Opening ranges – Domination



We’ve all heard or read that we should fold ATo or KJo from under the gun in a full-ring cash game. The question is why? In this post we’re going to study what can happen if we open such a hand in early position, with eight or more players left to act behind us.

The first thing we need to talk about is domination. We’ve all been there, going all-in pre-flop with AJ in the late stages of a sit-and-go, where each big blind eats away a large chunk of our stack, only to be called by AK or AQ. Equity: 27%.

The easiest spot to think of when talking about domination is that of holding the same hand with a worse kicker. A broader definition would be the situation where your opponent has a better starting hand than yours, and you are drawing to a maximum of three direct outs. What that means for a hand like KJo (also known as the rookie hand with two nice Broadway cards, seemingly too strong to fold), we can see in the below diagram:

1 Dominated

In all of the above, KJo has only three direct outs to improve: the tree Jacks remaining in the deck when matched up against AKo, and the three remaining Kings when running against AJo, JJ, and QQ. The equity in these cases varies between 25% and 32%, meaning that KJo will only win once out of three or once out of four times (provided that the hand gets to see the river).

Against pocket Kings or Aces, the situation gets even more dramatic, as KJo does not have any direct outs. It can’t improve to a pair and become the best hand; it needs two pair or better. Interestingly, the equity of KJo when matched against KK is even lower than against AA, because against KK two pairs aren’t an option anymore and there is only one possibility to make trips. Equity in this case: between 10% and 14%. Disaster!

Therefore, I think one of the worst things we could do in poker is put money into the pot while being dominated and drawing very thin. If you could see the others’ hole cards, you’d want to steer clear of these spots where an opponent has you dominated.

What about against some Aces that don’t have us dominated?

2 Underdog

We see that against hands like AQo and ATo we are still an underdog, albeit not in such a bad shape as before: 37% to 40%.

Well then, what’s the difference, you’ll say. 29% or 37% is still bad, right?

Uhm, yes and no. Being dominated is that tricky spot when you flop top pair good kicker and your opponent still has a hand that beats you. That spot is going to make you lose a lot of money. On the other hand, playing KJo against a hand like AQo won’t give both you and your opponent top pair, so unless there are some major draws out there, there won’t be too much action against these hands. The better hand will win the pot, or if no hand improved on the flop or turn, then the player having the aggression will generally win.

Let’s see how many combinations are out there that dominate our rookie hand:

3 Combos against KJ

Regardless of the suit, there are a total of fifty four combos that have us in a very bad shape. On one hand we block some of the strongest hands our opponents could have, like AK, KK, or JJ. On the other hand, his total possible holdings dropped from 1,326 (the total number of starting hands in Hold’em) to 1,225 (the total number of starting hands with 2 dead cards–in this case, a King and a Jack).

This leads us to our first result: 4.4% of all the hands one opponent acting behind us could have, dominate our hand. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Wait, there’s more. But before going to the felt, let’s review how many combos dominate some of the hands we decide to open raise with:

4 Combos against various hands

A few obvious things jump at us when looking at the above table:

  • Pocket Aces is not dominated by any other hand, but we already knew that;
  • Pocket Kings is dominated by only one hand, with six combos in total;
  • Starting with pocket Queens, the situation gets worse and worse;
  • AK is dominated by two hands (AA, KK) but with only six combos in total because of the blockers we hold in our hand. This is a very important aspect to consider in pre-flop 3Betting, 4Betting, or moving all-in;
  • AQ is in a much, much worse shape than AK, being dominated by 24 combos (four times as many);
  • Starting with AJ, things get even worse;
  • Our rookie hand (KJ) is being dominated by as many combos as pocket fives are, but KJ is trickier to play because with pocket fives you won’t lose that much money when you don’t improve to a set.

Now that we know the number of combos the players behind us can hold that have us in really bad shape, let’s see what are the chances of someone actually holding one of those combos based on the position we are in:

5 At the table

Whoa, cool colors!

A few points before we go to the numbers. The above diagram is calculated for a full-ring Hold’em table with ten players, which is the maximum you’ll ever come across. The position acronyms stand for: Under The Gun, Lo Jack, Hi Jack, Cutoff, Button, and Small Blind. The Big Blind is not shown as that position is last to act before the flop, with no players to act behind him in an unopened pot. The numbers under the acronyms indicate how many players have yet to act behind the current position.

Now you can go back and look at those colors!

A few conclusions can be drawn based on the numbers, such as:

  • Green light for QQ+ from any position;
  • JJ from UTG+1 is in the same situation as TT from UTG+3 or 88 from HJ or 66 from CO;
  • AK is by far the best drawing hand, and now we can see why;
  • KQ is in a slightly better shape than AJ;
  • Same goes for KJ when compared to AT;
  • Playing AJ from UTG is in a slightly worse shape than playing J9 from the CO;
  • We can see why our range on the button can be so wide, and why when the action folds to us in the Small Blind, we can widen it even more;
  • Daniel Negreanu was absolutely right: never call 3-Bets with hands like KJ or QT;
  • Next time when you decide to open that JTs from UTG, think again;
  • The author really likes colored tables.

Talking about Under The Gun, there is one more concept we need to clarify here. UTG means the first player to act at a poker table after the SB and BB have posted their mandatory bets. This player has absolutely no information about what his opponents might hold or what they might intend to do and will act blindly, based solely on the strength of his hand.

However, UTG at a full ring table is completely different than UTG at short-handed table, so don’t follow blindly an acronym. When you think about your open-raising ranges, it is mathematically correct to consider how many people are left to act behind you, and not if your position is called UTG, or EP, or MP, or whatever. That is why, if you play on Pokerstars for example, where tables have a maximum of nine players, you should just disregard the diagram’s first column. Thus, UTG disappears and UTG+1 becomes the new UTG. This is also why some people refer to a 6-max table as a normal full-ring table where the first three players in the hand have folded.

One thing I won’t do in this post is to tell you which hand to open from where. I’ll let you figure that one out.

What do you think of domination? I’d love to read your comments.

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Filed under Cash games, NLH, Strategy, Tournaments

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