Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2004) in Poker Player newspaper.
Imagine you’re sitting in the middle of the back seat of a VW Beetle on a long drive from Tulsa to Amarillo. You’re wedged between two other passengers. Got the picture? Now, let me ask you: Are you feeling comfortable? Oh, you’re right – it might depend on who the two people are. But, let’s not go there. Usually, you’ll probably agree that being cramped in the middle like this is no fun. Well, it’s the same with poker on the last betting round. Being in the middle is no fun.
Guess what? I just finished my chapter of favorite Mike Caro University of Poker tips for Doyle Brunson’s Super/System 2 – A Course in Power Poker. You won’t be able to read that sequel to the acknowledged bible of poker for a couple months, when it goes into national distribution. (Actually, you can get a pre-release, hard-bound, special edition at the Doyle’s Room online poker site – doylesroom.com.) This next tip is so important that it survived to be one of the final 43, after I pruned about 500 from the tree of candidates. Although today’s words are different from the ones that appear in Super/System 2, they convey the same important concept.
An advanced mistake
Image this: You’re in a typical limit poker game. It’s the last round of betting, and three players remain. They are you, Larry, and Harry. You used to play football with Harry in high school, but since that has nothing whatsoever to do with this tip, we won’t explore it further.
Anyway, the important thing is that Larry – who is a sophisticated player — will act first, then you’ll act, and then Harry will act. You’re in the middle – between Larry and Harry. This isn’t a good thing, either in a VW or in poker. I’ll explain the poker part of it now. But, just so you don’t think this is a totally sad story, you’re holding a pretty darn strong hand.
OK, you’ve got the picture. Many advanced players make the mistake of raising with a “pretty darn strong,” but not extremely strong, hand when bet into on the last round with another player waiting to act. Before you raise, you need to ask yourself why you’re about to do it. There are few advantages to raising right now. An ordinary call often wins an overcall, and if the third player has a power hand, he’ll raise, perhaps get called by the original bettor, and then your subsequent overcall – assuming you have the winning hand in a showdown among reasonably strong hands – will corral four bets, two from Larry and two from Harry. It only costs you two bets to gain all those chips.
But if you raise and are reraised, a sophisticated bettor like Larry will usually fold to the double raise, even with a fairly powerful hand, and you’re risking more money (three bets) to win no more money. It’s the same four bets that you figure to gain, assuming you call after Larry folds – three from Harry and one from Larry. Plus, the bettor could be bluffing and then your raise might be wasted. Remember, your raise is more likely to cause Harry to fold a semi-strong hand that you can beat, costing you a bet, than it is to exact a two-bet call from Harry. And when you do get that two-bet call, it isn’t always pretty. You could very well lose! Remember, it’s not unlikely that your raise with this strong, but not invincible, hand will cost you a weak overcall from Harry, who acts after you.
The main disadvantage to just calling are that if Harry folds and you win the showdown against Larry, you’ll only win one bet. You could have won two had you raised and the hand Larry bet was strong enough to prompt him to call.
But, all-in-all, you’ll seldom be making a big mistake by just calling – and you can cost yourself in the long run by raising — with strong hands that are not a cinch when a player remains to act behind you on the final round.
One other thing: Serious players who recognize this glitch governing the cost of raising with strong hands from the middle sometimes make a mistake of their own. It isn’t a strategic mistake, but a logical one. They proclaim that it’s more profitable to play from either first or last seats. They contend that the middle position earns the least profit in the long run.
They’re wrong! In three-way competition, the same “poker physics” prevails, as always. And the later you act, the more profitable your position. In this case, ignoring the value of the actual hands, Larry is in the worst position to make profit, you are in… well… the middle position, and Harry is in the best position. Poker physics is, indeed, an exact science.
One more time: You need an extremely strong hand to justify a raise in the middle position on the final betting round. If you don’t have one, just call. Even if you do have one, it’s sometimes more profitable to just call. Many professionals lose a lot of extra profit by raising too aggressively from the middle position on the final betting round. Now you know how to play better than they do in that circumstance. — MC