Poker Concept of the Week : Betting Marginal Holdings in Position

Today we are going to look at a powerful concept in big bet poker, namely betting marginal hands in position. Playing aggressively with only moderately strong holdings when your opponents check to you is immediately profitable and has tremendous meta-game benefits. A lot of good things can happen when you bet a dubious holding after everyone has checked. You can take down the pot right now. You can get called by a worse hand and go into the turn and river in position with a superior holding. Or you can get called by a better hand, and then draw out on them on the turn or river, and put in some punishing value bets in bigger pots. Generally people bet and raise with strong holdings, to protect their hand as well as to increase the size of the pot which they are likely to win. If they are not betting or raising, then it stands to reason often they will be weak or think that they are weak. Of course they might be sandbagging, and you will sometimes lose this wager when you are forced to fold your hand to a check raise, but much more often they will be check folding or check calling. I’m going to let you in to a little secret; most poker players try to make big hands. And this is a generally poor strategy, because it is difficult to make big hands. You can exploit this strategy by trying a counter approach, which is to try for your opponents not to make big hands. Or, to put it another way, you can bet marginal holdings in position. Using this play also contributes to having the sort of crazy and unpredictable image that will stop your opponents from playing aggressively against you. This wild and unpredictable image will also help them rationalize making loose calls when you have strong hands.

Here is an example hand. Despite not having very much, just a pair of kings with no real relation to the board, I took an aggressive line heads up in position on a draw heavy board, and got called twice by a worse hand. Generally when you employ this approach you will fold to a re-raise; this is because your strategy is to exploit the fact that your opponent’s are trying to make strong hands and then put money in with them. The corollary to betting marginal hands in position is folding to check raises, because usually the check raise means that this time, finally, your opponent has made a strong hand. If you are the sort of player who only bets either very strong hands as a value bet or very weak hands as a bluff, you might be surprised to find how often your opponents will call with a worse hand when you bet something marginal.

Hero (BTN): $63.03
SB: $84.84
BB: $17.69
UTG: $39.76
MP: $13.12
CO: $18.01

Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is BTN with 7s Kc Kd 8d
UTG raises to $0.85, 2 folds, Hero calls $0.85, 2 folds

Flop: ($2.05) 3s Js 8c (2 players)
UTG checks, Hero bets $1.25, UTG calls $1.25

Turn: ($4.55) Jd (2 players)
UTG checks, Hero bets $2.18, UTG calls $2.18

River: ($8.91) As (2 players)
UTG checks, Hero checks

My opponent shows down KhThTd9s

This tactic is part and parcel of the general winning strategy of playing loose in position and tight out of position. In big bet poker, especially pot limit omaha, it is absolute crucial to play in position. You can profitably make fairly loose calls before the flop if you are fairly certain that you will end in position, especially when stacks are deep. This means playing with a high VPIP on the button, or in the CO when the button is a very tight player, but employing a fairly conservative approach to play first / second in or from the blinds.