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February 26th, 2009
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Poker Lesson: Playing Big Hands on the Button
Author: Dario 'Ryu' Alioto
No matter what poker variant you’re playing, it’s vital to constantly think about the players left to act behind you and what their tendencies are. Too often, when facing a raise, poker players think only about how to play back at the raiser to their right, without thinking about the opponents still holding cards on their left.
Let’s say you’re on the button in Pot-Limit Omaha with a powerful hand and facing a raise. There are several important factors that you need to consider here. In addition to the tendencies and range of possible holdings of the player that raised the pot, you should take into account the tendencies of the players in the blinds. You may not have any information about their holdings, but if you have information about what type of players they are, it will impact your decision.
If you’re on the button with a strong Omaha hand, like a double-suited Broadway hand – A-K-Q-J, A-K-Q-10, etc. – or pocket Aces or pocket Kings. Many aggressive players will look down at cards like that and re-raise the pot immediately without a second thought. That’s fine, to a certain extent. If the open raiser is a little bit loose, you know that most of the time when you are re-raising him that your hand is better than his, you’re going to be in position and you want to play a big pot against him.
However, factoring in the players in the blinds, you can sometimes get greater value by flat-calling. If one of the players in the blinds is loose, if he plays too many hands or if he protects his blinds routinely with marginal holdings, a flat-call may lure him into the pot in a situation where you have a big advantage over him. If he’s the type who plays small pairs or hands that are badly connected, the flop will often hit him but put him in bad shape relative to you. You might out-flop him set-over-set, he might make a sucker straight to your nut straight, a flush lower than your flush or any draw that is not going for the nuts and is actually drawing dead. If the players in the blinds, particularly the big blind, will defend with hands that are easily dominated and have trouble getting away from them if they hit the flop, you need to think seriously about just flat-calling pre-flop to invite them in.
And if the players in the blinds are not just loose, but loose-aggressive, then you should definitely flat-call, especially with hands like pocket Aces or pocket Kings with an Ace. That can pay off huge if you expect one of the blinds to do your re-raising for you. If one of the blinds is the type to try a squeeze play, he’ll re-raise, and then you can put in an enormous raise since there will already have been two raises. If everyone is playing with stacks of about 100 big blinds at this point, you’re going to be able to put in a significant percentage of your chips with a huge hand. If they choose to call and see a flop in a massive pot with a weaker hand, that’s fine. If they choose to muck, then you just won a significant pile of chips without even seeing a flop.
On the other hand, if the players in the blinds are tight enough to fold some big hands, then it does make sense to try to shut them out of the pot by re-raising on the button. If you know that they’re tight and would only call two raises with a monster starting hand, then your re-raise gets you valuable information heading to the flop if they do happen to call or re-raise.
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that you’re up against one opponent, the initial raiser, even though you’re actually still up against three opponents. Don’t forget about the players in the blinds. Their tendencies should always be considered when you’re deciding how to get the most value from your big starting hand on the button.
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