In full ring games position is very important, in heads up it is almost as important as your cards. For some reason, people have a hard time truly understanding this concept, don’t be that guy.
Let me give you an example of the importance of position. Let’s say you are on the button, you raise, and your opponent calls. The flop comes and your opponent checks, which he will usually do if he is raised pre-flop. You then bet half to seventy five percent of the pot. Now what options does your out of position opponent have?
Many times your opponent won’t hit and will you have him beat. Depending on your opponent this is the move that a lot of players will make since a player will only hit the flop around 33% of the time. This means that on roughly 2/3 of the hands you raise, you have a good shot of picking up the pot on the flop since your opponent does not have a good enough hand to play.
2) Check-calling hoping for the best hand
Your opponent will also call and pray for the winning hand. This is a situation like Taylor wrote about in “Playing the blinds in NLHE,” where the out of position player hits something like an ace with a weak kicker and doesn’t want to build a big pot by raising. A lot of players will even start calling with bottom pair out of position if they feel like the button is playing very aggressive. However a call here usually means the player will check on the turn. This give the button 2 free cards to hit a hand or 2 scare cards to bluff on the river. Both of these are profitable options for the button.
3) Check-calling to bluff later
If your opponent knows you often bluff, he might call here and see what you do later. This is an advanced risky play that some players will use. However you need to see your opponent make this play before you start calling his big or river bet holding only second pair.
4) Check-raising min
If your opponent is not sure what you have or has you beat, sometimes he will check-raise you min. This gives the button pot odds to call with almost any draw. It also turns the out of position player into the aggressor so if the button does have a strong hand, he can expect to be bet into on the turn. This is a good option for the button because being the aggressor out of position is tricky to do. If your opponent check raises min out of position and then checks on the turn, this can be a pretty huge tell if you know your opponent. Also check raising min if done too often smells of a weak hand which of course can be bluffed out on a later street.
5) Check-raising pot
If a player hits a hand he might check-raise you pot. Now we are talking. If you can get your opponent to consistently check raise pot out of position when he hits top pair, you are setting yourself up for a big hand. After you have been check raised pot, you can obviously get away from bad hands or a bluff. However, if you do have that monster you are in a DOMINATING situation. There are so many ways to extract money here. You can call knowing there will be a huge bet on the turn, re-raise min which will either pot commit your opponent or get him to slide all-in, or go all-in yourself. Finally you can even call to bluff later if obvious the flush or straight comes. So many options when your opponent has put that money in the middle. This situation is what a heads up player lives for.
This is the first post in the Heads Up Doctrine under “Your Game.” Next time I will discuss how you procedurally use position to set up a big hand. I chose to talk about position first because if you don’t know why you are doing something, you won’t know when or how to adjust your game.