avoid that boiling cauldron by severely restricting the hands you play from early position. While face cards are pretty, they’re not equally desirable, and a hand like Q-J in early position — or even in middle position in an aggressive game — flings the door to domination wide open.
If you don’t play hands that can get you in trouble, you won’t find yourself staring up at three-outers and the improbable odds you’ll have to overcome in order to win the pot. Remember, the first decision in a poker hand is usually the decision that’s most important, because all subsequent options are driven by that initial choice. Although you cannot avoid dominated hands with 100 percent certainty — unless you refrain from playing all hands save a pair of aces — it’s your first decision that matters most. If you are nimble enough to avoid getting yourself into this kind of trap in the first place, and both deft and sufficiently disciplined to extricate yourself from its clutches at the earliest hint of trouble, you’ll find yourself doing just about all you can to minimize the adverse impact of finding yourself dominated whenever you hold a troublesome hand.
This entire article amounts to a wordy way of saying that much of poker is all about developing your senses to the point that you’re able to realize when you have the best of it, and exercising the sorely needed self-discipline required to release hands when you’re staring up a long and lonely hill. If you can master this — and the skill required to execute this strategy is a lot tougher than any words I’ve used to describe it — the tactical aspects become pretty simple when you’re playing limit poker: get your money into action when you have the best of it, and use your discipline to fold those dominated three-outers when you don’t.