Position Play in Practice
us now see how first-position play heads-up on the
end works in practice.
Suppose in draw poker you draw three cards in first
position and make aces up. Your opponent draws one
card. He may have two pair, or he may be drawing to
a straight or a flush. You feel that this type of
player will call with two pair if you bet but will
bet them for value if you check. How should you play?
There's no mystery here. Clearly you should check
and call. By checking and calling, you may save a
bet in one situation and gain a bet in another. With
two pair, your opponent will call if you bet and bet
if you check. So you win either way. If your opponent
was drawing to a flush or a straight and makes it,
he will of course bet if you check, but he will call,
or probably raise, if you bet - which will cost you
an extra bet if you call the raise. With a busted
hand, your opponent will not call if you bet, so you
gain nothing by betting. However, your opponent might
bet on a bluff if you check. In this single instance
you win an extra bet by checking and calling. So checking
and calling has greater expectation than betting.
And to repeat: The object of poker is not to win pots
but to win money; it is with these extra bets won
or saved that you win money.
Here is another draw poker situation. You draw one
card to two small pair, and your opponent draws three.
You don't improve. You know your opponent suspects
you were drawing to a flush or a straight, and you
also know this player's a pay station, the type who
will call "to keep you honest." How should
You should bet. Assuming your opponent was drawing
three to a big pair, you're about a 71 percent favorite
to have the best hand. Any time you're even a small
favorite against someone you know is going to call
virtually every time, you should bet. In this case
you're wagering even money as a 71 percent or 5-to-2
favorite. Clearly that's a wager with positive expectation
even though you expect to lose 29 percent of the time.
Suppose in hold 'em you have
and the board at the end is
(Notice that there is no flush possibility.) You are
first to act. How should you play?
You should probably come out betting. If you are up
against something like A,10 or K,10 or J,10, you lose
either way. If you check, your opponent will surely
bet, and you will call. If your opponent has Q,10,
you may lose a double bet by betting out since your
opponent will raise. On the other hand, if your opponent
has hands like 10,8 or 10,7 or 10,6, you win either
way; if you check, your opponent will most likely
bet. However, two very possible hands your opponent
might have are A,Q and K,Q which he may very well
not bet if you check but with which he will probably
call if you bet. Since you are likely to gain a bet
more frequently than you lose one (when your opponent
raises), betting has greater expectation than checking
and calling. Put in terms of the rules given earlier,
in this situation your opponent will call with more
hands than he will bet.
A final set of examples from draw lowball should demonstrate
how your play on the end in first position varies
directly in terms of your opponent. Both players in
the pot draw one card, and you are first to act:
You are up against a player who doesn't bluff but
is always afraid everyone else does. How should you
You should bet. Your opponent will probably call with
a queen-low or better, while only a seven-low or better
will beat you. Therefore your opponent will call with
many hands that you will beat and a relative few that
will beat you. On the other hand, if you checked,
your opponent would not bet most of those losing hands.
Thus, you stand to win more often by betting than
Suppose you have the same hand in draw lowball against
an aggressive, tough player, and you're first. How
should you play? In this case, you should check and
call because your opponent is likely to bet more hands
than he calls with. Besides beating your opponent's
rough 8s, you also snap off his bluffs, which you
could not do if you came out betting. Ordinarily,
if you bet, your opponent would give up the idea of
bluffing. In general, a player who bets with more
hands than he calls with is the type of player who
not only bets for value but also bluffs perhaps more
often than is correct. Thus, when you check, your
opponent's bluffing hands are added to those he bets
Now suppose instead of a perfect eight-low, you have
the following hand:
Once again you're up against that player who never
bluffs but worries that everyone else does. You're
first. How should you play?
Here you should check and fold if your opponent bets.
Since your hand beats only queen-, jack-, and ten-lows
(the losing hands with which your opponent would call),
it is no longer worth a bet for value, because you
get beat with his nine-lows and better. And since
this opponent never bets on a bluff, you should fold
in the face of a bet. The odds that you are beat are
Against the aggressive player, you would also check,
but you would call a bet since there are many hands
this opponent might be betting that you can beat.
In other words, a call against this type of player
would have positive expectation.
surprising number of people say they would fold in
this situation, wanting to wait for a chance to get
their money in when they have a bigger edge or to
"give their skill a chance to work," whatever
it is this means.
You should definitely call in this situation, no matter
how much more "skillful" you think you are.
A 60/40 edge is huge. You can get a bigger edge than
that preflop if you want to wait for pocket Aces before
you commit your stack. But the tournament will probably
be over before this happens, and even if you get the
Aces you can't be sure someone will call an allin
bet. Can you sometimes get a bigger edge than that
after the flop? Well, yes, but you can't often be
sure of the edge you're getting after the flop.
A certain advantage is much more valuable than a probable
one. An edge that you're sure of is a huge edge.
One way in which tournaments are different from regular
games is that when you're eliminated in a tournament
its all over. There's more to figuring your odds than
just looking at the odds you're getting from the chips
in the pot: you have to also always be aware of the
chances of going busted. Losing all your chips is