Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2005) in Poker Player newspaper.
They say that in many families the middle child has the most trouble competing for attention. More focus is on the first borne and, also, on the newest arrival. Now, I’m not an expert on sibling interaction, being an only child, but I am an expert on poker. And in poker, being that “middle child” – the player who must make a decision between the first opponent to act and the last – definitely makes it harder to compete for profit.
In the past, we’ve discussed being in the middle position in the wagering chain. Often, it’s uncomfortable and awkward being in the middle, right? But, there are powerful concepts that can ease your burden and secure your bankroll whenever you find yourself in that position. So, let’s listen to a lecture I gave long ago. If you pay attention, you’ll understand how to prosper when you’re in the midst of final-betting-round action, surrounded by opponents, right and left.
Surrounded on the final round
Today, I’m going to tell you how to save thousands of dollars every year if you’re a medium-limit or higher, regular poker player. Even if you play smaller, you’ll still save a lot of money.
You see, many advanced players make a big mistake by raising in the middle position on the last round of betting. Let me say it again: Many advanced players make a big mistake by raising in the middle position on the last round of betting. It’s OK to raise with an unbeatable hand and sometimes even with a weak hand, hoping to chase the player behind you out of the pot and beat the original bettor who may be bluffing. But it’s usually not OK to raise with a relatively strong hand. In most cases, your hand needs to be extremely strong to justify that raise – much stronger than a hand you might raise with if you were heads-up against just the bettor.
Let me set the situation for you. There are three of you that remain on the final betting round. One player acts before you and one after you. This is a very common situation and my advice is targeted at any poker game, except high-low.
When you have a relatively strong hand in the middle position on the last betting round, there are few advantages in raising. A call often wins an overcall, and if the third player has a strong-enough hand, he’ll raise for you, perhaps get called by the original bettor and your overcall may be profitable. But if, instead, you raise and get reraised, the bettor will usually fold and you’re risking more money to win no more money. Plus, the bettor might be bluffing and then your raise would be wasted; and you’d lose a possible weak overcall from the player behind. All-in-all, you’ll seldom be making a big mistake by just calling.
Let’s look at this again. It’s the final betting round. There’s a player who acts first and bets. Now it’s up to you, and there’s another player waiting to act after you. Got it? Well, now we know that there are few advantages to raising in this common situation. Yet many professionals do it routinely. If you call, you will often be overcalled and win two bets. If you raise, you might win two bets, if the player behind you passes and the original bettor calls.
Here’s the bad part about what I’m telling you: The main risk of just calling is that you might have a superior hand that could have won two bets, but will now only win one bet.
But that risk is usually overshadowed by other factors. Your call often wins an overcall, and if the third player has a powerful hand, he’ll raise, anyway. Perhaps he’ll then get called by the original bettor and your overcall may win four betting units (two from each opponent). But if you raise and are reraised, the bettor will usually fold and you’re risking three bets without increasing your potential profit. Plus, the bettor might be bluffing and then you’ll have no advantage to raise; you’ll only lose a possible weak overcall from the player waiting to act. If you just call with your marginally strong hand, you’ll often win the overcall. If you’re beat, figure you would have been called and lost anyway, even if you had raised. Of course, you would have lost more money by raising. If you raise, you’ll often chase away the third player with a weaker hand and win nothing more by making a futile raise against a bettor who was bluffing.
The cost of raising
All-in-all, you’ll seldom be making a big mistake by just calling, but you can cost yourself in the long run by raising with strong hands that are not cinches when a player remains to act behind you on the final round. If you’re almost certain that you have the best hand, it’s OK to raise. But in most other circumstances where you have a strong hand, but there’s some doubt about its superiority and you might get a weak overcall from the player behind you, it’s better to just call that bet in the middle position.
In short, in the middle position on the final betting round, hands that may seem strong enough to raise with usually aren’t. Just call unless your hand is almost unbeatable – and even then, it’s sometimes better to just call. Raising in the middle position on the final betting round should be reserved for huge hands and hands that might have the bettor beat, but might not have the player behind you beat. The raise then helps to lessen the risk of beating the bettor, but losing to a weak call from the player behind you. Other than that, I want you to consider just calling in the middle position most of the time. Remember, on the final betting round, a raise in the middle should be an unusual decision made for a specific reason. If you don’t see that reason, just call.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC