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StrategyPoker Basics

The Basics: Playability

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.

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.

Domination means: a strong hand plays against a reasonable but weaker hand that has little chances of catching up. The one who dominates will win the money!

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:

Examples for playability
Good playability
AsKh, 9d8d, 6s6c You dominate with strong top pairs, flushes, straights and sets.
Mediocre playability
AhQc, 7s5s, JdTc You hit and dominate less often.
Bad playability
Ah4d, KsTc, 9s6c You will be dominated often.

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:

Your hand
The board Where do you stand? What do you do?
4s4d Ah9s4c Clearly ahead
4s4d KcQd8h Clearly behind
8h7h Ts9c6d Clearly ahead Bet/raise
8h7h Qc5h6s Strong draw Bet/raise or call
8h7h 6h5h2d Monster draw Bet/raise
8h7h Kd9c3s Clearly behind Check/fold
Qc4d KsQh9d ? ?

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

Consider, however, that you will also face difficult decisions with hands that have a good playability. However, this will happen much less frequently when compared to hands with bad playability.


The playability of a hand determines how often you will be able to easily play optimally after the flop and how often you will face difficult decisions.

The goal is to get paid off by worse hands that will have a hard time catching up to you. This is called domination.

You achieve domination by choosing to play hands with a good playability before the flop. Suited connectors, pairs and AK have the best playability. Offsuit hands with large gaps have the worst playability.

Next steps

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Comments (37)

#1 kanpoker, 01 Nov 13 04:33


#2 yuli06, 10 Nov 13 13:57


#3 mattisks, 04 May 14 07:37

one of the top lessons in poker :)

#4 Jaquare, 11 Jun 14 20:32

really good reminder! Thanks!

#5 deekay7, 22 Jul 14 11:08


#6 funkyfish183, 23 Jul 14 18:52

good article

#7 biggood, 02 Sep 14 21:17

nice article,

#8 Dedees89, 03 Oct 14 01:04

Good article 😜😜

#9 tashaleigh3, 09 Oct 14 09:58


#10 catblank, 14 Oct 14 09:00


#11 BenBlakeIsTilting, 14 Nov 14 03:44


#12 shervinbabaei, 30 Nov 14 09:48

nice article about playing post-flop

#13 hustle1986, 18 Apr 15 13:41

well the question about the hand with best playability is wrong cause we have 55%-43% domination for the 10s7s over the 9d8d

#14 vaso014, 08 May 15 18:06


#15 gohomeman2690, 31 Oct 15 15:21


#16 deniavigacil, 01 Nov 15 15:52

nice share

#17 minsa0123, 12 Nov 15 05:42

nice share

#18 jaskob93, 13 Jan 16 15:08


#19 jaskob93, 13 Jan 16 15:08


#20 jaskob93, 13 Jan 16 15:08


#21 bubamarasr, 20 Jan 16 18:07

Read it. Thank you.

#22 setyaida, 25 Jan 16 11:02


#23 hassux, 25 Jan 16 21:11

badi nik kiss emou

#24 Nhoxalone, 03 Mar 16 12:34

Cảm ơn

#25 magiccarrot24, 23 Mar 16 20:47

I disagree with JTo being more playable than 97o.

With 97 if I hit top pair I'm less likely to get carried away, and if I hit two pair I'm less likely to be facing a straight draw.

Where as with JT if I flop top pair, I have a good pair but a rubbish kicker, and if I flop two pair the likelyhood of my opponents having a straight draw are bigger as people are more likely to be playing big cards. So with JT I'm more likely to think I'm ahead but in fact be dominated or out drawn.

There is a reason why Doyle Brunson classed JT as one of the trouble hands.

#26 sedinbsng, 01 Apr 16 18:36


#27 pharaonsgold, 07 Apr 16 00:33

i like 57s 46s 68s

#28 CroZoZo, 26 Apr 16 13:19


#29 TetonSouix, 16 May 16 02:02


#30 Tezza459, 25 May 16 15:21

I enjoy being on this site because I have been learning so much about Poker and is making me a wiser gambler

#31 Robinsko, 09 Aug 16 16:28


#32 Robinsko, 09 Aug 16 17:14


#33 Mosaicpao, 05 Feb 17 03:33

KT is likely to get dominated? hmmm.. good to know.

#34 Khaher586, 12 Mar 17 17:03

seems interesting

#35 mcvarga, 11 Apr 17 03:42

Makes absolute sense for choosing the right pre-flop starting hands.

#36 Strapo77RNMD, 02 Aug 17 10:18

Food for thought!

#37 fickodejan, 26 Mar 18 09:14