News: Poker Basics – Playability

For poker newbies and those wanting a refresher on the fundamentals, a reminder why some hands get you into trouble and others don’t.

The playability of a hand indicates how easy it will be for you to make the best possible decision after the flop.

You always want to invest your money as a favourite with a very high chance of winning. This means that it is necessary for you to know how strong your hand really is. The better the playability of your hand is, the easier it will be to know when you can shove in your chips as a favourite.

Good playability leads to domination

One of the most frequent questions in poker is: “Where do I stand with my hand?”. How do you know that you are the favourite in a hand?

In many situations, the answer to that question is not very clear cut. Let’s say you are holding As4h and the flop comes Ah8c2d. You want to get that hand to showdown over the three remaining streets. How sure are you that you will win the pot at the showdown?

If your opponent also holds top pair, chances are high that he will have a better kicker. In that case you are dominated. Domination means that a strong hand is up against a reasonable but worse hand that has very little chances of catching up.

If you are playing with As4h against AcKs on a AhJc5d flop, you are dominated. You are behind and you hardly have any chance of catching up. The only card that will help you is a 4.

It’s hard to be dominated with hands like suited connectors

If you are holding 8h7h against AsKd on a Ah9h2c board, you are not dominated. You are definitely behind, but you have good chances of making a better hand than your opponent. If heart rolls of on the turn, you will be the one to dominate your opponent. He will have a good hand with top pair top kicker, but he is very behind compared to your flush.

The playability decides who dominates whom. Domination decides who will be the favourite and consequently win the money. The more often you can dominate your opponent, the more money you will win.

Playability influences hand selection

The playability of a hand will only become important after the flop. However, post-flop situations depend on your pre-flop hand selection.

Your goal for post-flop play is the following: try to dominate and avoid being dominated!

You can achieve this by preferring hands with good playability in your pre-flop hand selection. But how is the playability of a hand determined?

It is evident that you should always strive to play big pots with strong hands. A strong hand is only really strong if your opponents can hold weaker hands that will still be strong enough to make them pay. This will be true on a regular basis for the following hands: sets, straights, flushes and top pair top kicker when you are holding AK. The more likely your holding is to hit one of those hands, the better its playability.

The following principles are key for hand selection with good playability:

  • Aces with a strong kicker are better than aces with a weak kicker
  • Suited cards are better than offsuit: they can make flushes
  • Connected cards are better than unconnected: they can make straights
  • Pairs have a good playability post-flop: they can hit sets

Look at the following examples:

poker hand

Good playability simplifies post-flop play

Let’s return to the question: “Where do I stand with my hand?”. The better the playability of your hand is, the easier it will be to answer that question. You will have an easy decision if one of these answers is correct:

  • You are clearly ahead: you try to get money into the pot
  • You are clearly behind: you play check/fold
  • You have a strong draw: you want to continue, be it aggressively or passively

If you can give a clear answer, you are very likely facing a difficult decision. You are more likely to make mistakes the more difficult your decision is. The following table shows some examples:

poker hand

Good playability means that you will have more easy decisions. Thus, you will make less mistakes and play more profitably.

To learn more about the basics of playability check out this article or watch the video below:

poker video

Click to watch the video

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