Why Position Matters

Why Position Matters

When one is discussing a hand, what position the player is in, in relation to the dealer button is almost certainly brought up. “Was he in on the button?” “Did he open from the cutoff?” “She 3-bet from the hijack seat”. Why is your position so relevant in poker? Also, what do “cutoff” and “hijack” even mean?

In a full ring game the positions are usually referred to as such:

  • Under the Gun, or UTG: they’re on the left of the big blind, they have to act first pre-flop.
  • UTG +1: left of the UTG, next to act pre-flop
  • Middle Position or MP – not in the middle at all pre-flop, but they are in the middle post-flop. Left of UTG+1, they’re next to act pre.
  • Lojack – left of MP, next to act pre-flop
  • Hijack – left of LJ, next to act pre-flop
  • Cutoff – left of HJ, next o act pre-flop
  • Button – the person on the dealer button. The last to act pre-flop before the blinds; also post-flop the action starts on the left of them, so they are guaranteed to act last on the later streets.
  • Small Blind
  • Big blind

Here’s a look at all the positions on a poker table

 

Out of these positions, the most strategically advantageous is the button.  You should play most of your hands from there since having to act after everybody else post-flop gives you a big edge – you’ll have extra information about your opponents’ hands on later streets. You can play over 50% of the cards you get dealt from the button.

It’s important to know that you should open very tight from early position – that’s because you’re up against all the other ranges at the table who haven’t played their hands yet. The chances that you’re up against a big hand is a lot bigger than it is when it gets folded around to you on the button.

You can also play more hands from the big blind – that’s because you’re getting better pot odds than the other positions since you don’t have to put that much more additional money into the pot to see the flop. You should defend your big blind wider if the open comes from a later position and call tighter if it comes from an early position. As we discussed, players who are first to act should raise with a stronger range.

If you spot a player who’s folding their big blinds too often, you can raise basically any two cards in the small blind if no-one opened before you. This is called stealing the blinds – at higher levels you’ll see players attacking the blinds aggressively, so be prepared to defend.

 

 

How to Check-Raise effectively

How to Check-Raise effectively

Check-raising is an important weapon in any poker player’s arsenal and one that isn’t that evidently needed. Therefore if you play small stakes you can identify a more experienced player if you see them make this move.

The idea is you check to your opponent out of position who bets, then you re-raise them. Generally speaking, this indicates a very strong range since you’re reacting to aggression with even more aggression; also, you’re making the pot a lot bigger out of position which also suggests you have something big in your hands.

However, evidently you can’t do anything with just the very top of your range – in that case you’d tell competent opponents exactly what type of hand you have. It’s important to mix in bluffs into your check-raising range: these should be flush draws, open-ended straight draws or draws with a marginal made hand (for example QT on JT8 flop). Please note that if you have an open-ended straight draw or a flush draw you still should be satisfied with winning a sizable pot by making your opponent fold – you’re going to make your flush and straight both about 1 in 5 times (with the flush draw having slightly better chances since it has one more out), so the majority of the time you’re going to miss; and even if you do make your hand it’s no guarantee your opponent’s going to pay you off when the obvious draw comes in. Therefore bluffing with your good draws is a good play.

This doesn’t mean you should check-raise with every draw you have. You should definitely check-raise for value more often than check-raise as a bluff. It just means that if you choose to try to check-raise bluff your opponent those are the hands that are good candidates to do it with. When deciding whether or not to make this move as a bluff it’s importing to consider a few factors.

  • Your opponent’s betting frequency – if your opponent’s betting a lot that means their betting range is a lot wider, therefore there are a lot more hands in there that they’re going to fold out to a check-raise.
  • How your opponent’s range connects with the board. If it the board is way more favorable to the other player’s range (for example they opened early and the cards come high) don’t ever try to make them fold by check-raising.

As we wrote earlier, as a rule of thumb, check-raising should be done with very strong holdings (and balanced out with some bluffs, as we just discussed). But what kind of strong hands should you check-raise for value?

