Copyright 2006 Full
April 3, 2006
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Poker Lesson: Bad Position, Decent
Author: Howard Lederer
In the middle and later stages of tournaments, there
are often times when you're forced to make a pretty big commitment
on a relatively weak holding. These are uncomfortable spots because
you never want to risk a large percentage of your chips with a
mediocre hand. Things get even more difficult when you're playing
from the blinds and out of position.
For example, say you're playing late in a tournament.
The blinds are $500 and $1,000, and there's a $100 ante. You're
in the small blind with $18,000. It's folded around to the button,
an aggressive player who raises frequently in late position. He
has $30,000 in his stack and he raises to $3,500. You look at
your cards and see Ad-9s.
You know that A-9 isn't a great hand, but you can't
ignore it in this situation. First off, given your opponent's
history, he may very well be raising with a hand that is far worse
than yours. In fact, in this spot, he could very well have two
rags. Another consideration is that there are a lot of chips in
play. Between the blinds, antes, and your opponent's raise, you
stand to pick up over $5,000 in chips if you can take down this
pot, which would be a nice addition to your short stack.
So, you're probably going to want to play this hand.
But what's the best action?
At first, it might seem that calling is a reasonable
course, as it would keep you from getting overly committed on
this marginal hand. But calling has some pretty big downsides.
With a hand like A-9, you're usually not going to like the flop
very much. In fact, you'll fail to make as much as a pair about
two-thirds of the time. If you do flop a pair of 9s, how are you
going to proceed if the flop also has an over card? Even on an
Ace-high flop, you'll have a tough time knowing if your hand is
What's more, if you miss the flop completely, you
leave yourself vulnerable to being outplayed. It's going to be
very hard to bet if the flop contains three cards that don't help
your hand. If you check, your opponent will likely make a continuation
bet, and you'll be hard-pressed to continue, even though Ace-high
might be good.
In spots like this, your best move is to press an
edge while you have it - before the flop. Re-raise all-in pre-flop.
Your opponent probably won't have a hand that he can call with
and, if he does, you'll have plenty of outs. You still have about
a 25% chance against AK, for example. Not good, but not dead.
The important thing to keep in mind is that, in
the later stages of a tournament, you don't want to make many
decisions after the flop when you have a medium-strength hand
like Ace-middle kicker or middle pocket pair, and you're playing
out of position. Put your chips in while you think you have the
best of it, and hope for the best. If you let these marginal but
good situations pass you by, you might regret it later when your
stack has been whittled down even further.
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