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Ace Speaks Hold'em: No-Limit Versus Limit - An In-Depth Analysis Part VII: Differences and Adjustments: Positional Considerations

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Aug 01, 2006


Positional considerations are much more important in no-limit than in limit – and not just your position relative to the button, but also your position relative to the preflop raiser.

I have discussed the importance of position before, so I will keep this analysis fairly short. There is one very important thing, though, that I have not mentioned yet; it's something that is actually neglected quite often when it comes to proper analysis. When people talk about position, they almost always think in terms of their position relative to the button. In big-bet play, there is another factor that is sometimes even more important than that. It is your position relative to the preflop raiser. I will give two examples that clearly show how this factor alone can make some rather weak hands profitable, and some fairly decent hands unprofitable. The keys are, as so often is the case in big-bet play, implied odds and reverse implied odds.

Example No. 1

Your hand: 9club 8club on the button

The situation: One under-the-gun limper is in for $20. Now, the cutoff makes it $70 to go. We will assume everyone is playing a $900 stack. What should you do?

The play: Well, you are on the button, what is perceived to be the best possible position, and that's true. You have a decent no-limit hold'em hand, and you may even have a good snap-off hand against the big cards that the raiser probably holds, meaning that your cards are probably very live. And there is also quite a bit of money left to be bet, and taking into account your position, your implied odds seem to be quite good. Right?

Wrong! This is one of the clearest folds you will ever see in no-limit. While your position seems to be good, it is actually quite horrible. In the first place, your call doesn't close the betting. If either one of the blinds wakes up with a real hand, or the initial limper decides to come over the top, you will have wasted almost 8 percent of your stack without even getting to see a flop. What's more, even if the "normal" thing happens (both blinds fold and the initial limper calls the raise), your position is still not as good as it seems. Knowing that in threehanded no-limit pots, preflop raisers will almost without exception bet the flop, whether they have hit or not, the limper will almost certainly check to the raiser on the flop to let him do the betting. This means that the limper's check on the flop will give you no information whatsoever. Because he may very well be slow-playing a good hand, he now has you caught in the middle. You will be sandwiched between a bettor who may or may not have a good hand, and a third player who may very well be lying in the bushes with a monster. This means that the preflop raiser is now betting through you. And because you cannot be sure about the price you are getting on a call and the relative strength of your hand in this three-way situation, you are in an extremely bad spot. The way to avoid this predicament is to simply fold your decent hand before the flop, rather than call and get yourself into a lot of trouble.

Example No. 2

Your hand: 9spade 8club. This time, you are in the $20 big blind.

The situation: The under-the-gun player makes it $70 to go. The cutoff calls, and it is up to you. As before, everyone is playing a $900 stack. What should you do?

The play: Well, it seems you are in even worse shape than the previous situation. After all, being first to act on all streets, you have the worst possible position. Also, your hand is not even suited now, and the raise came from the under-the-gun player, and this is usually a sign of considerable strength. So, if the first situation is a clear fold, this is definitely one – right?

Wrong! Your position seems to be bad, but it is actually quite good. You are now the one who is in the good position to simply check the flop, let the preflop raiser do the betting for you, and thereby put the cutoff in the middle. You are now in an excellent position to both minimize your losses when the flop is bad or the action behind you suggests that bigger hands are out there, and maximize your winnings when you catch something. With $830 left, if you check, the preflop raiser will probably bet anywhere in the range of $100 to $300. Now, if you check-raise, knowing that the bet is "just" $530 to $730 more, he may very well feel committed even with unimproved overcards. And if you are really strong, you may actually make a smaller raise to give him a "discount" if you think that he is the type of player who will fall for this trap.

Also note that with the $20 big blind in already, you will have to call just $50 more, not $70, as in the first example. Now, calling $50 versus $70 when you have a stack of $900 is a substantial difference – even when this difference seems to be small. Coupled with the fact that in contrast to the previous example, your call will actually close the betting here, the situation is like this: In these two examples, you would fold the better hand in seemingly excellent position, while calling with the worse hand in what is seemingly bad position. It's a strange situation, but undoubtedly correct, mostly because of this one simple factor: your position relative to the raiser.

Rolf's Rule No. 10

In big-bet play, one of the worst possible situations is to have someone bet through you. Good players know that very few hands are worth calling a raise when the raiser is seated to your immediate right, even when you are on the button. If after the flop there are players still in the hand who act before the preflop raiser, this puts you in the middle – a situation with clear reverse implied odds.

This is Part VII in a XIV-part series on limit and no-limit hold'em. This series was created especially for Card Player Europe. The accompanying DVDs on this subject can be obtained through Rolf's site,