Playing Dominated - How Playing Raggedy Hands is Costing You Money

A common leak that beginners have is playing dominated hands. It’s a difficult leak to plug because it means that you either need to be more patient and wait for better (less dominated) hands to play and/or you need to get much better at post flop play so that you can navigate with weaker hands while not setting yourself up for bust.

This article will explain in more detail what dominated hands are, why you should avoid them and alternatives to playing them.

What are Dominated Hands?

Dominated hands are hands that are (can be) crushed in terms of equity. For example, a pair of 2s is a dominated hand – if you’re up against a pair of 8s you have little equity in the pot. A pair of 33s has A2 dominated, because the player holding A2 is only going to improve with an ace (or backdoor draws).

Playing dominated hands gets a lot players in trouble. They play hands like A5s or KTo and get married to their hand. They call several streets with a (weak) pair of aces, kings, tens or fives, and their opponents show up with the same pair, but with a slightly better kicker.

This is a costly leak. I used to play sngs, and what would happen to me is that I would spew so much of my stack with dominated hands, cutting it by 1/3 or in half.  The result I faced was being in push/shove mode sooner, which led to more variance. In terms of cash games, you lose more pots and have to top off more often. You’re just bleeding money/equity.

The bottom line is that when you play dominated hands, you win small pots and lose the big ones. And that’s a losing proposition in the long run.

Playing Non-Dominated (Weaker) Suited Connectors is Better

I want to explain something that might seem counterintuitive at first. Instead of playing dominated hands, like A3, K8 or JT, you play hands like 98 or 76.

The reason why you play these types of hand is three-fold.

One, you want to think about the other types of hands that people play. Many (better) players avoid dominated hands for the reasons I outlined above. Instead they show up with hands like AK, KQ and TT.

Why does this matter?

Well, when you play hands like A4o, you’re dominated. However, when you play hands like 98s you’re more likely to have 2 live cards. When you make a pair of 8s or 9s your hand is often good, because your opponent doesn’t have 8s or 9s in their range (assuming they don’t have an over pair).

This is also an important concept to keep in mind for tournaments and sit and goes when you’re in push/fold mode. You’re told to shove hands like K3s because you need to stay afloat. However, lots of players know (you know) this and will isolate with KQ. So shoving a hand like 98s means you’re more likely to have 2 live cards if someone calls versus drawing nearly dead.

Secondly, when you play these types of hands you can make sleeper hands. Big hands that your opponents cannot put you on, like 98 on a J-T-7 flop. Your opponent likely hit this flop, and at worst has a draw. They’ll assume you have a draw too, until you get to the river and show them the nuts.

Last, I think these hands are easier to fold if you’re getting a lot of action. If the flop is A-T-9 and you’re holding 98s, and your opponent raised preflop, c-bet the flop and bet the turn, folding is easy. But if you’re holding A5s it might not be.

Ultimately, if you want to play what are considered to be weaker hands, you want to avoid hands that are likely to be crushed at showdown / in a race. You want to play hands that are live or are able to hit hands that are disguised.

The Skill Set(s) You Need to Develop to Play These Kinds of Hands

I say all of this (above), but I know you watch guys like Phil Ivey or Vanessa Selbts play dominated hands on TV. So I think it’s important to point out the skills necessary to play these hands.

It’s more than just being ‘good.’ You need to have other skills. You need to be able to put your opponents on ranges, compare that to board textures and figure out what types of hands they could be holding based on the action.

The thing is, it might very well make sense to play a hand like A7o if you’re against a fish. Players like that will have such a huge range that when you connect on an A-K-4 two-tone flop, you’re going to get value. Fish will go broke with 2nd or 3rd pair. But you need to have some common sense – if you bet here (or on any street) and you’re raised, you have to ask yourself – am I really good here? If you’re going to play ace-rags or 87s, you need to be able to fold top pair.

I say this because I think it’s ok to play dominated hands, and hands like suited connectors and one-gapers, but only if you’re capable of reading hands and situations, and able to make folds where you’re likely to be behind more often than not. Otherwise you’re just giving money away.