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LAST POSITION PLAY

Last Position Play After Your Opponent Has Checked


When you are in last position, your opponent will have either checked or bet. First, what should you do when your opponent checks? Some might reply that you should bet if you think you have the best hand. But this is not at all the case. Your chances of having the best hand might be as high as 90 percent or better, but still you should not necessarily bet. Take the following hand from seven-card stud.Though you are not in last position in this example, I use it because it illustrates the principle so succinctly.

With four jacks your chances of having the best hand are enormous, but in either first or second position you cannot possibly bet the hand on the end for the simple reason that your bet has absolutely no positive expectation. Since your four jacks are exposed for the world to see, your opponent will fold every hand he can have except four queens or a straight flush in hearts. With either of those hands, he will raise. So your bet has nothing to gain and everything to lose.

This very obvious situation points toward the key distinction between play in the final round of betting and in earlier rounds. With one card to come, you would most certainly bet the four jacks to avoid giving your opponent a free card to outdraw you. Your bet forces him either to fold and thus give up any chance to outdraw you or to call and pay for that slim chance. However, when all the cards are out, betting to avoid giving a free card no longer applies. So if you now still decide to bet your hand, you no longer ask what your chances are of having the best hand but rather what the chances are of winning the last bet when you are called.

This distinction may seem like hair-splitting, but it is most assuredly not. In fact, it is crucial to successful play - that is, to winning or saving extra bets - when you are heads-up on the end. To take a very common situation, let's say you have three-of-a-kind in seven-card stud, and you know your opponent is drawing to a flush and has nothing else. The odds against that opponent's making the flush on the last card are, we'll assume, 4to-l, which means you are an 80 percent favorite to have the best hand. However, if your opponent checks, you certainly should not bet because, as in the case of the four open jacks, a bet has no positive expectation. Your opponent will fold if he didn't make the flush, and he will call or possibly raise if he did. So even though you are an 80 percent favorite to have the best hand, you become an underdog if you bet and get called. To repeat, then, the decision to bet a legitimate hand for value on the end should be based not on your chances of having the best hand but on your chances of winning the last bet when you are called.

When you bet for value on the end after your opponent has checked, you must figure your hand has better than a 50-50 chance of winning when you are called. In fact, you have to figure it has at least about a 55 percent chance of winning to compensate for those times when your opponent is planning to check-raise. With three-of-a-kind against a flush draw, you are certainly the favorite, but you are not the favorite if your opponent calls. Yet to show a profit on your last round bets, clearly you must be the favorite even when your opponent calls.

At the same time, you should not carry this principle to such an extreme that you bet only when you have a lock, because then you will not win a lot of final bets you should win. To bet on the end after your opponent has checked, it is only necessary that you are the favorite when your opponent calls. Thus, if you figure you are only a 60 percent favorite when called, you should certainly bet even though you know there's a 40 percent chance your opponent will beat you if he calls. Your bet still has positive expectation. After ten such bets you will have won six and lost four on average for a net profit of two bets. Even if one of those four losses is a check-raise which you call, you still win six bets while losing five for a one-bet profit.

To give a concrete example of such relatively close decisions, let's say you are playing draw poker, and your opponent stands pat and then checks to you when you draw one. Since your opponent stood pat, you are quite sure you are facing a straight, a flush, or a full house. Yet your opponent checked to you. You know he will call with just about any of his hands. Therefore, you should bet an ace-high straight or even a queen-high straight, because your opponent probably would have come out betting himself with a tiny flush or better. Chances are, then, he has a straight smaller than yours. It's true you may lose in the showdown, but you are enough of a favorite with a queen-high straight to warrant a bet.

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