Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2008) in Casino Player.
It’s one of hold ’em most painful laments: “I was outkicked!”
A kicker in hold ’em is the lower-ranking of your two starting cards, assuming you don’t hold a pair. Unfortunately, the fear of being outkicked or “dominated” has led to the publication of a great deal of weak hold ’em advice. Yes, if you barge into pots holding ace-jack in early positions against conservative opponents, you’ll often be pummeled by opponents holding ace-king and ace-queen.
If you don’t pair your jack or make a straight or a flush, you’ll have a tough time betting your way out of trouble. Worse, if an ace flops, you’re likely to call or bet your way to the final river card, only to be outkicked and lose the showdown. You’ve been dominated.
Likely to dominate
This truth has led to strategies heavily weighted toward striving seldom to be outkicked. But the fact is, from middle positions against typical too-loose opponents, your ace-jack or ace-10 is more likely to dominate than to be dominated — more likely to kick than be kicked. That’s because weaker opponents — the kind you should prefer — play too many hands. Not only are they likely to play hands such as ace-9, ace-8, and often just about any ace, they also play many inadvisable hands without any ace at all.
In that environment, you’re not being prudent by avoiding being outkicked. You’re losing more opportunities for profit than opportunities for avoiding losses. Quite simply, you’d average bigger wins in the long run if you took more chances, rather than following the advice not to be dominated.
Avoid the irrational fear of domination in hold ’em. Sometime you will be dominated; sometimes you won’t. In poker, you’re always taking chances, and — as long as you make long-range profit your main objective — there’s nothing weak or embarrassing about being outkicked. If it happens, it happens.
Keep in mind, however, that you won’t be able to bet as confidently when your kicker is questionable. So you might lose more wagers when you’re outkicked than you might win when you hold a dominating kicker. That point should be weighed on the side of the “try never to be dominated” argument. But it isn’t enough to make the advice to avoid playing aces with medium kickers correct.
It’s true that ace-jack is often unprofitable from an early position in a full-handed game. Fine. We all know that. But the fear of having a less-than-perfect kicker has grown to a full-fledged phobia that keeps many serious players from earning extra profit.
Show caution in early positions, yes. Beyond that, observe how loosely opponents play. As long as you’re 10 to 20 percent more selective about the quality of your starting hands than they are, you’re probably doing it right. Don’t let the fear of being kicked ruin hold ’em’s dance. — MC