first position, with fair-to-good hands that are not
strong enough to try a check-raise, you have three
options - to bet, to check and call when your opponent
bets, and to check and fold when your opponent bets.
Which play you try in any given situation depends
not so much upon the strength of your hand but upon
your mathematical expectation for each play. And your
expectation depends upon your ability to assess your
opponent's style of play and what he is likely to
do in a given situation. Some players bet with more
hands than they call with; others call with more hands
than they bet with; and still other, very tight players
bet only when they are sure they have you beat. Thus,
how you act in first position depends upon your knowledge
of your opponent.
Here are the general rules for each play.
If your hand is worth a call or almost worth a call
had you checked and your opponent bet, you should
bet when your opponent is one who will call with more
hands than he will bet, a habit which is typical of
the majority of players."
If your hand is worth a call, you should check and
call when your opponent is one who will bet with more
hands than he will call. As we shall see, this player
is usually the type who may try to bluff after you
have checked in first position.
You should check and fold when you are not the favorite
if called and when your opponent is one who will almost
always bet only with a hand that beats yours. This
player may call with a few hands worse than yours.
However, since this type will only bet with a hand
that clearly beats you, the bets you save by folding
after he bets are greater than the few bets you might
pick up by betting and getting called by his worse
The key factor in deciding whether to check-raise,
bet, check and call, or check and fold in first position
is, as we have seen, which of the plays has the greatest
positive expectation or the least negative expectation.
Let's say that on a scale of 0 to 100 you have hand
80, a good hand but not a great hand. Your opponent
could have anything from 0 to 100, with each hand
equally likely. That would seem to make you a 4-to-1
favorite if you bet, but that's not at all the case.
The question is, which hands will your opponent call
with? If he will call only with hands 75 and upward,
you are clearly an underdog if you bet - specifically
a 4-to-1 underdog since you will lose to 20 of your
opponent's hands and beat only five.
We'll assume you know your opponent will call with
hands 57 and upward. (We are, of course, being very
hypothetical here since no player could know his opponent
so precisely.) If your opponent will call with hands
57 and upward, that means that if you bet, you will
win 23 times - when your opponent has hands 57-79
- and lose 20 times - when he has hands 81-100. Thus
you are a 23-to-20 favorite when you bet.
However, that does not mean the correct play is to
bet. You still do not have enough information. You
must also know what hands your opponent will bet if
you check. Suppose your opponent will bet hands 62
and up if you check (which means you blow a bet if
he has hands 57-61), but he will also bet with hands
0-10. That is, there are eleven hands your opponent
will bluff with. Once again there are 20 hands you
will lose to (hands 81-100), but now, instead of 23,
there are 29 hands you will beat -hands 0-10 and hands
62-79. Thus, if you check and call when your opponent
bets, you are a 29-to-20 favorite to show down the
best hand. Clearly it is better to play the last round
of betting as a 29-to-20 favorite than as a 23-to-20
favorite, and so the correct play here is to check
and call. This is the point of the rule: Check and
call when your opponent will bet with more hands than
he will call. By checking against such an opponent,
you increase your chances of winning one last bet.
Suppose you are still a small favorite if you bet.
Once again you have hand 80, and your new opponent
will call with hands 57 and up. But this opponent
is much more timid than the other, and you know he
will bet only with hands 81 and upward. How should
you play? It might at first seem correct to check
and fold if your opponent bets, since any time he
bets behind you he has you beat. However, when you
check, you give up an even-money bet as a 23-to-20
favorite, which cannot be correct. That's more than
the vigorish that keeps bookmakers in business. After
making that bet 43 times, you will be ahead 3 units
on average. Under no circumstances, then, can it be
correct to check and fold if you are favored to win
when your opponent calls you. As a 23-to-20 favorite,
the correct play here is to bet. The only time it
might be correct to check is when you're not sure
whether you're the favorite and when you're also worried
about a raise that you will have to call.
is an old adage that comes from no-limit poker but
still has application here: "Don't go busted
in an unraised pot." If the pot is still small,
and you only have marginal improvement, don't bother
continuing. In an unraised pot, you'll usually only
want to continue if you improved in both your high
and low chances. You want to have started out with
a low draw and had the fourth street card be a low
card that moved you closer to a straight or flush.
This is a general idea that applies to almost all
forms of poker: Don't aggressively go after small
pots, let the other players have the little ones.
Save your efforts for the big ones, which are worth
an aggressive pursuit.
An exception would be when you improve against an
opponent who appears to have not improved.
If you start out with three babies and pair one of
your down-cards, while an opponent who has a low card
in the door catches a brick, then a bet from you will
often cause them to fold. It looks like your hand
is improving to a solid low while his hand is going
backward. Most players will simply give it up in this
situation when the pot is small.