I recently participated in a poker training session with a fairly accomplished student — let’s call him “Dave” – and my co-coach, 2006 World Series of Poker Player of the Year Jeff Madsen. Three-handed, with Dave on the button, we ran into a perfect illustration of the value of position in poker.
Position is not simply valuable because of the extra information you gain; it can also be a pot-control tool.
With blinds at 100-200 and an average table stack of 15,000, Dave raised to 400. I looked down at Jh 9c and opted to call. Jeff called from the big blind with 6s 5s.
Dave regularly plays in tournaments with buy-ins ranging from $50 to $200. I don’t recommend minimum-raising very often in these tournaments. Seeing flops with four or five opponents is a bad idea. The best play is to bet slightly higher preflop. I might normally fold my J-9 offsuit, but I didn’t want Dave to feel like his tiny raise had any fold equity.
The flop came Jc 10c 7c. Normally, I would have checked, but this was a training session, not a tournament, and Dave doesn’t often run into guys who play like I do. In training sessions, I try to teach the student how to successfully navigate the games he or she usually plays in, as opposed to big-stack, high-entry tournaments. I opted to lead out with 800, as most players with my hand in less expensive tournaments would bet here.
Holding a gutshot-straight/straight-flush draw, flush draw and top pair, I was confident yet nervous. A lot of players out of position will throw out a feeler bet that doubles as “protection,” so as to not let a free card come off. A check would have been more appropriate due to the likelihood that Dave would fire a continuation bet.
I really liked what happened next.
After Jeff folded, Dave raised to 1,800 – a great bet. If I reraised, I’d be committed to calling an all-in jam. No need for that. This is exactly what A-J or an overpair with a club would do. I was handcuffed.
I called. And prayed.
The 5d peeled off on the turn. I had no choice but to check. If I bet and he raised, I would have to fold, meaning I’d just thrown away good money. He checked.
The river was the 2s. I checked. He checked.
He showed Ac 10d. I won the hand.
He was disappointed at first, but I made clear the need for a distinction between how he played the hand and the disappointment of not spiking a club, ace or 10. Essentially, he had 12 to 14 outs twice. Those two opportunities to hit his hand only cost him 1,000. His raise on the flop slowed down the action. Had he simply called my 800, I likely would have bet 2,000 on the turn to protect myself. Even though I only had top pair/weak kicker and draws, I played as if I hit the board better than I actually had. He probably would have had to fold or make another weak call.
Dave’s raise on the flop used position to control the size of the pot and how much it would cost him to chase a better hand. Think about that — a raise keeping the pot smaller. Who knew? That’s how position allows for tactics, not simply information collection.
Alex Outhred has been a professional poker player and coach since 2006. He has cashed in multiple World Series of Poker events.