All about position

Feb 6, 2006 4:10 AM

This week we start with some exciting news. Our friends at Green Valley Ranch have donated their time, tables and even dealers in order to help.

GamingToday readers gain a "hands-on" experience as they learn the basics of casino poker.

Later this month, Saturday morning, Feb. 25, I’ll be conducting poker lessons in the GVR poker room, which has offered us three tables, tournament chips and professional dealers to make the experience as real as possible.

In order to ensure a seat, we’ll start with the first 50 people to register by calling GamingToday at (702) 798-1151. For those unable to make it, we’ll have other lessons, perhaps at other casinos throughout the valley, over the upcoming months.

For this first opportunity, I’d like to extend my warm thanks to Gary Daewood and Bill Burt at Green Valley Ranch for their generosity.

Now, onto some of the nuts-and-bolts of Texas Hold’em.

First, a few basic topics that are often ignored, many times to the beginner’s chagrin.

Making a bet: I suggest you get into the habit of making your bet verbally, then moving the chips in. This is probably the clearest way to do it. And remember, a verbal bet is binding, so make sure you say what you intend.

By stating your bet (call or raise), you avoid the possible confusion of shoving or tossing your chips into the pot. The biggest problem associated with making an improper chip move is the string bet — which involves two or more moves with chips into the pot. Ordinarily, unless you state otherwise, only one movement of chips is acceptable.

With the advent of so many tournaments on television, many beginning players feel compelled to study their opponents, looking for "tells" or clues to their intent.

But learning to "read" an opponent takes years of experience, and it’s certainly not an exact science. For beginners I suggest forgetting about trying to figure out an opponent’s idiosyncrasies or tendencies.

Instead, just concentrate on the basics and the mathematics of proper play. It will pay off.

This week we’ll explore playing a hand based on your position at the table.

As you would expect, if you’re in an early position, you have to act (fold, call or raise) before the other players, putting you at a disadvantage.

This is because you have to commit chips before you’ve had a chance to see how the other players are betting, which usually provides a clue to their hand.

Conversely, of course, if you’re in a late position at the table, you have an advantage of acting last or close to last.

For our purposes, I consider "early" position Seats 1-5 that are left of the big blind. These are the first five players to act.

Middle position, from my viewpoint, includes Seats 6-7, and late position would be Seats 8-10.

Generally speaking, I would tend to fold a "mediocre" hand in the early position that I might play in the late position.

For instance, J-10 off suit or 8-9 suited is a decent hand, but in the No. 1 seat I probably wouldn’t call it because there are too many players behind me, assuming a full table (seven or more players.) Thus I would most likely fold this hand in the early slot.

But in a later position, say Seats 8 or 9, I might play the same hand, depending on how the betting unfolded in front of me. From this position, I would certainly call the blind bet and maybe even a small raise.

Here’s another example: I’m in the late position (Seat 9) and everybody folds except the small and big blinds. My hand is a K-Q or J-10, off suit — nothing spectacular, but decent.

At this stage and from my position, this is probably a raising hand. Why? Because you have three players behind you, and two are blinds, which you’re trying to steal.

Even if they call, you still have a decent hand.

Also by raising, you’re representing that you have an ace, which often times is enough to steal the blinds. This isn’t really a bluff ”¦ it’s what I call an "exaggeration" of my hand.

Moreover, if the flop comes with a 10, jack, king or queen, you’ve got both cards covered. So you’re really throwing them a curve ball. Of course, if an ace comes on the flop and they re-raise, then you have a decision to make.

When you’re dealt a good hand, you would probably play it differently if you’re in the late position. For instance, if I’m dealt a solid pair of queens, kings or aces, I might raise if I’m low on chips. If I’m not low on chips and want to lure someone in and trap him, I might "slow play" the hand, hoping to isolate an opponent who thinks he has a decent hand.

Basically, in the late position, you can take a few more chances by seeing more flops. If you hit something, now you’re off and running. You can’t just sit and wait for pocket aces or kings.

Going back to the early position, if you’re dealt a solid hand such as a high pair, you’re free to call or raise, depending on how badly you want to see the flop. The general rule in these early positions is you call the hand that you are willing to call the raise. If your hand is good enough to call a raise, you can call in these early positions.

Many players are unsure of what they want to call in order to see the flop. Here are a few starters: I would call these hands from the early position — king-queen suited or unsuited, pairs, deuces through tens, or even A-10 or A-J.

Even with a big hand like pocket kings or aces, I’ll call and let someone else initiate the action if I’m in the early position. They think you’re just limping in.

But with queens or jacks I would probably raise for this reason: I want to narrow the field down, and weed out some of the marginal players who have A-9, A-10, A-7 or weird hands like 3-7, which could actually end up trapping me!

If you have a decent hand, you don’t want too many people calling you down. They could come in with a K-9 and flop a king. You want to weed those players out and get it down to two or three players before the flop.

As you can see, there are a lot of "what if’s" involved in planning what to play and what to fold. And it will take experience to get a feel for what hands work and what don’t.

But at the start, try to keep these guidelines in mind. They’ll give you a solid foundation on which to build.