Position in poker is vital but don’t overlook those out of position

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In a recent issue of the Sunday, Los Angeles Times, the poker column by pro Chad Holloway – winner of the 2013 WSOP Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em Tournament plus a gold bracelet – describes an experience while playing in the most recent WSOP main event. 

He was seated just before – to the right of – another pro (let’s call him V) who, Holloway alleged, “seemed to go out of his way to play pots against me. If I raised, he would either call or three-bet. It was annoying.”

Perhaps it was just a matter of position. By acting after Holloway, V had information about Holloway’s hand based on how he had bet. That’s a significant edge. In the long run, that positional edge can translate to more chips won (and fewer chips lost). The later your betting position, the greater the edge over opponents.

In a no-limit game with the blinds at 500-1,000 plus an ante of 100, seated in the cutoff position (just to the right of the Button), Holloway was dealt two red Aces – pocket-Aces, the best possible starting-hand. He decided this would be a good opportunity to overcome V’s positional advantage. In the cut-off position (just before the Button), he made a modest raise to 3,000 before the flop. As expected, V called from the Button; and, so did the Big Blind.

The flop was Qc-3h-3s. (Note this.) The Big Blind checked. Holloway checked along, hoping V would make a substantial bet. (Holding A-A, Holloway was slow-playing, with the intent to trap V.) At that point, swallowing the bait, V made a bet of 7,500. Both Holloway and the Big Blind just called the bet – no raises.

The turn was J-diamonds. Again the Big Blind checked; so did Holloway. V then made a bet of 18,500 that was called by both of his opponents. Holloway had put the Big Blind on a pair of Queens – top card on the board. That was reasonable since he had called before and after the flop. Undoubtedly, Holloway felt confident his A-A was the best hand so far, and a big favorite to take the pot at the showdown.

The river card was the 5-hearts. Based on the cards on the board, no straights or flushes were possible. But, this time, the Big Blind came out betting! He made a rather large bet of 27,500. Note he was out of position, and had previously check-called on both the flop and turn; and now was betting out on the river – “a telltale sign of strength,” as Holloway points out.

He had focused so much on nullifying V’s positional advantage with his big pocket-Aces, “that I overlooked the other player. It was a costly mistake.” He deliberated, considered folding – and then decided to call. V folded. (For purposes of discussion, I will assume we never learned of the hand that V folded.) The Big Blind turned up 3-clubs, 2-spades. He had flopped trip treys; and took a nice pot.

In focusing only on V – neglecting the Big Blind – and by not making a big raise before the flop, Holloway had allowed the Big Blind to see the flop relatively cheaply. Had he raised higher preflop with his pocket Aces, undoubtedly the Big Blind, holding two small unsuited cards, would have folded. And, Holloway’s A-A would have taken the pot.

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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