Maximizing your table position can make you a lot of money in poker. The difference between an A-9 under the gun and an A-9 on the button is huge when you understand the value of playing position. While reading the following, assume that you are at a full ten person table playing NL Hold’em.
1.Take the Lead:
By and large, the first thing that you want to do when you enter a hand is broadcast a message of strength to the table. You do this by taking the lead, or establishing yourself as the driving bettor in the hand. It is easiest to take the lead in a hand when you are in late position (on the button, or among the last few to act pre-flop) because you get to bet after everyone else. It follows that when you are in early position (first to act pre-flop or among the first few) it can be very difficult to take the lead in a hand because there are so many players left to act after you. Every player who acts after you is a possible re-raise, so when you are playing from early position you want to be really careful with marginal hands like A-8, A-9, K-J because you are one re-raise away from a sticky situation.
Once you have been re-raised, you have lost the lead in the hand and are no longer applying pressure to your opponent – you are dealing with the pressure they are applying to you. Remember that poker is a game of forcing your opponent into difficult decisions and evading difficult decisions of your own. Aces are Aces, and whether you pick them up under the gun or on the button you should definitely be playing. Premium hands are not the question here, mediocre hands are. While a lot novice players lose money on playing mediocre hands from early position, so too do a lot of overly conservative players cheat themselves by not playing the K-J on the button for a raise. When you are late to act, use that to your advantage! Is an A-8 or a K-J an overwhelming favorite? Probably not. But by raising with it when you have position, you are putting other players to the test and taking the lead in the hand.
- Keep the Lead:
Once you have taken the lead in a hand, keep it! After the flop hits it is almost always a good idea to bet no matter what the board looks like. This is called a continuation bet because you are continuing the momentum of your pre-flop aggression. Continuation bets are very important because they accomplish two things. First, you give yourself another chance to win the pot by putting your opponent to another decision. Second, you broadcast a message to the table that says, “If you want to play with me, it could be for all of your chips.” What do you do when you have raised on the button and been called by the big blind who has now bet out after the flop? First thing you want to do is size up your opponent. Is this a tight player? Is this a loose player?
Once you have established some possible hands they could be holding, then you have two decisions really: fold or re-raise. Unless you have flopped a monster like a nut straight or full house and are looking to trap, calling is a bad idea from late position on the flop. When you call from late position after the flop, you have lost the lead in the hand. So while that bet might be easy to call, what are you going to do on the turn when he bets out again? And the river? You re-take the lead in the hand by re-raising which gives you more ways to win. And if you feel uneasy about the whole thing, just fold, don’t put yourself in a passive position where you are bleeding chips by calling. That said, many players will call the bet on the flop looking to come over the top on the turn. Don’t be mistaken, if you call on the flop you should be doing it to set up a play later in the hand, not because you think you have the best hand. If you think you have the best hand after the flop, and you don’t already have the nuts, it’s almost without question a good idea to bet strong.
- The Power of Playing Pre-Flop for Post-Flop:
Say you are under the gun and you pick up pocket Jacks. Naturally, you raise. The table folds around to the button who re-raises. A lot of Judi Online players freak out in this position because they figure the re-raiser has at least two overcards, and could very easily have an overpair. But Jacks is the fourth best starting hand in Hold’em so it’s awfully hard to throw away. What to do? As in every situation at the poker table, figure out who is putting you to the test first. If this is an extremely conservative player with a lot more chips than you, then maybe you can consider a fold.
Otherwise, time to go to war. If you were to come over the top immediately and re-re-raise, unless the guy is stone-cold bluffing, chances are he’s going all-in and then it’s off to the races. Rather than come over the top, here is where you can use being in early position to your advantage – remember that you get to act first after the flop. Call the pre-flop bet and then go all-in on the flop no matter what it brings. This way, if your opponent had AK and missed the flop, he’s going to have a tough time calling whereas if you were both already all-in, he has two more cards to suck out on you. Likewise, if he had Queens or Kings and the flop brought an Ace. Even if he calls and has you beat, you were planning on going all-in pre-flop and you just gave yourself an extra way to win without having to showdown.
- Trapping, or Letting Someone Hang Themselves:
Trapping is feigning weakness with an extremely strong hand, hoping to draw your opponent into the pot. A classic trap is calling the big blind pre-flop with pocket Aces in the hopes that someone hits something on the flop. While many players will attempt to trap like that, it can be a very dangerous endeavor. First of all, Aces are never more than a 90% pre-flop favorite and while that may sound like a lot, that means that on average, 1 out of every 10 times you showdown with them you are going to lose. You can be inviting disaster by calling or checking with Rockets. On the other hand, let’s say that you have flopped a full house. You are holding J-10 and the flop came 10-J-J. You have the best possible hand and are almost assuredly going to win the pot. Now your job is to get as many chips into the middle as possible. From late position, a trap can be pretty simple – just do whatever the guy in early position does until the river. If he bets, just call. If he checks, check. Send him the illusion of weakness and hope he gets uppity.
Once the river hits, if he checks, bet something that you think he can call, a so-called “value bet.” If he bets out, give him a re-raise that you think he can call. Trapping can be a little trickier from early positions especially if you play good aggressive poker. If you have raised or bet the last five times you’ve seen a flop, then all of a sudden you are checking – players might think that something is up. But you don’t want to scare away the other people in the pot… what to do? I say bet out on the flop, especially if you have been playing good aggressive poker. If you keep raising, at some point, somebody is going to come over the top of you. Hopefully, that time is when you have flopped a full house. Besides, who is going to give an aggressive player credit for hitting a flop that reads 10 J J? If someone does come over the top of you, it’s probably best to call and then check the turn. Keep giving your opponent the illusion of the lead, it’s called “Giving someone the rope to hang themselves with.” Now, if they follow your check on the turn with a suspicious check of their own, you probably should proceed to bet out at the river because you do need to get more chips into the pot one way or another. Take care when trapping, make sure you really do have a monster. Too often players come over the top with Aces on a 4 8 Q flop only to be called by a small blind holding Q-8.
- Location, Location, Location:
Sometimes the most important position you have at the table is relative to the other players not the button. If the guy sitting to your left is a maniac raising every pot, then you can use that to your advantage. Call, or limp in pre-flop, hoping to entice a raise out of him. If he falls for it, go over the top. If you have a really conservative player sitting to your right, try calling pre-flop then going over the top after the flop. Conservative players generally will not go all-in with less than an overpair, so a post-flop over the top bet can be very effective.
Use your position to your advantage. Raising in late position with a Q-10 can force out small pocket pairs and even mediocre Aces, while a call from early position can set you up to bluff at the pot after the flop. Every seat at the poker table presents a unique set of advantages from betting position to relative player position – it’s up to you to capitalize on them.