Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2007) in Poker Player newspaper.
You understand how position works in poker, right? The earlier that you must act, the more players are waiting to pounce, and the stronger your hand needs to be to earn profit. Fine.
What if you didn’t need to settle for the rotation of the blinds or dealer position to determine when you got to act late? Remember, in the long run, when you act late, you make more money. You can add a period to that – there are no exceptions. Players who get to see what others do before making their decisions have an advantage. Period. (There, I added it for you.)
Today, I’m going to share the transcript of an old lecture that helps you act in later positions more often. Listen…
The miracle of enhanced position
I don’t need to remind you how important position is in poker. The earlier you must act, the more cautious you have to be about making the first wager, because there are lots of opponents waiting to pounce on you.
But when you’re in a late position, you get to wait to see what your opponents do first, before committing to the pot. That’s why you can almost always bet with less powerful hands after many opponents have already folded. There simply aren’t as many opponents waiting, and it’s less likely that one of them has a hand strong enough to beat you.
But when you open pots in early position, you usually need significant strength, because there are many players who might have you beat. For instance, in a 10-handed hold ’em game, if three players fold and I have six players to act after me, I probably can’t justify calling or raising the blind with K-10 of mixed suits. There’s too much competition left, and I can prove that this is not a profitable play in the long run.
But with only four players left to act, including myself, that same K-10 of mixed suits is sometimes profitable, if played correctly throughout the rest of the betting rounds. Now, let me ask you a question. Wouldn’t you like to exchange that situation with K-10, which you’ll need to fold with six players yet to act, for a profitable position with only four players yet to act?
Well, you can! And when you master that bit of magic, you can play hands that seem unprofitable on the surface and make a lot of money from them in the long run.
How do you do this? It’s really not hard.
I always look at the players who are waiting to act after me. This is important.
Now, remember what I’ve taught you about tells. Players who seem to be paying the most attention are likely to fold. Also, players who are reaching toward their chips are likely to fold – unless they’re rank beginners who are playing poker as if it were bingo.
The players I’m concerned about are those who don’t seem to care. They’re frequently looking away from the action, trying to lure you into the pot by seeming uninterested and making it appear safe for you to wager. This is consistent with the standard, act strong when weak and weak when strong characteristic that defines most of your opponents.
The trick is to spot the players waiting to act behind you who seem interested. Those are the ones you can usually eliminate as being potential players in the pot. They seem interested, and it’s an act, so it’s as if they’d already folded, even though they are still waiting to act. So, because you can think of them as having already folded, your position is actually better than it seems.
If the game is nine-handed, this means if you can eliminate three players as potential competitors, your K♣ J♥ isn’t really in the third seat with six players waiting to act after you. It’s effectively in the sixth seat with only three players waiting to act – and that can make it profitable. And that’s just one example of hundreds of similar hands that can be increased in profit by sliding your position forward. And the same thing applies to all forms of poker — not just hold ’em.
Just by being observant and watching how opponents are going out of their way to look interested out of turn, you can enhance your position. Slide it forward. Think about how important that is.
Good position is critical at poker. The best positions make money and the worst positions lose money. Your goal in the best positions is to earn even more money and your goal in the worst positions is to lose less.
When I say lose less, I’m considering that you’re paying something to get your hand, even if you didn’t put in a blind or an ante. That’s because your real cost is a proportioned share of the blinds that you pay to participate. So if you fold every time in bad positions, you still lose that theoretical money. If you play perfectly, you can win some back, thus losing less.
Anyway, position really matters. If you could be in the best positions all the time, you’d get super rich in a hurry. I can’t promise you that. But I can promise you that you can average better position just by paying attention to who’s going to fold after you.
There are a couple of other benefits. You will seem to be playing hands that are too weak for your position, and that’s good advertising. And you often will have hands other than the ones your opponents expect, so you can gain extra money through this built-in deception.
Sometimes I’ll be in an early position and I’ll see that everyone is probably going to fold, right up to the big blind. Now if I raise with J♠ 8♦, not only am I going to enhance my image and get more calls in the future, I’m actually not in a bad situation versus the big blind. I have a semi-competitive hand. I couldn’t normally play it except to attack the big blind from the small blind position – but now I AM effectively in the small blind position – except much better.
Why better? Because the big blind will respect my raise more from that position, and I’m more likely to walk off with both blinds without a fight. And, because I’m not actually in the small blind position, I’ll get to act after the big blind on all future rounds of betting.
When you think about that, you begin to realize how profitable sliding up in position by being observant really is. Just watch the players waiting to act after you and that money can be yours.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC