Just because you’re out of position doesn’t mean you have to lose. Learn how to rule the tables with Ross Jarvis’s guide to owning the opposition out of position in the second part of this pro concepts series
Call me baby
The last thing you want to do when playing hands out of position is to begin playing too passively and check-calling too much. However, there are certain recurring spots where it is just clearly the best play. One such example is when you have a good hand but are unlikely to be called by worse if you check-raise. If a player opens in the cut-off, you call from the small blind with A-T and the flop is A-2-6 rainbow this is a situation where check-calling is best. If you check-raise not only do you fold out worse but you also bloat the pot when called and you are left guessing on later streets. For the same reasons it’s usually best just to check-call hands like 7-7 on a T-2-4 or 8-9 on board such as 6-9-Q.
Then, depending on your opponent’s tendencies, you can make decisions on the turn and river as to whether to call again or, ideally, you’ll just get to showdown with a marginal hand without having to put another chip in the pot. Another good situation to just check-call is when you have an average draw but are up against an opponent that will give up his bluffs if a continuation bet is called. Let’s say you have Q-J on a A-T-5 fl op against a player with these tendencies.
You should now check-call for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you hit your gutshot and your opponent has a hand you’re likely to win a big pot. More importantly, if your opponent checks back on the turn you can donk out on the river with a high chance of taking down the smaller pot. His check on the turn effectively tells you that he was just bluffing the fl op and puts you on an Ace so put the pressure on. It’s true that you can’t be a huge winner at poker if you are constantly playing hands out of position. Position is still vital and you should really focus on playing the majority of your hands with this advantage.
But that is only half the battle. It’s also crucial you don’t live in fear of playing hands out of position. If you can employ some of the tactics listed above you can make life very difficult for your opponents and force them to tighten up in pots when they are up against you.
The anti-position masters
Best friends and titans of the felt Tom Dwan and Phil Galfond are capable of terrorising their opponents out of position. Here are two very different methods of turning the positional tables around…
Dwan the don
In this legendary hand from High Stakes Poker Dwan overcalls with K♠-Q♠ versus a three-bet from Barry Greenstein (A♦-A♣) and initial open from Peter Eastgate (A♠-K♥). The pot is $47,400 going to the flop. The Q♥-4♠-2♠ flop gives Dwan top pair and a flush draw – a hand that has good equity against anything the others could hold. Dwan donks out $28,700 because he wants to build the pot right now (they are playing very deep) and also fears that it could be checked around, meaning that he would lose the potential to stack any of his opponents.
In this instance, Dwan finds a willing customer in Greenstein’s Aces and they get it all-in on the flop with Dwan a slight favourite to win. A Queen on the turn later and poker’s golden boy is the recipient of a $919,600 pot.
Galfond the wizard
In another deep-stacked cash game Phil Galfond raises to $2,500 with A♥-T♠ and Antonio Esfandiari three-bets to $9,000 with J♣-9♦. Galfond calls and they see a 6♣-5♦-8♦ flop that misses them both. Galfond checks, Antonio bets $14,200 and then the online master makes a superb check-raise to $37,000 that forces a fold from Esfandiari. Galfond saw that this flop texture could make being out of position an advantage. His range for calling a three-bet is far more likely to this draw-heavy flop than Antonio’s range is. Therefore even if he is called on the flop his plan was surely to barrel most turns and rivers making it very difficult for Antonio to call even if he has Aces or Kings. This is a textbook example of playing well out of position to make your air beat their air.
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