Typically, hands like flopped sets on an unpaired board, flopped straights and flushes. If you do flop or turn a monster hand which is not susceptible to being outdrawn, and blocks a lot of your opponent’s stronger value range – for example full houses or even quads – we would advise you to refrain from check-raising since it gives your opponent a chance to make a big fold. In those scenarios, calling is preferable on the early streets – the river, however, is different. You can check-raise all your absolute premium holdings as well on the last street.

Remember, it’s important to have check-raising in your play – among other benefits it disincentivizes competent players from frequently c-betting you on the flop – but it should be done rarely. First, you can only make this move out of position and generally you want to play a lot more hands in position; also, if you overbluff players can exploit you by simply calling lighter or 4-betting; and lastly, if you use it for value too often you’re going to play big pots with marginal hands against strong ranges that bet then called a check-raise.

So be prepared to check-raise, but do it wisely.

Paired boards can get Tricky

Paired boards can get Tricky

Most casual players, even if they don’t spend much time thinking about strategy away from the table, are probably confident in their knowledge of the rules of poker. Surely, determining which one is the winning a hand can’t be a challenge, right? Well, in some cases it certainly can for the inexperienced player.

Let’s start with an easy one, although for some beginners, it’s worth pointing out: if you have a pocket pair and you make a set on a paired board, you have a full house. Consider this hand for example:

 

Be careful not to misread this hand as “set of Aces beats set of 7’s”.  As the percentages indicate, the pocket 7’s win with a full house – sevens full of Aces.

In general, whenever the board is paired it means that there is a possibility of a boat – so your nut flushes or nut straights are no longer the nuts, they actually lose to quite a lot of combinations of hands. Keep that in mind when you consider a bet or a call.

This also means that not all three of a kinds are created equal. If there’s a pair on the board and you’re holding a third card of the same rank – like AJ in our example here – you do have a set but:

  1. you could be outkicked
  2. you have a set on a paired board where full houses and quads are also available, hence your hand is not as strong.

Meanwhile if you have a pocket pair and you hit a set, it1s impossible for an opponent to have the same set with a better kicker since there’s only one card of the same rank left in the deck, and you have three of a kind on an unpaired board.

The next hand is a little trickier:

Here, our player on the left has top two, Tens and 9’s – yet they’re beaten by a pair of Jacks? No, actually they’re beaten by a better two pair, Jacks and 3’s. For two pairs, it’s always the higher pair that determines the winner. Players would usually announce their hands at showdown as “Jacks up”, in this case – which means they’re beating their opponent’s “Tens up”.

In both of these scenarios, the common mistake is the same – novice players can disregard the fact that it is the best 5 cards that count at showdown, and for those 5 cards a player can use the board, aka the “community cards” as well. Be careful not to miss out on a huge pot because of that like this gentleman did.

Check out this video

 

Why You Should Quit Limping

Why You Should Quit Limping

One of the most distinguished and easily recognizable traits of an inexperienced recreational player is repeatedly just calling the big blind in an unopened pot, better known as limping. You will hardly find any examples of that play if you watch streams or videos of the best players in the world. And there are many good reasons why.

Why Limping is generally a bad idea

First off, if you just limp, you eliminate the strongest hands from your range. Even the person who sits down at a poker table for the first time in their life will raise if they get dealt a big pocket pair – by limping you’re telling your good opponents you have a marginal holding pre-flop. If you raise your whole range you can represent stronger holdings on later streets.

Also, if you open the pot with a weaker hand the others, even the good players will fold out a ton of equity against you. Let’s say you open up 98 suited in the cutoff – if you’ve been disciplined until that point, not playing too many hands, a competent player will throw away T8 off in the small blind even though they have 65% equity against your cards.

When you open, don’t raise too big since it’s going to cost you a lot if they have you beat; also you want to be able to get called by worse hands – 2.5X-3X big blind is the standard.

Be careful not to open too many hands either. As a point of reference, in 6-handed cash games around 30% VPIP is what winning players tend to have on average – this includes calling someone else’s raise as well. If there are more players at the table, you should be opening fewer hands, with fewer opponents you should open more. Make sure you open less often from earlier positions, since if more players are left to act that means there’s a bigger chance that you’ll be up against a big hand.

