Lesson 9 – Playing From Late Position

Home Poker School Lesson 9 – Playing From Late Position

If you’ve been following my lessons, you know that we’ve been working our way backward around the table; from the Big Blind (BB) bet, which will end at Early Positon (EP). This time we’ll move back from the Button (Dealer position) to what’s often called the “Cutoff” and one position earlier than that. By “early”, I’m referring to the betting rotation, of course. Those players in early position bet before the Button (also the SB and BB pre-flop), so the closer you are to the Button, if not actually on it, the more bets you’ll observe before you have to make yours.

The player to act immediately before the Button is, as I mentioned, often called the Cutoff. At a 10-player table, this would be player # 1 because s/he is 1 place away from the Button, if the Button is # 0. Before the flop, the Cutoff will observe all the bets made, except for the Button’s and the two Blinds. Obviously, the Cutoff receives a lot of information, although it’s not any different than what the other players are seeing. However, the Cutoff doesn’t have to make a bet until all of the early, middle and other late-position players make theirs, so the Cutoff can be surprised only by the Button and/or the two Blinds, who will act after him or her, at least in the pre-flop betting. Consequently, the Cutoff can profitably play almost as many hands as the Button, so it shouldn’t surprise you to find that the minimum starting hands for the Cutoff are almost the same as the minimum starting hands for the Button. I said “almost” because the Cutoff still has to contend with the Button’s bet and, as you know from the previous lesson, the Button can profitably play a lot of hands – not as many as the Blinds, to be sure – but close. And that’s part of the problem with being in the Cutoff position; if the Button is a player that likes to make “position raises” in order to try and steal the blinds, you could find yourself betting more on a hand that just isn’t worth it.

To avoid that, you should play good hands so if you are surprised by a raise, you can make the call. Would it be that the game were so simple, but this section of my “Hold ’em Poker Basic Strategy Matrix” will go a long way toward preventing you from getting into a raised pot with a weak hand. Like all of the other sections of the matrix, this one will show you which hands you can raise or reraise with, which hands can call raises and which hands should call unraised pots only. Again, I want to stress that this listing of minimum hands is based upon simulation, which in poker, is not an exact science. Also, these recommendations assume a limit Hold ’em game at a table with 9 or 10 players and if you use them, you’ll come across as a somewhat “tight” player simply because you won’t be playing a lot of hands. However, this chart does have some flexibility that I’ll explain down in the notes and comments section. Before I do that, though, I want to address the situations of Player #2, who is generally considered to be in “late Position” (LP) along with the Cutoff. This player will, of course, see fewer bets than the others who will act after him or her, but it’s currently beyond my capabilities to make such a fine distinction, especially when you consider that many poker rooms seat nine players at a table. So, for all practical purposes, we can lump in player #2 with the Cutoff, but I’ll consider player # 3 as Middle Position in the chart that’ll appear in the next lesson, although # 3 could almost be an LP player.

The logic to all this is really very simple. As the button moves further and further away from us, the number of hands we can profitably play decreases. The fortunate thing is that the relationship is basically linear in nature. This is a math geek’s way of saying that the decrease in the value of a hand is pretty much proportional to the distance from the Button (excluding the Blinds, who obviously have no choice about the $$$ they must commit to the pot), so it’s fairly easy to create a Basic Strategy Matrix from this point on. If it’s okay to play J-10o from the Button, that hand is marginal in Late Position (#2 and the Cutoff) and is just plain unprofitable from position #3 or earlier, under the circumstances of an “average” 9- or 10-player game. Yes, I know you’ll see players betting it from all positions, but that doesn’t make it right. I say this while still understanding the interesting postion that J-10o occupies in the game; it can make a lot of Straights, many of which are the “nuts” on the flop. Think about it. If your J-10 forms a Straight with, say, 7,8,9, it’s the top hand. Somebody holding Q-10 or Q-J might still beat you, but that player cannot do it on the flop; he or she will still have an inside Straight draw to contend with. And the player with a 5-6 in the pocket will be holding the “ignorant” end of the Straight. Going the other way, if the flop comes 10-J-Q, the hand of A-K has the nut Straight, but you’ve got Two-Pair. And if the flop comes Q-K-A, you’re in there with the absolute nut Straight; what’s called “Broadway”.

So, why is it that I’m treating J-10o so shabbily? Well, the primary reason is that, without the other cards needed for a Straight, J-10o is a real loser. If you’ve played poker for any length of time – particularly in low limit games – you’ve seen how players will cling to hands like Ace-anything and King-no kicker with a death grip and if the big cards pair, your Jacks are toast. Hey, I’ll readily admit I’ve dragged some nice pots with J-10o, but it’s almost always been from either SB or BB position with either a Straight or a Full House and, let’s face it, any two cards can get lucky and make a Full House, so even those don’t really count. Nope, it’s all back to the Straight when it comes to J-10o and a player does not profit by Straights alone; so sayeth one very astute student of the game, whose name at the moment eludes me.

Okay, enough chatter, let’s get to the chart. The options you have are usually to raise or reraise (which allows you to call any number of raises), call one raise or call only, otherwise fold. What I want to stress is that this chart is appropriate for limit Hold ’em games and, like most of my others, will make you appear as a “tight” player, which may or may not suit your style of play. The hands presented here are recommended for the two Late Position Players – the Cutoff, who is # 1 and player # 2.
Minimum Hands for Limit Hold ’em Poker, “Late Position”

Re-raise/ Raise Call one raise Call only
A-A, A-Ko/ A-Qs A-5s, A-Jo A-10o
K-K/ KQs K-9s K-Jo
—-/ Q-Q Q-10s Q-Jo
—-/ J-J J-10s J-10o
—-/10-10 —- 10-9s

Notes and comments

Much like the other charts I’ve presented up to this point, the chart above will eventually become part of my “Hold ’em Poker Basic Strategy Matrix”. Rather than listing each separate hand, I’m once again showing the minimum, based upon the high card in the hand, so any hand that is better than the minimum may also be played. For example, in the case of a Queen the minimum to raise is Q-Q (no re-raising!); the minimum to call one raise is Q-10s, which includes Q-10s and Q-Js. The minimum to call, otherwise fold, is Q-Jo. (Remember all the symbols? Here’s a quick review: “s” means suited and “o” stands for off-suit or unsuited). Any other hand with a Queen as the highest card should fold, raised pot or not. Okay with that? Obviously, if a hand can raise or reraise, it may also call any number of raises. Now, let’s look at the pairs. I included the “big” pairs here, but the rest are covered in the pairs chart you’ll find in Lesson 7. I tried to keep this simple by not listing all the pairs, but this will make more sense when the matrix is completed.

I did promise some comments on flexibility with this, or any other of my charts. If you find the play it fosters is just too “tight” or if you’re in a game with less than 9 or 10 players, the thing to do is mentally adjust the positions the chart covers. For example, a looser player might start using this LP chart at position # 4 or # 5 – that is, farther away from the Button – than what I recommend here. Generally, with fewer players you can play hands of less value and still be profitable, so this chart may well work in a game with 4 or 5 players. That said, I must caution you I’ve not done any simulations along that line, so my remarks are pure conjecture, not fact-based.Homework
None, other than to check out the new (as of March, 2004) tournaments at Pacific Poker where you’ll likely find a lot of good opportunities. Beyond that, study, study, study. Oh, and have fun.

I’ll see you here next time.

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