Bluffing and Position in Texas Holdem

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Texas Holdem Guide – Part 3

Another day, another section to our Texas Holdem guide. Welcome back.

In the last section I started to cover the basic strategies you need to know to become a good poker player. A profitable poker player. Considering I just taught you how to play the game of Texas Holdem the section before that, it’d be an understatement to say you’ve come a long ways.

And now we’re going to go a little bit further.

In part 3 of our 4 part series I’m going to cover a few more basic strategies that will help you become a long term winning player. Things like poker table position, playing from the blinds and bluffing basics.

Lets get to it.

Beginners Guide to Poker Table Position

Table position is hands down the most important concept you’ll use in poker. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that poker table position isn’t that important just because we’re covering it in a beginners guide. Doing so will only cost you tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars.

What is Poker Table Position? What Does Position Mean?

Poker table position is what it sounds like. It’s your position at the table. Getting more specific, though, table position means two things.

First, it means your position relative to the dealer button. In other words, the first 2-3 seats to the left of the dealer button is early position or EP. The next 2-3 seats are middle position or MP, and the last 2-3 seats are late position or LP. As the dealer button moves around the table your position does, too. The small blind would be the earliest position and the dealer button would be the latest position at the table.

Secondly, table position is where you’re seated in relation to the other players remaining in the hand. Using the dealer button as a dividing line, if you’re to the left of an opponent, you are said to be in position. If you sit to the right of an opponent you are said to be out of position. The best position will always be the dealer button (in position). It’s also possible to be both in and out of position in a hand, if there are two or more players remaining.

Your goal should be to play in position as much as possible. In most cases this leads to playing more hands in late position than early position.

Why Playing in Position in Poker Matters

Playing in position matters for a number of reasons.

The most important reason, and the “cause” for subsequent “effects,” is that playing in position means you get to act after your opponents. This gives us a number of advantages (the effects).

Information – Being the last person to act means we can see what our opponents do before it’s our turn to act. To give you an idea of how powerful this is, consider this scenario: you raise in early position with AKo and the cutoff calls. The flops is J-8-3 two-tone. You continuation bet for about 60% of the pot and the cutoff re-raises you.

Ugh. Kind of gross, right?! Would you not have wanted to know he was going to raise before you decided to continuation bet? I know I would have. It would’ve saved me chips.

This is possible if we play in position.

If we had raised preflop, and our opponent donk bet this flop, we’d have known that he has something he likes. Since we have nothing but over cards, it’s a pretty easy fold. And we didn’t have to put chips in the pot to find that out.

Granted, you won’t always have the option to play in position. You shouldn’t fold AK under-the-gun just because someone might call you. But I hope you see that you will have more information in position than out of position, and that it’s an advantage.

Pot Control – Being last to act gives you the last say during the betting round. This is also referred to as pot control. You decide if more money is going to be put into the pot, and if so, a say (or opinion) about how much it should be.

For example, say you have a hand like KQo on a K-J-9 flop. You have top pair, but on this type of board its not as if you’re fist pumping to get your entire stack in. So, if your opponent donk bets, you can just call to keep the pot small. You have top pair and showdown value, so you should try to see the river. But there’s no reason to bloat the pot on a top-pair, top-kicker type of hand.

However, on the same flop say you have a pair of 99s in the hole and your opponent bets out. Pffft. We’re not going to just call here. We’re going to pump this pot up – try our hardest to get stacks in. Being last to act gives us the opportunity to do that, as well as gauge how much to re-raise based on our opponent’s perceived range and bet size.

Bluff / Fold Equity – Playing in position also gives us bluff/fold equity. To understand what this means, think about a Holdem game you played. What happened when the action folded to the last guy at the table? Often times they bet and won the pot, right?

That’s the idea. That’s bluff equity. No one else showed interest in the pot, we know how many people are still remaining and their tendencies/ranges, so we can take a stab at the pot if/when we feels it’s right, and have a higher chance at success since so many people passed on the opportunity.

How Position Will Affect Your Poker Strategy

Table position will affect your poker strategy in a few different ways.

The biggest impact will be the choice of hands you choose to play. If playing out of position is harder to do, and if opening from early position leaves you unsure of what might happen after you act, then it makes more sense to make your decisions easier. You do that by playing stronger hands from earlier position, and then by increasing the number of hands you play as you move closer to the right side of the dealer button (late position).

Position will also impact the hands you choose to play after your opponents open, as well as how you choose to play them. In other words, if your opponent open-raises from under the gun, and you know him to be a tight player, re-raising with KQ is probably a bad idea. In fact, calling with a pair probably isn’t the best strategy either. Ultimately, table position, along with your opponents’ betting actions, will clue you in to their hand ranges and what hands you should play.

How to Play the Blinds for Beginner Poker Players

In the last section I talked about the importance of table position in poker. Now I want to talk about a very specific position at the table.

The blinds.

The blinds are a tricky position to play, especially for beginners. I want to discuss why that is and what you can do to improve your strategy from this section of the table.

Why is Playing From the Blinds Tricky?

Playing from the blinds is tricky for beginners. The reason why is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s cheap(er) to play from the blinds. In an un-raised pot you’re getting incredible odds to play hands like A6o, K2s or 76.

But on the other hand, you’re all but guaranteed to play out of position for the rest of the hand. I just got done explaining this a second ago. The best seat at the table is the one in latest position, with the button being the best.

That makes the blinds the worst seats at the table.

So a common mistake that beginners make, and I’m speaking from experience here, is to come along with a mediocre hand because it’s cheap. Then what happens is you flop top pair with a weak kicker, or maybe 2nd pair, and because you connected you feel as if you have to call a bet or two. After all, why would you call preflop just to fold on the flop (if you made a hand)?

So to sum up the problem – the blinds create a negative snowball effect. It’s cheap, out of position and hard to get away from when you connect. Once you get started it doesn’t stop – not until you’ve spent part of your stack, at least.

Hands to Play From the Blinds & How to Play Them

Now, that doesn’t make playing from the blinds a bad thing. It just means that you need to be more selective. Choose hands that are easier to play. Play hands for value, and enough value to offset the natural losses you’ll occur from playing out of position.

So what hands do we play? How do we play them?

In an un-raised pot, I recommend sticking to hands that are going to flop big and be disguised like connectors, suited connectors and small pairs. You can also play suited aces and kings. However, don’t raise – just complete the small blind and check the big blind. See a flop for as cheap as possible.

When you hit the flop hard, play your hand hard and fast. Get value, build a pot and win big. Obviously, you may have to try different strategies depending on board texture, the number of opponents in the hand and their images/playing style. But you get the idea.

What to do when you miss the flop? Fold. What about when you catch 2nd pair? Fold. What about a gut shot straight draw? Fold.

The only time I’ll get involved is if I catch top pair and it’s cheap to continue. Often times I’ll donk bet to get a better idea of where I’m at. But even if you have top pair weak kicker you should be prepared to fold. It’s just not worth it otherwise.

So lets move on to a raised pot. This is harder because it depends on where the raise came from. If it came from early position, the range of hands you choose to play needs to be very small, considering the range of hands your opponent has and your disadvantage (position).

However, if you think you’re ahead of your opponent, I recommend 3-betting more often than not. Since you’re out of position I don’t have a problem taking the pot down right away, and at the very least take initiative for when we’re called and need to continuation bet the flop.

Blind Versus Blind

The last thing I want to talk about is playing blind versus blind. These can be tricky situations, too.

The reason why they can get tricky is because for the blinds to have the opportunity to play against each other, the entire table has to fold. So if the small blind raises, the big blind automatically assumes he’s trying to steal. After all, there is only one player left between him and the pot. If the small blind limps, and the big blind raises, it’s the same idea. One person is trying to put the moves on the other. So the blinds start to get defensive.

As a rule of thumb, I’ll raise up hands that will do well from the small blind. Aces, kings, good queens, suited connectors, pairs and so on. If the big blind calls, I’ll usually continuation bet the pot.