There are some exceptions

If you play lower stakes, you can elect to limp from time to time – but only if some else limped in before you. That way if there’s a good loose-aggressive player behind you, they’re less likely to try to bluff you off your hand and raise since they’d have to get through two players. If there is such a LAG player at your table to your left you can exploit them by trapping your premium holdings and limp-re-raise them, but that is a more advanced strategy and should be applied very rarely.

The only scenario where limping is acceptable on higher levels if it folds around to you in the small blind – still, raising and trying to knock the big blind out is more advised, but if you do that every time your opponent can call and re-raise you very light so you can mix in some limps there if you wish to.

Can You REALLY Win at Poker in the Long Run?

Can You REALLY Win at Poker in the Long Run?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Back in December 2017, poker fans from all over India received some serious bad news – the High Court in the second most populous country in the world dismissed a petition to declare poker a game of skill.

The online poker community denounced the decision which belittles their achievements in the great game of poker. But were they right to feel that way? What differentiates poker from actual games of chance like roulette, slot machines or the lottery – none of which can be beat reliably in the long run?

First off, you need to understand that when you play those games, you’re playing against the house. Meanwhile, when you’re playing poker you’re actually competing with other players for the money – the house takes their profit by raking the pot or collecting a fee when you register for a tournament. So in the case of slot machines, roulette and lottery the operators have to set up the payout structure in a way that it ensures that overall players put more money into the system than what they take out.

In sports betting, it’s called “the odds’ margin”. With slot machines, it’s called “payout percentage” – no matter what the outcome is, the house is guaranteed to make a profit from the players’ losses.

But with poker, as we mentioned, casinos don’t have to set up such a system, they can make money by collecting rake. So they can allow players who are consistently winning to keep coming back to their game– they are taking the other players’ money, not the house’s, after all.

However, there can be some complications with this ecosystem.

In order for the house to cover operating costs, a certain amount needs to be generated in rake. In order for a certain amount of rake to be generated, a sufficient value of play needs to take place at the tables. New money needs to keep being pumped into the system.

What can be a few things that hinder that?

Lately, this is the issue that online high stakes players and poker shows like Poker Night in America or Poker After Dark on PokerGO have been having to deal with. That is how to keep losing players at the table. In order to keep the poker ecosystem alive, some people need to be willing to put fresh money into it over and over again – they are the “bad regs”, “the fish”, “the fun players”. Make fun of them at your own peril, since if they leave – according to the “laws of nature” – someone else needs to become a new losing player, and it might just be you. Whose money are the winning players going to win otherwise?

So hopefully the reader’s now convinced that unlike games of chance, poker is actually a beatable game in the long run because the game operators do not have to set up a system where the loss on the players’ part is required for them to make money.

But how you can beat the game, that’s coming in later articles – stay tuned.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Folding Aces Pre-Flop – Does it Ever Make Sense to Do It?

Folding Aces Pre-Flop – Does it Ever Make Sense to Do It?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1534139135570{margin-bottom: 20px !important;}”]Earlier this month the TwitchPoker Twitter account shared this video of a player, “Cwien” live on stream folding pocket Aces before the flop, when it is impossible that anyone has a better hand than you.

In the footage, Cwien comments that “we made the right fold” since after the board is dealt he learns that he would have lost to a King-high straight. But we all know poker doesn’t work like that.

A fold doesn’t become “right” or “wrong” based on whether you won or lost a pot. A sample size of one hand is not enough if you want to be profitable over the course of thousands and thousands of hands. But is there any time when folding the best possible hand pre-flop is actually the right move? To find that out we’ll have to do some math.

First, let’s examine the sheer pot odds. Even if we give your opponent as strong a shoving range as we reasonably can –JJ+, AK – you still have over 80% equity against that range so naturally, folding would be a big blunder.

