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Sometimes, the First Poker Player to Bet Wins the Pot

25 January 2008

By Fred Renzey

It's been stressed to death in Texas Hold'em strategy that three of the most important initial factors are position, position and position. Play the game for just a couple of hours and you'll see why this is so.

If you're in early betting position with a hand like Q/10, what do you do with it? The right play would be to fold. The reason is with seven or eight other players holding cards after you, odds are somebody has something better. Even if the flop contains a Queen or a 10, you can't exert too much betting leverage with it because somebody else could readily have the same pair with a higher kicker.

So then, can you ever play a Q/10? Sure! Play it -- in fact raise with it, when you're in a late seat and the first five players have folded. With only two or three players left behind you, it's less likely somebody will have you beaten going in. To play "so-so" cards in Hold'em, you need to know this is one of those pots where most of the players don't have much. You can only determine that from late position. It's elementary.

Late position has other advantages too. Suppose you're playing $10/$20 limit Hold'em and you called from a late seat with a pocket pair of 8s. There are four players in and the flop comes:

4h-5c-9h

The early seat bets the $10 and the other two players fold. Does the bettor have a 9? Might he be betting on the come with two hearts in the hole? Could he even have something like a 2/3 or a 6/7 for a straight draw? You may or may not have the best hand, but because of your late position, you can afford to raise him and see what comes on the turn (next card). Since he might get raised if he bets again, he'll be more inclined to check to you. Now, depending upon which card came, you get to decide whether to see the river card for free, or to fire $20 in there. Most of the pressure is on him.

Those are the basics of position in Texas Hold'em. Early position is bad and late position is good –- usually. However, there's one situation in which early position can actually be an advantage, and that's the gist of today's message. When's that?

Suppose you're the big blind with a poochy hand like 3/7 and nobody raises, so you get to see a free flop. It comes down:

2d-4s-8c

That's known as a "raggedy" flop because it contains all small, spread out cards of different suits. Fact is, you have absolutely nothing –- but it's unlikely anybody else has all that much either. Still, somebody almost certainly has at least a 9 in the hole, which has you beat.

It's important to realize that in this kind of spot, the first player to put money in the pot will often win it, because nobody else has enough of a hand to call. So fire the $10 out there. You might very well win the pot with the worst hand of the bunch.

If you do get called, it'll usually be by someone who has two "overcards" (cards higher than the board) and is looking to pair up. If the next card isn't an overcard and he checks, bet the $20. That should shake him loose, unless he has A/K or A/Q. If the turn card is a high one, just check and if your opponent bets, fold. You had a good shot at a $40 or $50 pot for a measly ten bucks.

So yes, late position is best -- most of the time. Everybody's aware of that. But it takes a savvy player to recognize when your early position presents you with a profitable opportunity that the other players don't have. Keep an eye out for it.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey