Situation and position dictate next move

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Several years ago, one of our genuine poker pros, Bob Ciaffone, wrote a piece entitled, “When Position is Most Important.”

Ciaffone was responsible for contributing Roberts Rules of Poker to help make our poker games progress as smoothly as possible, with minimal controversy.

Position is important in all games of Texas Hold’em, more so in no-limit and pot-limit games than in limit games. That’s because of the potential for high implied pot odds when the bets grow very large during the later betting rounds.

 

Declaring

It is by far the most important issue relative to position. In a late position, you get to see what most of your opponents do before taking action. And vice versa for early positions.

Having that information can save you from calling with a mediocre hand. For example, if the pot is raised before it reaches you, mucking marginal hole cards can save you a stack or more of your precious chips. If only one or two opponents are staying to see the flop, your middle/low pair in the hole should be folded before you make an investment. It’s wise to wait for a better investment opportunity.

Drawing Hands

Ciaffone notes that a drawing hand (usually must improve to win) is more in need of good position. Having opponents act first can earn you a free card when that would be best for you; help you decide whether to go for a steal; or win more money when you connect with your draw (i.e., betting for value).

If you catch a monster hand, especially the nuts, with lots of opponents in the pot, late position “is the optimum way to go,” Ciaffone explains.

Situation matters

While late position generally is regarded as best, Ciaffone points out the value of good position is far from uniform, often depending on the situation.

For example, suppose there is a raise before the flop by an opponent seated just to your right. You call his raise. Then, on the flop, the raiser, betting before you, makes a continuation-bet after the other players’ “check to the raiser.”

Ciaffone states the preflop raiser will continuation-bet more than half the time. So, even if you are on the button, with the raiser to your right (he declares before you act), you can find yourself in a poor position on the flop-betting round: You must act before all the players seated to your left who had previously checked.

The Hold’em Caveat

In my Hold’em Algorithm book, we describe the Hold’em Caveat that winners use when deciding how to play a drawing hand before the flop. Basically, it requires a multi-way pot with no raises before the flop.

From the Button, you were dealt K-J offsuit. That is a drawing hand; usually your hand must improve to hope to be the winner at the showdown. First, observe how many opponents will stay to see the flop. It must be a multi-way pot – three or more opponents seeing the flop.

If there are fewer players, there is likely not going to be enough money in the pot at the showdown to justify your investment. Likewise, there must be no raises before (or after) you. That would make your investment twice as large (more if there is more than one raise).

You are not privy to this information when you are in an early position, so you must depend on your prior observations as to the character of your table. A loose-passive game is best.

“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].

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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