You’ve got the best seat at the table and you don’t want to waste it. Nick Wealthall explains how to make it pay
Years from now poker will take place at Wembley stadium. The players will sit on a raised stage as 90,000 crazed fans scream in star-struck frenzy as spotlights rake the sky. Before play begins the announcer sucks in air and bellows… ‘Let’s – play – poker’. A thousand fireworks shot from the stadium’s iconic arch marks the beginning of play…
And that’s the image I want you to have when you play in late position. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but the message I’m trying to convey is that when you’re in late position it’s time to become a real poker player. It’s here that you can make moves, be creative and really gather chips.
Someone once asked me what I listen to on my non-branded iPod equivalent. I replied, ‘In early position it’s whale music, in late position it’s gangsta rap.’ As I discussed last month position gives a huge tilt in the strategic dynamic. If you’re first to act you’re often left guessing what your opponents will do or what hands they hold. Conversely, if you’re last to act you have information on what all the other players have done – and information in this game is power. As before I’ll give some hand advice but mostly I’ll discuss concepts and plays which you can use to strengthen your play and make chips in poker’s most powerful positions.
Take your seats
Typically, late position is viewed as the button, the cut-off (the seat before the button) and – depending on the game – the next position around (which needs a catchy name, answers on a postcard). After the flop, of course, late position could be any seat on the table where you act last. Bear in mind when considering your pre-flop play that you must consider those to act between you and the button.
In some games with passive players you can open the pot one or two places off the button with substandard hands; with loose or aggressive players behind you’ll need to tighten up and only make those plays from the cut-off, and sometimes just on the button.
It’s difficult to give specific hand advice because sometimes, in late position, you can play any two cards. For example, in the later stages of a tournament when the blinds are pretty big and there are tight/weak players in those seats you can open the pot with a raise from the cut-off or button with any two cards. In most games if the action is passed to you in late position you should open with a raise. The chances of taking the blinds uncontested and having ‘the lead’ after the flop make this correct. Only if the blinds regularly defend or play back against a late position raiser can limping be considered.
In general you can play any hands that have some ‘playable’ value. So any pocket pairs, any two high cards above a Ten, any two suited connectors and any hands like A:-5: that have great implied odds if you hit the flop hard. Basically any two cards with a relationship to each other. You need to adjust to the situation and how the action has developed. If there are a lot of players in the pot a hand like A-9 offsuit is often a fold as it doesn’t play well multi-way. If a tight player has opened the pot with a raise you need to tighten up and rarely enter the pot unless you’re making a play, which I’ll discuss later. If the pot is unopened then you can consider a very wide range of hands.
If you’re on the button and one or several players have limped into the pot you have lots of possibilities. This is a great situation to play a hand that works well in a multiway pot, such as a small pocket pair or suited connectors. You may even consider a ‘pot sweetening’ raise as your situation is very favourable. An alternative play is to punish the limpers and attempt to take the pot right now with a decent sized raise. Often you should follow this up with a significant bet on the flop continuing to represent a good hand. This play can’t be done too often against observant opponents but is often very effective.
A final possibility is to limp on the button with any two cards – this can be a profitable play in deeper-stacked games. The idea here is that there will be a lot of pots after the flop that you can claim when the other players fail to make a hand. The button is everything in no-limit Hold’em – play it often, be aggressive and bring the pain to those tight/weak losers who act timidly in front of you.
Stealing the blinds is an essential part of any no-limit Hold’em player’s arsenal. Late position is the easiest place to do this from as there are fewer players between you and the goal of winning the blinds and antes uncontested. You should not view this as an automatic play as some players do but as a science itself.
You should consider the players in the blinds and how likely they are to defend their blinds, or worse play back and try to resteal from you. It can be dangerous to try and steal from short stacks as they’re looking to take a stand with anything and, conversely, big stacks can afford to make a move at you or see a flop; therefore players with medium size stacks are often the best people to steal from. However, the best guide for picking on a blind is the type and characteristics of the player. You’re looking for tight, uncreative players who only play if they find a real hand.
Calling an early position raiser from late position, usually on the button, can open up a lot of possibilities for later in the hand. This move is more useful the deeper the stacks that both you and the raiser are playing. This is because you have greater implied odds – i.e. greater reward – when you make a hand and greater manoeuvrability on later streets to take the pot away. You should consider doing this with hands like 6-7 suited that can make a big hand and are likely to be live against the initial raiser’s holdings, which will probably be a big pair or two high cards. Against weak/tight players who give up their hands too easily after the flop and turn you can call with some very weak hands; however, make sure you don’t overestimate your ability to play postflop, that the pot will be heads-up and the money is deep.