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Position, Position, Position

The nuances of position can never be overemphasised or exhausted. Here, Lee Munzer picks up from last month and assesses the power broker.

Last month we covered the benefits of playing a wider range of limit Texas hold ‘em hands when in late position, and playing less aggressively when your information-gathering process is compromised by early position. In this article, we’ll highlight one of the most important concepts under the umbrella of position play. It’s a principle that even experienced players underestimate. Let’s examine this moneymaker.

While the button position is always valuable, that player doesn’t always act last when playing Texas hold ‘em. Before the flop, in an unraised pot, the big blind gets last action. If the competitor to the left of the big-blind player chooses to post a raise before the cards are dealt, his ‘live straddle’ grants him last action. If there are one or more raises during preflop betting, the player to the right of the last raiser completes the action.

My belief is that players don’t fully appreciate how the power broker (the last raiser) affects future betting action and elevates the worth of the player to his immediate right while placing the player to his immediate left in a precarious position. Others are also affected based on their proximity to the power broker’s left or right.

Typically, and especially in low-limit games, players display a tendency to check to the previous round’s last raiser. As an aside, don’t fall prey to that type of thinking. There are many instances where you should fire a lead bet into a raiser (to gain information; to confuse your opponents; to prevent your adversaries from potential free cards; and to encourage two-bet pressure aimed at dangerous draws that your opponents may hold). But, I digress. When your rivals check to the aggressor, he usually pushes out a continuation bet. If you sit to the bettor’s immediate right, you inherit prime position. Your hand goes up in value due to the increased amount of information you will acquire. When one or more opponents show power by raising or overcalling, your marginal holding becomes easy to dump. When lots of players call, your draw gains value. When no one retakes the lead through the showdown, you’ll have the good fortune of acting last during each round. In addition to receiving important information from each opponent on every street before your action, when you’re last to call, no one can raise behind you.

The benefit of sitting to the right of a raiser is magnified when you hold a monster. Your adversaries may have marginal calling hands—just enough to optimistically call a bet from the previous round’s raiser. Your opponents may hold average-strength hands such as top pair/decent kicker on the turn. They’ll be conveniently sandwiched between the known power (the initial raiser) and you. When marginal callers commit to the power broker’s continuation bet, you lie in wait to wallop them with your check-raise. Below are two examples from my live play recently. I believe they demonstrate the power of this premise.

Lee in Action

I limped under the gun in a nine-handed limit hold ‘em game with Ah-Qh. The next player raised and four others (including both blind position competitors) joined the fray. The flop came Qs-8c-8d. This was a dangerous, but favourable flop for me. I checked to the preflop raiser who reflexively bet. I mentally prepared to check-raise, but that thought went flying out the window when war broke out. After two folds, the small blind raised and the big blind reraised. Obviously, at least one of my rivals had an eight, thus my chance of winning was less than 9 percent, so I released my A-Q. The initial raiser made a crying call. A five and a deuce completed the board. The action continued hot and heavy with the big blind player raising last. The small blind showed 9-8. The big blind slapped down A-8 to take the pot. The initial raiser, who had slid his cards in face down during the turn betting, complained about his lack of success with pocket kings. My inherited position of acting last on the flop proved invaluable during this hand.

The next day I played small-stakes no-limit hold ‘em against seven opponents (two were walking) and picked up black pocket sevens in middle position. I like this hand due to the excellent implied odds it offers and the ease of decision-making on the flop. Typically, I either make a set and try to build a big pot or, against several foes, I fold when one or more overcards flop. The first player limped in. He was playing a wide range of hands passively from all positions, thus his call was expected. After two folds, a solid player raised. I contemplated the ramifications of this unfortunate turn of events. I folded. After another two folds, the button player came over the top. After the initial caller stepped aside, the player to my right moved all-in. The button opponent called and showed Q-Q. The initial raiser, as now expected, turned over pocket aces. He prevailed when the unusual board of 9-9-9/7-9 was revealed. My decision to muck was based on fear of further, expensive action on the flop. Even if there was only that one raise from my right, I would have had to play the remainder of the hand to the left of the initial raiser, possibly sandwiched.

In both examples, I was able to release potential chip burners based on the weakness of my relative position. Your profits are often the product of playing power poker in position, and the strength/weakness of your position is not limited to button proximity. So, the next time you’re raised by the player sitting to your left, realise that, barring a reraise, that adversary has taken control of the hand and will generally be deferred to on the next street. That’s good for you, as you’ll be last to act on the next round after that foe fires a continuation bet (again, assuming he is not raised). The knowledge you receive when acting last translates into chips for your stack, so use the information wisely. Conversely, be wary when the raiser fires from your immediate right, as you’ll be jeopardised during (at least) the next betting round.
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