#1 Playing a Wide Range Out of Position
Position is paramount in poker, and while most have certainly heard this statement, understanding why this is a fundamental truth is key. Position gives us an edge we cannot gain otherwise in poker. It gives us the edge of additional information. In a game of imperfect information (as poker is often deemed) gaining an informational edge over our opponent allows us to make better decisions. Position works both ways, and while we would like to play every pot in position, there come times when we are forced to play pots out of position (OOP).
There are many holdings while played profitably in position turn into small-to-large losers when played too often OOP. Understanding the following factors should help in determining hand ranges to play, both in and out of position.
1. Pot-control and Pot-manipulation
In Pot-Limit and No-Limit games, controlling and/or manipulating the size of the pot is a key factor in becoming a winning poker player. The perfect scenario in these games would be to play large pots with strong hands and smaller pots with weaker hands. Position can be used to easily manipulate the size of the pot, while being out of position can see the pot balloon out of control at the wrong times, while staying minuscule when possessing the strongest of holdings. The hands that benefit from this the most would be medium-strength one pair hands and draws.
Hands that tend to play well in position but poorly OOP are hands like ATo, QJo, 67s, A5s, and small and medium pocket pairs. These hands thrive when a player is able to manipulate the size of the pot to correlate with the strength of their hand.
2. Free Cards
Being in position allows a player to take “free cards” when the situation warrants. A free card is taken when a player in position decides to check a given street (flop/turn) rather than betting. There are many times where a free card is the correct choice, and the only player who has this option is the last person to act on each street. This factor is the key reason why hands like 67s or A5s are much more profitable in position than OOP. A specific example would be holding a hand like 6s7s in position and betting a Qs 4s 3h flop. A player OOP calls a flop bet and then checks the turn. On the flop we had a very strong holding with 12 cards in the deck completing either a straight or a flush. However, on a Jd turn card, our rate of completing this draw has now been cut in half. Our hand has just gone from a strong hand to a medium-strength hand, which warrants keeping the pot smaller. This is where position comes into play. The OOP player will typically check the turn allowing us to either build the pot had our flush/straight draw completed or to now check the turn, controlling the size of the pot, and gaining a “free card’ as we paid nothing on the turn to see the river.
3. Gaining Maximum Value
Being able to bet multiple streets for value with medium-strength hands is an important factor in playing hands like A5s profitably. Calling a raise OOP with a hand such as A5s makes value-betting postflop extremely difficult. For example, holding A5s the player on the button raises 4bbs PF and you call from the BB. The flop is Ad Jd 7h you check and your opponent bets 6bb’s. You are now in a difficult spot, your opponent could easily have an extremely strong hand such as JJ or AJ or even a medium-strength hand such as AT. He could have a flush or straight draw or could be holding a weak hand, such as 89o or 56s. Being OOP has made it very difficult to determine your opponent’s hand range and now acting accordingly is a tall task. You could raise, but now you lose all control of the pot-size and your opponent will generally only continue with hands stronger than your own. If you decide to just call, you will generally check the turn, allowing your opponent to bet again or check and take a free card. If your opponent does check then the river becomes a difficult spot. Should you bet you will have a difficult time being called by a worse hand, and in fact many times you will be called by a better hand which decided to control the pot by checking on the 4th street (hands like ATo).
Compare this to playing A5s in position. You are able to bet multiple streets for value against many opponents. On a flop of Ad Jd 7h, our opponent checks from the BB. This now becomes an easy continuation-bet. If our bet is called we have some extra information on our opponent. He would have most likely re-raised us PF with hands like AK or AQ and he would certainly have raised the flop with a hand like AJ or 77. Because of this the majority of his hand range is either a draw or a weaker one pair hand. This allows us to now bet on the turn to protect our hand against draws. It also allows us to get another bet in the pot with the best hand, something we weren’t assured of in our OOP example.
Understanding these key fundamentals should help in maintaining a tighter range when OOP and a looser range while in position. Being able to turn marginal losing hands into profitable ones just through positional adjustments will certainly improve a player’s win rate.
Be sure to see the other parts of this article, which is a 5 part series!