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Using Your Chips As Weapons- Button Play

by Rep Porter |  Published: Jun 10, 2015

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In this column, I want to explore the dynamics of what happens when the action folds to the button. Let’s suppose we are playing with antes, and the antes add up to at least one big blind. Let’s first look at how the small blind and big blind react to a normal raise by the button, say to two and a half big blinds.

If you are the small blind, what hands are you going to either call or reraise with normally? An aggressive amount of hands might be something like all the pairs, all the suited aces, all the combinations of two Broadway cards, most of the suited connectors, a few of the suited one-gappers, maybe a few more unsuited aces. And that is about 25 percent of the starting hands, so you are folding about 75 percent of the time.

Now imagine being the big blind, and having the small blind fold so it is just you and the button. How many more hands are you going to add to what the small blind would have called or reraised? A few more unsuited aces? A few more suited one-gappers? Maybe a couple of suited two-gappers? Maybe you have stretched your way up to 30 percent of the hands, so you are going to fold 70 percent of the time and the button is going to win.

So now consider the spot the button is in. With the small blind and big blind both playing liberally, the two of them are folding 75 percent and 70 percent of the time. To figure out how often they both fold, you multiple those two numbers together which gives us 52.5 percent of the time that they both fold. And this is when they are both playing relatively loosely.

So what does this mean if you are the button? If you raised to two and a half big blinds, and there was two and a half big blinds in the pot, you are putting in 50 percent of the money. And when both your opponents are playing loose, you are winning over 50 percent of the time uncontested. So you show a small profit without any consideration for the times your opponents call or reraise. You could literally fold every hand where you got reraised, and still be profitable. That seems like a pretty strong spot to be in.

The best part is that you don’t actually have to just fold every time your opponents continue. Any time one of them calls, you get to see the flop with position. Sometimes when you are re-raised, you will have a strong hand and either get to 4-bet or call and see a flop. Sometimes you will flop a strong hand and win a bunch of chips. There are countless ways to have some more equity in this pot even when your opponents continue.

The next obvious question is, how often should you be raising here? I personally raise between 50 percent and 75 percent of the time depending on a few different tournament considerations. I think it is important to fold at least some of the time. If you raise every time it folds to you, your opponents will start to call or three-bet more often. A big part of this strategy being successful is your opponents folding most of the time, so you need to fold often enough that the blinds don’t change their basic ideas of what hands to play.

I often get asked, “How do I go from playing the 20-25 percent of the hands I’m currently playing on the button to the 50 percent you’re recommending?”

The answer to that question is simple; you do it slowly. One way you could start is by adding a block of hands and playing them passively postflop until you get comfortable with the idea. Continue to make your standard continuation-bets, and play your strong hands and draws the same way you always have. When you expand your range, you will miss completely or make a weak pair more often, so you can check those down to either get to showdown, catch a card and improve, or fold to your opponent’s aggression. Remember, the preflop raise itself was already profitable as a standalone strategy, so all these chances to win postflop are just extra icing on the cake.

It is also reasonable to just add a few hands each time you play. Go from 25 percent to 27 percent to 30 percent. Each time you get comfortable with your new range of hands, add a few more in. Eventually you will get comfortable with that larger range and start to see the results!

Next time, continuation-betting… ♠

Rep Porter, two-time WSOP bracelet winner, is the lead instructor at ThePokerAcademy.com