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Texas Holdem Poker


by: Lou Krieger

In Part 2 of this four-part series we discussed why a winning player must be selective as well as aggressive, and why starting standards are critical to poker success. Now it’s time to learn why patience and position are equally important to your success at the poker tables.

This concept is certainly related to the “be selective” portion of the “be selective; be aggressive” mantra. Selectivity can vary, however, depending on the texture of the game and your table image at any point in time. More on table image later. For now, let’s talk about selectivity as it applies to “be selective; be aggressive.” In advising you to be selective I’m aware of two disparate thoughts. First, few players you come in contact with in a poker game will dispute the need to be selective. Second, what most players consider selective and what you should consider selective are two entirely different things. Most of the players in your hold’em game probably play hands like K-T or Q-J offsuit from early position, regardless of how aggressive the game might be, calling every raise with neither hesitancy nor trepidation. After all, in their value system, any two cards ten-or-above are powerful holdings, and worth getting involved with regardless of the circumstances.

Trust me on this. If you’re holding either of those two hands, and someone raises, do you think you have the best hand and are a favorite? I don’t think so. Holdings like K-T or Q-J offsuit are certainly hands I would throw away before I’d cold-call a raise for two bets. I wouldn’t be any more confident either, if I called one bet, was raised by a player to my left, and had to call that raise before seeing the flop. I’d do it, but I wouldn’t like it. If you call a raise and the flop misses you entirely, that’s not much of a problem. While it might cost two bets, it’s a hand that’s easy to get away from. The real problem arises when you catch part of the flop. Suppose you called a raise with K-T and the flop contains a king and two rags. Now the raiser bets. Do you like your hand? It’s a tough call precisely because you really don’t have much to go on when you try to decide whether you have the best hand.

Your opponent may have been bluffing with a hand like A-Q, or semibluffing with J-J, but he might also have raised with a hand like A-K. Unfortunately, you have no idea what he has, and consequently no idea of where you stand. This is a dilemma. If you play cautiously, you will minimize your loss but you’ll also minimize any wins. If you play aggressively, as you would if you knew you had the best hand, you’ll either win more or lose more. Either way, you’re simply gambling — casting your fates to the winds — and you don’t want to do too much of that when you’re playing poker.

If your opponent holds a king, his kicker is likely to be better than yours, since you can be fairly sure he wouldn’t raise with K-9. If you have a hand like K-T and your opponent holds K-Q or
A-K, other than some odd flops that will result in a split pot or a miracle flop that gives you a straight, there are only three cards in the deck that can win it for you.

Yet many players in your game probably treat K-T as though it were a top-notch hand. It’s not. Sure, it’s a hand you should see the flop with if you’re in late position and no one has raised. In fact, if you are in late position and no one has called the blinds, it’s frequently a raising hand. But it is not a hand you can cold-call a raise with, nor is it a hand you can comfortably play from early position if you are in a game where frequent raises are the rule rather than the exception.

It is a troublesome hand. So are hands like A-J, A-T, Q-J, Q-T, J-T, and A-x suited. While they have their place in your repertoire of playable hands, they are hands that have to be played carefully. This is where patience is a virtue. If you play these hands indiscriminately, they will put a dent in your bankroll. I know these hands look good to many hold’em players, but believe me, when you are dealt these hands in the wrong position, or in a ram-and-jam game, you need the patience and discipline to throw them away.

In poker, position means power. It is almost always advantageous to act after you’ve had the benefit of seeing what your opponents do. Their actions provide clues about the real or implied values of their hands. This is true in every poker game, and particularly important in fixed position games, like hold’em and Omaha, since position is fixed for the entire hand, but can vary from one betting round to another in stud.

Suppose you’re sitting in eighth position in a hold’em game. You raised before the flop with
a pair of jacks. The flop wasn’t much to your liking. It was A-Q-6, and the player in seat three comes out betting and is raised by a player in seat five. Now it’s your turn to act. What should you do? Unless you have good reason to believe that the bettor and raiser are both bluffing — and that’s very, very unlikely — you no longer have the best hand and should release your pair.

Let’s examine another scenario with the same cards. Suppose it was checked on the flop, and again on the turn. Now you can probably bet your pair of jacks and take the pot, or simply check behind your opponents and give someone with a hopeless hand a chance to bluff at the pot on the river.

But suppose you were first to act with the same hand. What should you do with your jacks. You can bet, and probably take the pot if no one holds an ace or king, but remember this: In many lower limit games players will play any ace, regardless of the kicker. Betting gives you a chance to steal the pot, but if someone holds a better hand you can be sure you’ll be called — or maybe even raised. Because you were forced to act first, with no advance knowledge or what your opponents are holding, or any clue as to how they might play their hands or respond to your actions, you are forced to guess what the right play might be. Even if no one holds an ace or king, you might wind up throwing your hand away if someone bets and you are forced to consider calling in the face of two overcards.

All in all, this is not a good situation to be in, regardless of position. But you are certainly safer acting last. All early position offers is an opportunity to steal the pot by bluffing at it. This, however, is a high-risk strategy, since you might be up against a better hand, and find that you’ve been raised for your troubles.

In the next article, which is the wrap-up to this four part series, I’ll show you how to cope at the table when all goes wrong, and give you some examples and coping strategies from poker as well as from real life.

Solid Poker Foundations by Lou Krieger

Learn how to ensure your poker foundations are solid!

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4


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