I try not to simply regurgitate things I've read from other sources in my poker travels. I prefer to put a personal spin on the topic and tell my readers how I, personally, have had success with the topic at hand. I know you all know about playing position, so it's entirely possible many of you will consider skipping over this particular post... Well, here I am, asking you to stick around and see what I have to say... I think I might be able to shed a unique light on the subject that perhaps you haven't considered before.
I spent the early portions of my poker hobby not paying too much attention to position. It seemed that pure position bets were always called and I was just throwing money at the loons in the name of a concept best left for professionals. So I played hands like AJ and 55 exactly the same UTG as I would on the button. With the rest of my game being pretty solid, it worked okay, but sustainable profit was elusive to me in ring play.
That all changed a few months ago, partly due to all this blogging myself and my dear Poker Academy friends are now doing. In my reading, someone said something I hadn't considered before. They said playing position against the typical (not very good) ring game player had more to do with maximizing profits than with taking stabs at a pot when everyone else has checked. You see, as my last article pointed out (Foiling the Lazy Post-Flop Bet), mediocre (and worse) players are far too fond of betting without enough information and without a detailed plan or explanation for why they're putting money on the table. That fact alone adds value to your flopped sets, flushes, and top two. Because you act last, or close to it, more people have a chance to bet into you when you have a solid hand. Moreover, if you react properly to these bets (more on predatorial betting / checking / calling later), it's entirely possible you could get the donk feeling like they are the one on the prowl - eager to put money into a pot you've got dominated.
Ever since I read that, I've been playing a little differently, and has paid off extremely well. Around half of my upswings are a direct result of playing position and letting players make bad decisions in front of me. Case in point, from last night on Full Tilt:
I have 55, one off the button. I like to play pocket pairs, but 5's are awfully small... So I'll generally limp with them if I can or call a small bet, but I don't like to get in for too much with a hand that's gonna be complete crap after the flop 85% of the time.
A few callers, then the guy two seats to my right raises it by $1.25 to $1.50... With a SB, BB, and three callers, it was a pot of $1.10 before the raise, $2.60 after. It's $1.50 to me, better than half the pot, and I'm tempted to lay it down... I don't know how many are going to call behind me and 55 is extremely likely to be in horrible shape.
But... I think to myself... If I can get two more players to lay it down, I get to act last. This is also an opportunity for more information gathering. It can be hard for me to throw money on the table with a hand as weak as this, but the more I think about it, the more I like raising here. If nothing else, it sets up a bluff in case he's got something like AK and misses the flop.
I raise to $3.00, just over the minimum but still a raise. Let's see how they react to that.
Everyone folds around to the original raiser, who calls. I've just bought position and some important information. He's probably not on a monster hand and may be vulnerable to a bluff after the flop.
Ad 5s Ts
He gets to act first and leads out with $1. It's a strange bet for this pot. Narrows his hand down to nothing that I don't have dominated at the moment, a set of T's, a set of A's, or two pair. A total of two hands have me beat right now and I'd put serious money that he didn't have Aces preflop or he would have pounced all over my reraise hoping I had Kings or something that I wouldn't lay down. But there is a flush draw out there and this bet could be consistent with a pot control / fishing / hoping I completely missed the flop sort of stab...
I am 99% certain I have his hand crushed and I really think this particular player would either bet more or check the flush draw, then probably call anything short of a full pot bet. He'd call that, too, if he had the nut flush draw and the Ace pair - even with a crap kicker.
I decide to reach into my bag of tricks and pull out one of my "crap poker" stunts... The annoyance raise. I bump the bet to $2 to gauge his reaction. He immediately bumps it again, laying out a pot sized bet (right around $10) with another $15 behind.
This could seem like I may want to slow down, but I really don't think so. I see this behavior all the time and think he would have made this exact move with AK or two pair. I'm nearly confident he would have played Aces and probably Tens harder preflop, so I figure the odds are even more remote than math would indicate that he flopped a higher set. I've got him in the AK hand range.
I also think I've got him off balance and assuming he's ahead and I'm trying to steal the pot from him. I love luring these guys into that situation... They're in love with the predatorial aspect of the game and the sharper predator can sometimes get them to walk into a trap by engaging their ego, confusing them, or both.
I decide it's time to get the rest in the middle and re-raise all-in. I've got him covered by a couple of dollars.
He calls nearly instantly with AhJd - worse than I had figured and entirely dominated.
The river no longer matters. He's done.
Assuming I called his bet before the flop, I was going to win this hand. But the reason I played it like I did, and the reason I made as much as I did, was because position helped me leverage the situation into a maximum profit.
Sure, his willingness to completely overplay a semi-weak Ace (figuring I re-raised pre-flop) had a significant amount to do with it also, but the two factors put together amounted to a knock-out punch and very nice bankroll bump for me.