Profitable Poker – Understanding Domination

Guest post by Mark Holland of

This is the first in a series of articles in which I will be looking at aspects of poker which can improve the results of beginning to intermediate players. Based on No-Limit Texas Holdem each article will assess different areas ranging from general concepts through to specific hands / scenarios. They can be taken alone or, even better, incrementally improve your profitability at the tables. This article covers the key beginners concept of ‘Domination’.

Domination occurs in poker when a hand is more than 2-1 favorite over another when the money goes in. The most common situations in which a hand is dominated include a pair against a higher pair (around 80% / 20% winning chances for the higher of the two), and an unpaired hand with an ace against another ace hand with higher side card (known as a kicker) at 73% to 27% – and an ace hand against a pair higher than the side card – for example Ace-Jack against a pair of Queens is a 28% to 72% underdog.

When playing, particularly in a loose and wild beginners game, it is not always possible to know whether the hand you hold is dominated. However, there are steps you can take to ensure that you are the player with the bigger winning chance more often than the smaller one. After all, poker is a game of repeated small edges, the player who loses a little less then his opponents when behind and wins a little more when ahead will have all the money over time.

The single biggest mistake players make is to call raises before the flop with hands with which the correct play will then be unclear for the rest of the hand. A classic example involves an ‘easily dominated’ hand such as Ace-8. Let us imagine a raise before the flop from another player, and a few opponents still to act before the flop. Calling this raise can often be a very expensive mistake.

Before we get to the problems playing post flop poker we should note that this kind of hand can not stand too many raises before the flop. If one of our opponents who have not yet acted re-raised the pot it should be quickly apparent our hand is no good – they have seen a raise and a call and still re-raised, showing a lot of strength.

Those times we see a flop, say with 1 more caller behind, the problems have just begun! If we hit an Ace on the flop then we could get a lot of money into the pot, only to discover that one of our opponents had a higher kicker. If we instead pair the eight then we have two questions. Did one of our opponents start with a higher pair? Or did one or more cards higher than eight on the flop pair their hand?

Unless you hit a miracle flop of 2-pair or better it is going to cost you a lot of chips to even find out where you stand. Even those times you get to showdown cheaply there is no guarantee your hand is best. The solution to this should be clear – do not call raises with easily dominated hands such as mid-kicker aces, 2 unsuited picture cards or hands such as King-Nine suited.

Avoiding domination in pair against pair hands is less more dependant on the tendencies of your opponents. Since you will rarely run into aces when holding Kings there is little use spending your time second-guessing when this might happen. Instead focus on the betting you have seen ahead of you, asking what you would expect your opponents to do with the highest pairs and the lower ones. A good example of something to look out for is that many opponents will bet more with the mid-pairs such as Jacks, say 4 times the big blind instead of 3 times, since they are concerned about Aces, Kings or Queens coming on the flop and making their play unclear.

When there are multiple raises you can often spot times when even your high pairs are dominated. For example, a raise comes from one of the first players to act which you call, a 3rd player then re-raises – causing the original raiser to make yet another raise. Depending on the players Queens and Jacks may well be in trouble here and I would be folding all smaller pairs than this most of the time.

To summarize, avoiding domination is a sure-fire way to boost your long term poker profits. Two key ways of doing this involve folding easily dominated hands when there is a raise before the flop and observing your opponent’s betting tendencies when they hold the biggest and mid-sized pairs. The more often you are in a dominating position in poker the better your results will be!

Mark Holland runs a large network of poker strategy websites and is the author of the 4-part course ‘The $16 / Hour Sit And Go Blueprint’, teaching beginning players how to profit from 1-table tournaments. You can join this acclaimed course at Sit and Go Planet today!

Michael Wilding

Michael started the Race Advisor in 2009 to help bettors become long-term profitable. After writing hundreds of articles I started to build software that contained my personal ratings. The Race Advisor has more factors for UK horse racing than any other site, and we pride ourselves on creating tools and strategies that are unique, and allow you to make a long-term profit without the need for tipsters. You can also check out my personal blog or my personal Instagram account.
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