But if what if it’s a multi-way all-in, like it was in the video? Your hand loses a lot of equity if there’s more than one person in the pot with you. True, but please note that it also means that the pot will be bigger so you don’t have to win that big percentage of the time to be profitable. Besides, if we give the other player the same tight – only the top 3.32% of hands – range, you still have a 72.05% chance of having the best hand after the river.

So with that we hopefully proved what every poker player intuitively knew already – folding pocket Aces pre-flop is a losing play in terms of EV (expected value). But while EV is the only deciding factor in cash games, tournaments have another layer of calculations – ICM, the Independent Chip Model.

Remember, Cwien was playing a tournament when he made his infamous fold – so maybe he was right to do so after all.

Since Aces have so much equity even in a 3-way all-in pot against very strong, tight ranges we’ll examine a scenario where ICM suggests you should play very, very tight – that is on the bubble or before a giant pay jump if there are a good number of players with smaller stacks than yours in the tournament. If there’s any time it makes sense to fold pocket Aces pre-flop, it’s then.

To make this simple, let’s make it a 9-handed Sit&Go. The payout structure is the following: first place pays 50.2% of the prize pool, second place pays 29.9%, the third place pays 19.9%. Each player starts with 1,500 chips which means there are 13,500 chips in play.

You’re on the stone bubble, 4 players left. There are two shorter stacks in play, with 1,000 and 2,500 chips, respectively. You’re sitting on a 4,000-chip stack while the chipleader has 6,000. You got your pocket Aces in the big blind, the 2,500-chip stack shoves UTG, the short stack folds on the button, then the biggest stack shoves over him from the small blind – what do you do? If the big stack outdraws you all your hard work is gone and you’re leaving the table empty-handed. If you beat his hand but not the other player’s in the pot, you still lose money while your opponent who was behind you before gets a triple-up. Wouldn’t it be wise to just fold, hope the small stack busts so you get in the money?

First off, let’s see what the Independent Chip Model is. ICM calculates the actual money value of your chips based on how much of the chips in play you have in your stack and the payout structure of the tournament you’re playing. There are many softwares out there that can calculate that for you, both free and paid, we’re going to use icmpoker.com’s calculator for our demonstration.

To make things simple again, let’s make the prize pool a nice, round $100. Here’s what your chips are worth in dollars before you decide if you call the all-in or not.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”2498″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” image_hovers=”false” css=”.vc_custom_1534138836199{margin-bottom: 20px !important;}”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1534139147055{margin-bottom: 20px !important;}”]Once again, for the sake of argument, let’s give both players the same very strong range – so we know your equity in the hand, 72.05%. That means 72.05% of the time you’re going to win a gigantic pot which would give you a 10,500-chip stack.

In that case, the ICM standings would change to the following:[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”2501″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” image_hovers=”false” css=”.vc_custom_1534138947940{margin-bottom: 20px !important;}”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1534139156837{margin-bottom: 20px !important;}”]The chipleader who can actually bust you has 13.97% equity in the pot – that means that 13.97 % of the time the value of your stack is going to zero, since you’re out of the tournament without a payday.

What if the 2,500-chip stack has the best hand but you beat the chipleader with your Aces and take the side-pot? In that case, which also happens 13.97% of the time since we’ve given both of your opponents the same range, you’re going to be left with 3,000 chips while no-one busts.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”2502″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” image_hovers=”false” css=”.vc_custom_1534138991041{margin-bottom: 20px !important;}”][vc_column_text]So 72.05% of the time you’re going to gain $9.8242 in value, 13.97% of the time you’re going to lose $0.3707, while another 13.97% of the time you’re going to lose $30.0633. Let’s do some calculations then. If the final number is positive, it means calling will make you money in the long run.

0.7205X$9.8242 + 0.1397X(-$0.3707) + 0.1397X(-$30.0633) = $2.8267063

So there you have it. Even if you’re opponents only shove the very top of their ranges, even if you’re on the stone bubble, even if it’s a multi-way all-in pot – feel free to call with those Aces.

Chances are you already knew that, but here’s a bit of mathematics to back it up for you.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]