Player X gets an A in poker strategy knowhow

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He goes by the name X. With little prior poker experience, last year he joined our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group. He learns fast, and has become one of the most skilled of my “students.” X told me about his idea for a column in GamingToday; and I encouraged him to put it in writing. I think you will all agree X has made a fine contribution to our poker know-how related to betting position in Texas hold’em.

X-man’s thoughts on position

The concept of position is introduced to students of Texas hold’em fairly early in their poker education. The game’s structure has the players acting one after the other in turn, going clockwise. The later you must declare, the more you know about how your opponents have elected to play their hands – key information that can help you to make the best decision. Thus, having late position is a definite advantage over your opponents.

Always the case?

Here’s a situation that arose recently in a 20-40 single-blind limit hold’em game with seven players, all of whom were loose-passive, but solid, recreational players. I was dealt pocket 4’s in middle position and four of us limped in, including an Early-Position, the Button, and the Blind.

The flop came out 10-5-6 rainbow, and we checked it around. The turn was a red queen; and, when it’s checked around again, I decide then and there to bet the river no matter what card comes out. I made up my mind to bluff the river.

The river was a black 7. After the Blind checks, the Early-Position quickly bets out! What the heck! I searched her face for a tell; but it was a mask. With 5-6-7 on the board, she would need 3-4, or 4-8, or 8-9 for a straight. I ruled out the first two possibilities since I had 4-4. But she could have 8-9, making her straight on the river, or a pair higher than mine. She was not prone to bluffing. Estimating the pot odds, they were only 3-to-1, not enough to warrant calling her river bet with my pocket 4s. My plan to bluff at the pot no longer seemed wise. She had spoiled my plan; so I folded, confidant she had my hand beat.

After the button called with A-x, she showed pocket deuces! She got me to fold the best hand; it would have been the winner. And it was all because her early-position gave her the opportunity to bluff first. Had our positions been reversed, I believe she would have folded to my bluff-bet; and I would have won the pot.

Did I misplay this hand? As a beginning poker player, perhaps I misplayed this hand. If you think so, let me hear from you, and explain how.

Every cloud has silver lining.

True, early-position may be a disadvantage, but only in general. Occasionally, a situation like this will arise where what seems like a positional minus turns out to be a winning edge.

Power of early position

Might there be even more to this than that? General wisdom holds late position’s power is that you get to act knowing what everyone else has done. On the other hand, might not early position’s power lie in the fact you get first crack at molding and shaping the hand as you prefer, forcing your opponents to react to you? A good example is going all-in from early position in a no-limit game, when all chip stacks are about the same. That’s an interesting thought – one I might return to once I have more experience under my belt.

Phil Gordon says

Poker celebrity/author Phil Gordon notes poker is a situational game; there are no hard-and-fast rules about position or anything else. As poker players, shouldn’t we think beyond the “rules” to uncover slight edges in every situation, and exploit them to the fullest? Then, when we succeed, in the words of famed comedian, Jackie Gleason: “How sweet it is!”

Let me know if you have any comments for X. Would you like to read more poker thoughts from the X-man?

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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