Fast Track To Success – Lesson 10

Micro Stakes Poker (10)

  • Most players don’t understand how position works
  • How we play in position needs to depend on the particular opponent
  • As always, the goal is to seek out mistakes by opponents and take advantage of them

Position Is Misunderstood By Almost All Players Of Every Skill Level

There seems to be a certain progression where it comes to being concerned about position. Newer players pretty much ignore it, which is definitely a mistake, and then as players learn the game more they tend to gravitate toward being more tight and passive out of position and being more loose and aggressive in position. This generally continues until players, even otherwise good ones, develop tendencies to play too tight passive out of position and too loose aggressive in position.

So I’m going to give you a real head start here and we’ll completely skip the first phase, as you need to be aware that paying attention to your position is very important, so just my telling you that will pretty much get us past that. I’m also going to give you a head start on not going too far with this as most experienced players do.

Most Players Don’t Want To Think About Position Too Much

Micro Stakes Stage #10

The reason why they fall into these traps is that a lot of players really don’t even want to think about the game too deeply, and I’ve had a lot of trouble getting even long term winning players and even long term successful coaches to buy into the fact that they even need to think about these things more. In a way, by you being a less experienced player, you haven’t fallen into the dogmatic thinking that some other players do, and some even consider re-evaluating the typical understanding of position as being sacrilegious.

So let’s start with what sort of trouble we can get into in the first phase, which is not paying attention to position enough. They say, and fairly rightly so, that if you act first then you are in a position of giving away information without the other party having reciprocated yet. This is definitely true potentially, meaning that the opportunity is there to do this. So let’s say we’re both on the flop and you act first. If you bet into me when you have something, and check when you don’t, now I can act with that knowledge and use it to exploit you.

Since I don’t have to act first, then when you act you are doing so without any information about me, at least on this street anyway, but when I act I may indeed have some good information about you. Poker is a game of managing information, and it’s always good to have it. If you bet and typically have something when you do, then I can fold my weaker hands, and raise you with my real good ones. If you check and typically don’t have anything when you do, I can just bet and get a lot of folds, often way more to make betting with anything profitable.

Playing Too Weakly Out Of Position Is Simply Too Weak

So it’s not hard to see how this all can get you into trouble if you’re not wise to what’s going on. So what a lot of players end up doing is checking all the time here, and in a sense that turns the tables on your opponent, by inviting him to make the first move so to speak. While this is definitely better than telegraphing your hands, and is the lesser of evils, it’s still an evil.

For starters, by playing passively, and in this case completely passive, we give up any opportunity for fold equity. Fold equity is a huge deal in poker and we’ve spoken at length about how much better it is to be aggressive than passive, and although there are situations where being passive is the better approach, this is pretty much limited to situations where we can build pots with our good hands more by letting the opponent take the lead. In this case we’re just completely wimping out here, at least with this bet.

Using Only Check Raises For Aggression Isn’t Enough

So this all is a progression, and the next step that players who have advanced to this level do is to introduce aggression into the process by using check raises. Often though they use this tactic too indiscriminately, for instance in cases where check raising may only fold out weaker hands, and the opponent may be very willing to either fire out further barrels as bluffs or bet further with their more marginal hands.

A well timed check raise is certainly a powerful weapon, but only in the context of an opponent’s tendencies, which involve both his betting frequency, his re-raising frequency, how often he folds to the check raise, and what he tends to do on further streets. The problem that players who use this run into is that by checking out first, the check raise becomes their only real aggressive weapon, and so the tendency becomes to overuse it without due regard to whether it’s the best way to proceed.

Betting Is Not A Tool We Just Want To Abandon

So I don’t want to throw off one of my main weapons, which is called the bet, just because I am out of position, without at least looking toward which weapons and tactics would be best to use against them. I know for sure that if my opponent is tight and will fold enough to my leads into him, then it will definitely be to my advantage to bet into him even if I’m acting first.

In fact, against a player like that, I don’t mind acting first every time. If we were playing a heads up match and he’d only play me if he had position on me every time, and he plays in such a way as that I can make an instant and certain profit by betting any time I want, not only am I not at a disadvantage here, I cannot possibly lose. So if he’s folding half the time or more to my bets, he can raise me every other time, and I don’t care.

So given that so many players fold this much or more, this situation will come up a lot. The real beauty of being aggressive out of position when appropriate is that, now that you can bet profitably any time you want, it certainly won’t just be with your good hands, and you can easily make what you’re doing pretty hard to read indeed, instead of the transparency that emerges when you bet just according to hand strength.

Playing More Aggressively Out Of Position Can Be Difficult To Play Against

As a matter of fact, when you remove the advantages that your in position opponent gets from gaining information from you, this line becomes much harder to play against for him. The correct adjustment is to play more hands against this, however many players play looser in position generally anyway, so there’s going to be more to our strategy than this.

However, at the micro stakes that we’re looking to beat, they generally don’t ramp things up much when in position, and there will be a lot of players who simply will fold too much, and often way too much, to our leading out. This makes this tool one that we certainly don’t want to just discard and merely rely on check raising for the source of our aggression.

However, with players who tend to bet way too much when checked to, the check raise definitely is a tool we want in our arsenal. What we really need to know is what they tend to do when check raised, meaning how often they fold and how often they stick around. If they fold too much in this spot, then this is an even better way to take advantage of a player’s overfolding tendencies, as we now gain his bet in addition to what was already in the pot.

If They Play Back Too Much, Then We Can Punish Them For It

If the opponent plays too aggressively, meaning a lot of re-raising our check raises, then it becomes an opportunity to extract more value from our good hands. In this case, when we have something, we can really make him pay, and when we don’t, we can check and fold and get out of the hand for free. So it’s all about making more money from people overall than they make from us, and the way to punish loose aggression generally is to have better cards then they do when the pots get built.

So once again, the key to being successful is to always look to play optimally against particular strategies that our opponents are using. It’s absolutely terrible in fact to have a certain perspective on how you play in position versus out of position. The best way to play in either depends to a great deal on how our opponents play. In fact it doesn’t just matter a great deal, it matters absolutely.

Take Advantage Of How Particular Players See Position

As you move up in stakes, you will find, to your delight, that players tend to play more and more predictably in and out of position. However, at the micro stakes, you see a great variety of strategies, but the nice thing is that these players don’t know what they are doing in the first place for the most part, and certainly don’t know how to adjust properly to the moves that you will be making to look to punish them for their particular tendencies.

They may not respect position enough, but they will all be doing something too much and often way too much, and it’s now your job to make them pay. So bet into them to test them out, and if they fold too much, you’ve found your chink right there. If they call along a lot, then back off on the betting, and look to value town them by getting them to call down weaker hands than yours to the river. IF they like to bet and raise a lot, then take them to town with your good hands as well.

As Always, Don’t Telegraph Your Play Too Much

Be careful though not to telegraph what you’re doing too much, as even newbies can figure out the easy stuff. Now a lot of players think not telegraphing means just checking all the time, and you never want to do that. You don’t just want to randomize things as well, meaning betting your good hands and just throwing in some weak ones as well. That’s just giving away money against a player like this.

What I’d look to do here is check some good ones and throw some check raises in there, as well as looking to throw some extra bets in there as the player feels that your bets are always good and starts folding more to them. There’s never a reason to just randomize when you’re looking to balance things to add some deception in, as you always want to set things up to your advantage, and you can and need to look to do both.

In the next lesson I’m going to talk about the other side of things, being in position.