Number of cashes
As most poker players know, playing a hand in position is easier and more profitable than playing out of position. Similarly, playing a hand as the aggressor is typically going be more profitable than calling a raise. Nonetheless, when reviewing hands with other players, I see them calling raises out of position with marginal hands more often than they should without a plan of how to proceed. These spots most commonly occur when you either flat a 3bet from a player in position or defend your blinds from a raise by a player in position. Without initiative in the pot and when out of position, these hands can become incredibly difficult to play, especially against competent opponents. As an example, in a recent hand, a player defended 9-7s from the big blind. He and the villain are both regs and had approximately 40 big blinds. The flop was T-7-2 rainbow, he checked, and the villain fired a continuation bet. In such a spot, a pair is often ahead of the villain's opening range on that board and he decided to call. The turn was an A, he checked, and the villain bet again. The A is a great card for the villain to rep and we should expect a competent villain to bet fairly often at this point, which the villain did, and the player in the hand called. The river was an inconsequential 3, he checked, and the villain bet. At this point in the hand, we've shown that we have a moderate strength hand and are reluctant to fold. When the villain bets the river, he could either be realizing our hand is weak and looking to push us off the hand or could be attempting to get thin value from our marginal hand. This hand can be similarly complicated if the villain checks back the turn. Does he have showdown value and is attempting to maintain pot control? Or does he have nothing and your single pair is ahead? If the river brings another overcard (a jack, queen, or king), a number of his combinations could have improved. If the villain decides to bet the river on this board, you're again in a predicament of deciding if he is going for thin value or has complete air and is using the scare card to bluff. These situations highlight that when playing out of position, you're always more exploitable. The further along you are in the hand, the larger the pot becomes. The decisions become more difficult and there is higher variance. Competent villains will be able to dictate the action and force you to make difficult and expensive decisions. Without a solid read on how the villain plays and when less experienced in post-flop play, you're more likely to make the wrong decision. What is the best way to avoid getting into these spots? The simplest answer is to fold pre-flop. Playing marginal hands out of position is difficult. Most players tend to overestimate their ability to play post-flop and the result is playing hands out of position, check-calling frequently on the flop, and not having a plan for subsequent streets. Consequently, players end up getting into tricky situations on the turn and/or river without a solid plan of how to proceed. I'm not advocating never playing a hand out of position. What I am recommending is that if you're a less experienced player who isn't comfortable playing post-flop, especially on turns and rivers, you'll be more fundamentally sound and play a lower variance style if you avoid flatting 3bets and defending your blinds with marginal hands. Even good players with solid post-flop games don't often average a large profit in these situations. Folding those suited one-gappers pre-flop may not be fun, but it is better than making the wrong decision on the turn and river. The best way to improve playing out of position is learning how to play well in position. Understanding how to assign ranges to opponents, how to read bet sizes, and how to interpret board textures are critical to playing well post-flop. As the aggressor in a pot with position, it's much easier to work on these skills. Once you've honed your skills in those areas, then you can begin to translate that knowledge to out of position play. There are also alternatives to folding that can be highly profitable, but this involves 3betting or 4betting, which builds large pots and induces variance in your game. Although this isn't a bad thing, if you're not comfortable in these spots, it can lead to making large mistakes. Although I'm not a big fan of the fold button, using it is also an important skill to develop in poker. Knowing you're about to enter a pot without a plan in which you'll be faced with difficult decisions is more often than not a good sign that you should click it. Tyson Ford is regular contributor to PocketFives poker discussions threads and a PocketFives Training instructor. He is also available for private coaching and can be contacted via private message or at firstname.lastname@example.org.