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Last Position Play After Your Opponent Has Bet

Let us now consider your options in last position when your opponent does not give you a free call but comes out betting. When he bets, you can either fold, call, or raise.

Deciding whether to fold or call is relatively straightforward. The question is: Are your chances of winning the pot better than the odds you are getting from the pot, either because your hand is better than your opponent's or because your opponent is bluffing? If you think your chances are better, you call. If not, you fold. If you are thinking of raising after your opponent bets, you must ask the same question you would have asked before betting had your opponent checked: What are the chances of winning that extra bet when you are called? You should not raise unless you figure you are at least a 55 percent favorite, since you also face the possibility of a reraise. In fact, one way of looking at raising an opponent on the end without the nuts is that you are laying almost 2-to-1 odds on that last bet, especially if your opponent is capable of bluffing on a reraise. When you raise and your opponent raises back, you usually lose two bets, but if he calls, you only gain one bet. Of course, this consideration does not apply against a player who will never bluff on a reraise. If such a player raises you back, you can just throw your hand away, knowing you are beat.

Before raising on the end, you must also consider the overall ability of your opponent. Once he puts in an initial bet, an average player will call your raise almost every time. Therefore, you certainly should not try a bluff raise. However, you should raise with any hand you consider a reasonable favorite to win the last bet because you can be pretty sure of getting paid off. Tough players, on the other hand, will frequently come out betting, but they are capable of folding and not paying you off if you raise. Therefore, a bluff raise has some chance against them. However, when you are raising for value against tough players, you should have a better hand than you need against average players, because when the former are willing to call your raise and thus pay you off, they are likely to show down a strong hand. On close decisions you should not raise tough players on the end as often as you would weak or average players because you don't win that extra bet often enough to make the play profitable. Tough players either throw away a hand you would beat or call with a hand you might not be able to beat.

Ironically, though, a raise may sometimes be correct against a world-class player when you have a hand that is only fairly good. The key factor is whether a raise will make your opponent throw away some hands that are better than yours. Let's say you have a hand that you figure has a 52 percent chance of winning if you call, but little chance of winning if you raise and get called. Nevertheless, it would be correct to raise if you think your opponent will then throw away some hands that beat you. If your analysis is correct, a raise might lift you from a 52 percent favorite to a 65-70 percent favorite, and if the pot is big enough, that added 13-18 percent gives the raise positive expectation. Remember, though, that this play is worth considering only against superstars. Against average and good players - and also against superstars most of the time - the basic formula for raising on the end remains the same: Raise only if you are favored to win that extra bet when your opponent calls.

To summarize play in last position after your opponent has bet, you have three options - fold, call, or raise. You should generally fold when the chances of winning are less than the pot odds you are getting. Thus, if your hand has only a 15 percent chance of winning and the pot is $80, you cannot call a $20 bet. However, your chances of winning do not have to be over 50 percent to justify a call. All that's necessary is that the pot odds you're getting are better than your chances of winning in the showdown. Thus, if you think you have a 30 percent chance and the pot is $80, you would be right to call a $20 bet because the pot odds you're getting are greater than the odds against your showing down the best hand. Even when you decide you can or cannot call with your underdog hand, you have not necessarily eliminated the option of raising. Against a very, very good player, you might consider raising with some mediocre hands if a raise has greater expectation than a fold or a call - that is, if it will make your opponent throw away enough hands that would be better than yours. Anytime you are last and your opponent bets, you always have the three alternatives of folding, calling, or raising. The one that becomes right is the one that gives you the highest mathematical expectation.

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