If I’m in the big blind, it depends on the opponent and the dynamic. If the small blind never lets me have a pot, I’ll start calling and defending my blinds more liberally. I at least have the advantage of position.

The one thing I want to stress is avoid these battles of the blinds, when ego takes precedence over common sense and hand ranges. Since you’re already invested, you really need to make the smart decision as to when it’s a good idea to cut your losses, and when it’s a good idea to invest the difference and play.

The Basics to Bluffing for Beginners

Alright, on to the last section of this guide. Lets talk about bluffing.

Bluffing is one of the most nerve racking, exhilarating and fun moments in poker. Tell a big, fat, lie, and then get rewarded for it. That’s all that you see on TV, too.

Unfortunately, players see this on TV and think that’s all there is to poker. Bet when you have it, lie when you don’t. Get paid either way.

It doesn’t work like that though. Bluffing is a needed skill in poker if you want to be a winning player. But you need to develop that skill first, if you ever want to bluff successfully.

That’s what this section will cover.

What is Bluffing?

So lets start from the beginner and define what bluffing is.

Bluffing is betting with the intent to get a better hand to fold. The idea is to tell your opponent the story of how you have a better hand than they do, even though you really don’t.

Mistakes Beginners Make Bluffing in Texas Holdem

Speaking from experience, beginners make a number of mistakes when it comes to bluffing. Here are the mistakes I’ve made and/or seen beginners make:

  • Bluff too much. Instead of chalking up a loss, or maybe dealing with the embarrassment of showing down a bad hand, beginners tend to think they need to bluff themselves out of these situations. But they don’t take into account their image or whether or not the story they’re trying to tell looks legit.
  • Bluff in obvious spots. When a player check/calls the flop and turn, seemingly on an obviously flush draw, then open shoves, or check-raises the river, it’s just as obvious that they missed their draw and are going to get looked up.
  • Spewing chips. Beginners tend to think that if they bet a lot of chips, or go all in, that their bluff will have more fold equity. In some cases it might, but the play has a lot of variance to it, and is a long term losing one.
  • Turning made hands into bluffs. Another mistake, or maybe just a lack of understanding, is when a player turns a made hand into a bluff. In other words, they have a pair, don’t beat a whole lot, and instead of getting to showdown they’re betting for value. But since they don’t beat anything, and will have to fold to aggression, they turn their hand into a bluff.
  • Bluffing the wrong players. Beginners also make the mistake of just thinking about their situation or two cards, and not their opponents. For example, you can’t bluff someone who never folds, so why would you try?
  • Bluffing with a bad image. If you’re playing every hand, how many players do you think will give you credit when you try to represent having something? Not that many. So it doesn’t make sense to try to bluff.

Telling a Real Story

So with the mistakes out of the way, lets figure out how to bluff successfully, shall we.

The trick to effectively bluffing is to tell a believable story. In other words, you’re trying to represent a stronger hand than your opponent. But the hand your representing and how you represent it has to make sense.

A classic example of telling a bad story would be like this – the flop is a two tone board and you’re on a flush draw. Your opponent bets, you call. Turn is a brick. Your opponent bets, you call. It’s now obvious you have a draw. The river is another blank. Your opponent checks and since you have nothing, you decide to bet.

This is an obvious bluff. In fact, if your opponent is any good, that’s why he decided to check the river – to let you hang yourself further.

An example of a better story would be having a hand like QJs, raising from early position and getting a call. Then a flop of A-K-4 rainbow. Then continuation betting the flop, representing the ace or king.

Does that make sense?

Conclusion to Part 3

There you have it – the end of part 3 of our guide. Now you have the information needed to prevent yourself from slowly bleeding money. Lots of beginners screw up when it comes to playing out of position, playing too much from the blinds or bluffing when it doesn’t make sense.

Now you know better.

In our final section I’m going to cover the last couple of concepts you need to round off your Texas Holdem education. Things like starting hands, why you should be raising instead of calling and dealing with variance.

I’ll see you there.